Rectifying What I Knew: My Primary Value

It feels ridiculous to be writing some of these blog posts at 33 years of age. The topics I am processing through have impacted my life in monumental ways, and yet as I type the words, I can’t help but think “Well, of course that is wrong!” Cutting ties with the words and ideas is one thing…identifying how deeply raveled these views are in my life is something completely different.

Lately, I’ve had some health issues, and these personal issues have really forced me to be aware of the ability to have children. I’m 33, enjoying life right now, but mindful that I would like to have children eventually.

Last night, I broke down. I have had some new symptoms, signaling my present issues may be a longer-term issue, which could drastically effect our future plans for a family of our own in the near future. As I laid my head in my hands and sobbed with my husband last night, these words left my mouth:

“I don’t even know why you would stay married to me if this is a problem forever. It’s possible that I can’t do the one thing I’m supposed to do.”

Honestly, the words felt wrong as soon as they left my mouth. My husband was calm and encouraging, calling out my thinking and reassuring me. But in this deep emotional moment, everything laid bare, these words revealed everything about my deepest fears and emotions.

I grew up in the 90’s and 00’s, in a very conservative Christian church. As a young girl, there were so many messages given.

Submission

Modesty

Serving others

Meekness

Preparing yourself for marriage

Preparing yourself to be a mother

Perhaps time has changed in some ways, but my experience was deep and impactful on my upbringing. I clearly came out of adolescence focused on being an amazing wife and having an amazing family.

That’s how you “arrive”.

That’s how you have Value.

That’s a “life of sacrifice worth living”.

Books were written on preparing for marriage and a family. Blogs were pushed on how to follow mothers who “had it together”. Social media became the way spiritual women showed how wonderful their families were, and how joyous (yet exhausted) they were. The messaging was clear.

We have already bucked the system, and we have definitely received pushback. We have been married for 8 years and haven’t pushed for kids yet. We have focused on our careers, our short and long-term goals, our growth, and learning to live in the moment. However, we have always known we would have a family some day. People told us we hadn’t “arrived” yet, we were “unrealistic” about getting our finances in order, “going though a phase” or “being selfish”. I’ve learned to let these things go, but it took awhile.

But the idea that I could honestly believe that my value to my husband and myself was based upon having children revealed a huge theological flaw for me.

Yes.

These emotions of worry and fear are normal.

The pain is real.

But the belief that I am minimized to my ability to “put myself second” to become a mother is not something I want to subscribe to, but find everywhere I look.

The real problem is this:

I grew up minimizing all of my other wonderful qualities, feeling like everything about me was ultimately useless unless I had children. Feeling I was selfish if I didn’t become a mother. Thinking that a life is only worth living if a can be in a supportive role in a family.

I still would like those things. The idea that my body may not allow that right now is deeply difficult for me. But I want to enter into having a family believing that who I am is a gift.

I long to root my identity in more than my ability to handle laundry or post a great Instagram pic of how clean my house is, how cute my children look, or how wonderful my dinner turned out. (I love to cook and I will never understand that trend.)

Back then, I thought I knew that motherhood was my sole value. Now, I know that motherhood won’t make me valuable, but who I am apart from it will (hopefully someday) make motherhood special.

Rectifying What I Knew: Self-Care and Selfishness

I recognize that my experiences in life were often shaped from a number of influences, crafting the ideas I latched onto throughout my childhood and young adult years.

Role-models, community, economic situations, religious beliefs, personal interpretations and experiences

No one area gets credit/blame for the molding of a person through life, certainly myself included.

However, as I examine these factors in my life, I can see a variety of areas that I have to adjust course, relearn, or in some cases, simply unlearn.

One of these areas is the idea that self-care is not selfish.

I understand that many people would not need to be convinced of such an acceptable truth. But truly, I have fought incredibly hard to adjust my viewpoint to accept this in my life. And honestly, as a woman, I don’t believe I’m alone.

So, why would I have such a hard time with something so elementary?

I grew up in a culture in which excessive self-sacrifice was praised and admired, especially among women.Women “served” their husbands and children diligently, using the tag line of “putting themselves last.” It was seen as a “higher calling” to sacrifice for others. A woman like this was the gold standard.

This created so many issues for me, many of which will be topics of discussion for future posts. But today, I’d like to narrow it down to this truth.

I grew up wholeheartedly believing that my worth as an adult woman hinged on my ability to sacrifice and take care of my family, not myself.

Get that.

My entire view of my womanhood as a young child was on how to be a martyr in my pursuit of caring for others, because that was considered virtuous.

I saw this emphasized time and time again, even into adulthood.

  • The comments and eye-rolls about women who practiced self-care from women who didn’t, and the plethora of reasons why there is no time for that in a “virtuous, busy life.”
  • A plethora of books, articles and messages on the topics of Christian womanhood, wifehood, and motherhood, all formulaic in their approach: You are here to serve, and here is how.
  • The comments and questions we received as soon as we got married, pushing us to start our family. The message was clear (and in some cases, actually stated):You’ll “arrive” when you have a family you can sacrifice for.
  • The quiet competition and shaming among women, whether about their diet, working or staying-home, wardrobe, or schedule.
  • The badge of honor that is often worn in womanhood, showcasing how busy, tired and worn out we all are for the sake of others…

Sacrifice is beautiful. Caring about others and choosing to place them first is a genuine act of love. But I have learned I must love and care for myself in order to love and care for others.Self-care looks different to many people, myself included. I’m not here to prescribe activities or add more “tasks”. I don’t know what I need half the time, let alone others. I’m simply admitting that for years, I felt incredibly and utterly selfish for doing anything for me. I felt like someone was always in need of my time more than me. Like I was vain, selfish, shallow, or inefficient to take time to love and care for myself.

