Archive for February, 2010

Somebody to Love

There is no “almost” in fundamentalist Christianity. Either something is, or it isn’t… there’s no in between. I grew up being told that either I was sinning, or I wasn’t sinning… I was either lying, or I was telling the truth. The list continued. I knew what was required of me; my shortcomings weren’t because I was ignorant. The standard that I am compared to is ever-present… and never ceases to remind me that I can’t reach it.

See, there’s no “almost.” And the standard that I am held to is perfection. I must be the perfect daughter. I must be kind and softspoken, dutiful and diligent, enthusiastic and industrious… It was a long list, and if I were to ever fulfill everything, there would be no doubt that everyone would rise up and call me blessed. But instead of being Superwoman, I’m human. As such, I continually fell short of what was expected of me.

And there’s no “almost.” There’s no “pretty good.” There’s no “Wow, you did great, now let’s try to do it better.” If you didn’t do it, you didn’t do it. I call(ed) it failure. Now, though, I realize I should call it being human.

It is hard to accept that it’s okay to make mistakes, or to not be perfect. There was no in-between growing up, and it’s hard to break a habit. I wasn’t shown love or acceptance when I didn’t make it. Instead, I was met with disappointment. Those dreaded words… “I’m disappointed in you, sweetheart… do you want to tell me what went wrong?” There was the reminder of Bible verses that spoke to the subject at hand. Or just the harsh yelling at how you messed up and how could you do this to them after all they had done for you, how they had raised you… you were a failure and a disappointment.

What I wanted most… what other daughters wanted most… was to be loved. And since we couldn’t have that, we opted for the second-best thing — approval. We tried our hardest, bent over backward, and went out of our way to gain approval. We wanted somebody to acknowledge us, to say “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” We didn’t need love, as long as you told us that hey, we did alright.

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I’m not entirely sure how the “I’m not a teenager” craze started, but I remember it clearly. That was what separated us (one of the many things) from others. Those others, of course, were the worldly ones who weren’t conservative, Christian, godly, or whatever. They were what we had to constantly guard ourselves against, as we strove to be as close to perfect as we could be.

Granted, the concept of perfection was a hypocritical one. We were taught that we were constantly sinning, and there was nothing we could do about it. We were horrible people, who were nothing without God, and were lucky–excuse me, blessed–to know Him. As such, we were constantly striving toward perfection, and it wasn’t good enough to be “almost perfect.” Anything short of perfection was failure. Thus, in light of the fact that we were always sinning, we were never perfect, and therefore, always failing.

Regardless of the Kobayashi Maru that we had been placed in, it was expected that we would be perfect and conform to the standards set up by those who knew better (Mary Pride, Pam Forster, Mike Farris, need I go on?). Part of this whole setting ourselves apart from the world business meant that we would show how we were different from the others. So, where the rest of the world had teenagers, we had “young adults.”

I, and many others like me, insisted that I wasn’t a teenager. I was offended when people referred to me by such terms. There was no in-between stage from childhood to adulthood for me. After all, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” (1 Cor. 13:11, NKJV) I went from childhood to young adulthood because I was being trained for adulthood. I was on my journey there, and so I was beginning to take on the responsibilities of such. I was an adult, like my parents, only I was younger.  I was more spiritually mature than other teenagers my age, and I certainly didn’t buy into the silly, evil, and worldly things that they did: be it music, clothes, movies, etc.

Looking back, I find myself hurting for what I now call my “lost years.” Rather than taking the time to learn to be me, to spend time with my friends, figure out my likes and dislikes, I found myself forced into the position of substitute parent. Living in the middle of nowhere meant we didn’t often see other people my age, and when we did it felt like they were usually boys. Which, of course, meant that I wasn’t really allowed to hang out with them. On the rare opportunities we did get together and I made friends, I was often shuffled off on childcare duty, as were the other girls.

While this may seem like a grand opportunity to get to know one another, there is really only so much socializing you can do while watching three, four, and more little ones. Crying babies, escaping toddlers, trying to get the girls to sit still… it took up all of our attention. Our brothers were outside playing, because that was what was good for them. We, however, needed to learn to be mommies, and this was our practice, while the adults “fellowshipped.”

By the age of  10-13 (couldn’t legally babysit by myself until 13), I was able to babysit all the kids (and we had a lot), make every meal, clean up the house (not that we were necessarily good at following through on that, I will admit), change baby diapers, and pretty much do everything short of actually nursing a baby. From there on out, I spent much of my time either trying to push against the religious environment I was raised in and create something of an individual life for myself, or acting like another parent so my mom could lie in bed due to the exhaustion she felt from having all of us.

Looking back, calling myself a “young adult” was accurate. I wasn’t a teenager, nor was I ever really given the opportunity to be one. Instead I had the cares and responsibilities that should have been my mother’s thrown onto me. After all, I hadn’t given birth 8 times, so I was fair game. I was young, less tired, and strong. Besides, it would be good practice for when I had children all on my own.

Did I grow up too quickly? Yes, and no. I grew up in many ways far sooner than I should have, but the rushed onset of adulthood left me far behind my peers in many other ways. I now have to figure out who I am, what I believe, what I think. These are things that the rest of my peers discovered during their teenage years. But if you want me to raise a family, then by golly, I’m the one for you.

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