My mother hates marriage. She isn’t great at doing feelings, and anything that requires her to rely on people is anathema. She’s a self-made woman if ever there was one, and has more pride than a Mr Darcy. She wouldn’t ask for help to save her life, which is the bitter irony about how a friend of hers pulled strings (without her asking) to get her with the best oncologist in the region. To be fair to her, she has always been the one everyone relied on. Still, she has never been a model of marriage, let alone of a Christian one. While the Proverbs 31 woman has a lot in common with her, the wife of 1 Corinthians 11 doesn’t. She’s always worn the metaphorical trousers in the house, and my upbringing was very matriarchal, and in fact was a war between strong women.
Cue: Enter “Illness”, stage left. Also, “boyfriend”, stage right. Someone who thinks it’s his job to take care of you when you think it’s your job to take care of yourself. When your idea of what is acceptable “being a woman” revolves around yourself, you’re going to struggle with letting go. Enter “God”, voiceover. Now, that’s a struggle worthy of the name. Faith isn’t easy. Praise and worship and being in awe of God’s majesty is one thing, but the personal relationship everyone else is raving about? That looks more like an awkward family built around convention. A lot like mine. It’s not that the feeling isn’t genuine, but it can be awkward because I hold on to things. I don’t know how not to be in control. And when every vulnerable topic of conversation is off the table, all you are left with is small talk.
It takes a long time to undo old patterns that are ingrained in every fibre of your being. Learning that my identity is received in Jesus and not achieved through anything I do meant I have to learn to let go, also, of those identities I achieved for myself. It means I need to stop seeing womanhood through the lens of what I can do, and start seeing it through the lens of who I am. It may involve being vulnerable, and sometimes have someone else wash me because I don’t have the strength to hold my arms up.
Independence is a trait of my character that attracted my boyfriend in the first place, but he still tells me off when I talk about “my” problems, “my” mess. He sees it as “our” problem, “our” mess. This has taught me something about the nature of God that I never understood.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28).
God the Father was never really a thing for me, I don’t remember a situation in which I had a problem and could bring it to my father without feeling like a burden. To share the burden on my shoulders would add to the burden instead of detracting from it.
Jesus the Bridegroom also was never a thing for me. I wasn’t married (I’m still not) and the relationships (or dating attempts) I’ve had all failed for similar reasons: the person could not accept me for who I was, I just wasn’t the one. Love has always felt conditional on doing the right thing, saying the right thing, even looking the right way.
With all of this rejection weighing on my shoulders, the idea of being loved as a mess made sense maybe for Jesus (T&Cs apply), but never for another human being: all I had left was…me. This isn’t a healthy way to live. The balance of the scale of my mental health is tilted in a way that puts so much pressure on myself it’s not sustainble. Even as therapy shifted patterns, and stopped me from chasing the approval of my family like a hamster on the wheel, the need to prove myself remained even if just to myself. Through illness I have learnt that balance is about restoration and grace.
St John the Baptist said it best, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30). The only way to balance the scale is Jesus. Truly, deep down, viscerally knowing the reality of the intellectual truth I knew that my identity is resting in God is the only way to stop feeling threatened by having to let go of control and my independence, even just a little of it. It doesn’t make me any less valuable if I lean on someone.
Today’s blog post has been part of the Love Blog Challenge 2018 on the subject “Balance”. Find the rest of the series here.