I desire to love who I am with actions, thoughts, and self-care so I can be more fully me for those I love.

Then, I knew that self-care was incredibly selfish, but now I know I can only care for others out of what I myself have to give.

Rectifying What I Knew: Fear

For much of my life, Fear has had a part in every motivation, action, and decision.  The problem is that until recently, I didn’t recognize it.

I may have been slow to recognize this, because in many areas, I’ve considered myself to be fairly brave, superficially speaking. I had no problem leaving my small hometown for college, skipping the chance to stay home at our local university.  I traveled in and out of the country, choosing to see the world. After college, I applied to jobs in 8 different states, open and willing to start out wherever someone would pay me to show up to work each day.

The fear I’m addressing is more deeply-rooted…and for years it was invisible to me. It’s a fear that can produce good actions, and can easily pass as hard-working, in-control, and motivated. It’s a fear that has quietly simmered under the surface as I’ve formed my identity as a person.

It’s a fear that has kept me from risking anything I wasn’t sure I could completely handle, master, or succeed doing. 

It’s a fear that has begged me to look outward, rather than inward, to see if I’m passing by external factors.

It’s a fear that Motivated me to do the right thing only because I was scared-to-death to do it wrong. 

In reality, this influence in my life is probably two-fold: a natural perfectionist, people-pleasing personality that needs to be attended to coupled with a very conservative upbringing  that I misunderstood, sprinkling fear into the fabric of my life.

Personally, I’ve seen my personality struggle with this for years. In some ways, fear kept me from dreaming. When you’re scared to fail, your dreams shrink to manageable dreams, perhaps defeating the purpose of dreams.

If I short-change my dreams because I’m scared to fail, then my successes aren’t quite as pure. Indeed, the question would always be “Where would I be without the boundary of fear keeping me in this box?”

Fear has influenced some of my relationships, creating a motivation to “do” things right for fear of failing relationally or losing the relationship rather than “being” in the relationship.

If I stop listening to my own wants and desires, instead seeking out the constant needs of others due to intense private fear of loss or failure, not pure love, my relationship is fragile and at risk. I short-change myself of the opportunity to love and be loved fully.

Now, I will be the first one to admit that Fear has, at times, produced arguably positive actions in me, but for an entirely negative reason.

I Know now that Fear is a terrible motivator.

In my religious background, I didn’t recognize how much fear was motivating me to action.  Bible verses about “perfect love casting out all fear” would enter my mind intellectually, and would be applied to superficial situations for me.  However, I never truly examined the role of fear in my life.

Even then, there were signs.

At 11 years old, I was crying myself to sleep at night, because after attending a fairly strict youth experience, I believed every error or sin I committed was proof I was not a “true believer” and was going to hell.

Even as a normal teen with interest for and from guys, I’d never date, afraid that I would “go to far” or “end up” in a relationship with someone who didn’t take his faith as seriously.

I’d wear incredibly modest clothing, because I was scared to “make a brother stumble”.  This had lasting impacts on me, making my path to healthy womanhood even harder.

If I am so scared to “cross a line” that I don’t allow myself to be me fully, then I deny myself the opportunity to learn about myself, as I am, with self-acceptance.

I’m not in a place to analyze my actions. I feel uneqipped to handle those right now with where I am in my journey.  What I can say is that the motivation that led me to those actions was completely harmful, destructive and negative.  

I want to live a life free of fear so I can freely choose my actions, not pursue due to fear. 

Then, I didn’t realize that many of my decisions, actions and thoughts were motivated by fear. Now, I know that Fear is not a successful motivator for pure action.

Having A Different Conversation…

Blogging is one of those things that has always intrigued me, but I have never pursued for myself.

I’ve certainly been a consumer of a multitude of blogs for years, with topics ranging from Marriage to frugal finances, fashion to food, House-keeping to travel.

My problem with blogging is that I have always  approached a blog with the following mindset: I need to get better at _____________(insert topic).  ___________ (Insert blogger with impressive Design Layout) clearly has the answers. I will learn from this and be better (can also be read as “perfect”, “meeting expectations,” etc).

In all reality, I have done this with many more things than blogging.  I have read books with the same purpose. I’ve talked to “experts” in areas I feel I’m deficient to ‘gain wisdom’.  I’ve researched topics with hopes of getting better in areas I feel are flaws, or simply inefficient.

I am sure many people can do these same things without putting pressure on themselves to be perfect, to meet some cultural expectation, or pursue some goal of “doing everything right.”

I am not that person. 

Instead, I saw a path to chasing expectations. The harder I tried, the more exhausted I got and the further from ‘happy’ I became.

That chase ended a year ago. Marriage was difficult, my exhaustion had hit a new high, and I was struggling to make sense of the new, divided world we found ourselves inside, especially when I looked at other places in the world where respect for others mattered.  I started to question everything…

I began to delve deeper, uncovering a sense of self that was in tatters. I began questioning, examining and being honest with myself. I began to own painful parts of my past that had haunted me for 15 years. And I began thinking that perhaps everything I learned growing up wasn’t something I needed to accept without question.  I started to slowly learn how flawed I was and how unhealthy my life has become for true connection, to others and myself.

So why am I blogging?

I want to practice learning me, questioning what I was taught, and not having conclusions.

This is a journey of learning to make sense of what I knew with what I know now.  And my hope is that this is the first blog I use to become more of myself, challenging myself, thinking outside the box, and being honest.