Friday, October 4, 2013

"Girl, Interrupted" Interrupted

When I was a little girl, I thought my dad and older brother were, like, it. I remember taking gargantuan steps to try and walk in pace with them on a camping trip, and insisting that I was big and brave enough to join in on their adventures. I remember begging to get to tag along on a hunting or fishing trip, or even a trip to the mailbox. I remember believing that pigs could fly if I heard it from one of them, and believing that they knew--better than anyone-- what's cool, what I should like, what I want to be when I grow up, etc. 

The good news is I was blessed to have a dad and older brother who didn't abuse or ignore my hero worship. They noticed me, paid attention to me, and included me. The bad news is, my father's battle with cancer interrupted my relationship with both of them for various reasons. Four years of his illness separated our family for necessary reasons while my father was getting treatment, and after his death my brother needed some time away to process his own grief and loss. I was just a kid when all this happened, and lacked many of the emotional resources to handle the dramatic changes happening around me-- and within me!-- for basically the whole of my adolescent life. 

Now, you don't have to be a shrink to follow the line of reasoning that "teenage girl minus healthy male role models equals issues." In high school, I resented those kinds of formulas, but by half-way through college, I understood why they exist. As I began to examine some unhealthy patterns in my own life, I realized that in many ways, I was stuck in my eleven-year-old narrative of craving Dad's/Brother's approval, interest, notice of me. So every guy I met, whether peer or authority figure, was unknowingly picking up where my own family left off, so to speak-- where our story was interrupted. So something as small as someone not laughing at my joke or not picking me for a choir, just to name one example, felt like a devastating blow.

Fast forward to my life in Dallas, where I work and go to school in literally one of the most male-dominated environments I've ever seen. An interesting place for a girl with Daddy issues, the seminary is crawling with Dads and Brothers just waiting to not notice me, not pay attention to me, not accept me: a bit of a landmine, for lack of a better word. This work environment, if left to psychological formulas and interrupted stories, would only serve to reinforce the wounds from my childhood. I would continue to project onto others the experiences that shaped me, and continue to experience what I perceived at age fourteen as rejection, abandonment, and isolation.  

But the surprising beauty of the gospel is that God is not limited by psychology.  He is able to reinterpret even the most devastating aspects of our stories, so that wounds are acknowledged as real and evil but able to heal. For me personally, this has taken shape very specifically in my relationship to Dad and Brother types, in that I've been freed from the self-defeating narrative of "eleven-year-old girl, interrupted." Over the last three years, God used my work environment to expose ways that I was still letting those childhood wounds define me and my relationships, and showed me that it doesn't have to be that way-- that I don't have to experience every B- as rejection, for example, or every conversation I'm not a part of as a sign that I'm not wanted. In other words, I don't have to re-live the painful experiences of my adolescence over and over in every relationship I have with a man.

As I reflect on this theme in my story and the ways God has re-shaped it, I realize that this is a primary example of the how the gospel works. The good news of Christ's death and resurrection isn't just applied to my life abstractly, as an idea I accept or add to my mental stockpile of data. It is a reality that changes my own. Being a Christian means being united with Christ in such a way that the dead things in my own story are resurrected; that the personal losses that would otherwise shape the trajectory of my life are taken seriously enough to be dealt with-- even by death on a cross-- but then re-cast in a larger narrative that doesn't end until new life comes. Being a Christian means God enters my story in such a personal way that He takes it on Himself-- "He carried our sorrows and bore our grief," (Is. 54:3) but that He also invites me into His story in such a personal way that I share in the new life that is His-- "...just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life." (Rom. 6:4)

One last beautiful-- and concrete!-- gift in all this: freedom from the old, broken narrative of "girl, interrupted" has freed me to actually enjoy the men around me. Instead of obsessing over their acceptance or acknowledgement of me, I've been learning to appreciate my class-mates, co-workers and professors for who they are as children of God. And guess what that makes them? My brothers in Christ. The beauty of this whole thing is that God placed me in a landmine and turned it into a family. He gave this orphan not just reminders of her loss, but one hundred-fold return on them. Now, instead of feeling fatherless or brotherless, I have a hundred new brothers and twenty new fathers. He has truly, and concretely, "restored the years the locust has eaten," (Joel 2:25) "turned my mourning into dancing," (Ps. 30:11) and "placed the lonely in a home." (Ps. 68:6) 

What wounds, losses, or painful memories shape your current experience? How might Jesus' death and resurrection bring new shape to them?

No comments: