I’m here at work with no work to do because all of my computer programs are in the process of being updated, so I thought I’d write about some things that have been on my mind lately. Well, one thing really – being alone.
That sounds more depressed than I mean it to. I guess it would be more accurate to say being on my own. It’s something I’ve dealt with for 15 years now, and still don’t feel like I’m good at it.
I’ll start with a story. Back in 2002 my parents moved here to Salt Lake and stayed for two years. They had a very pretty house out west of Eagle Mountain, and the plan was that they would spend their retirement years close to most of their children and grandchildren. I loved it. But my Dad hated Utah, absolutely hated it. There were lots of reasons for that that I won’t go into now, especially since it was a long time ago and doesn’t matter anymore. They moved back to Minnesota in the fall of 2004. It was heartbreaking for me. I suppose I took it all more personally than I should have, but sometimes it’s hard not to take the things your parents do personally. I’m not still hurt that they left, not at all. It has all worked out well. I’m telling this little piece of my life because it was then that I came to know a factor of being on my own that I hadn’t faced before, and that was that my family could do whatever they wanted, and my feelings about their decisions really did not matter. They were not in any way obligated to consider me.
Being single, I still rely on my parents and siblings to be my family. Marrieds with children usually think of that group, the spouse and kids, when they think of their family. But not me, not any of us who have never been married. Our family is still those that we grew up with. Over the years as my siblings’ own families have grown and become more defined, I’ve had to realize that they have obligations, responsibilities, commitments, and their strongest emotional ties to their spouses and children, which is exactly right and good. I wouldn’t have them feel differently, but it leaves me in a vulnerable position. Any of them could go, like my parents did, or could make other life decisions that would profoundly affect me, and in which my voice would have no meaning, and they wouldn’t have to listen to it. It’s a helpless feeling.
I love my family very much, and I’m sure that they love me. I’m certainly not saying that they don’t care if I live or die. They’ve always included me in Sunday dinners, holidays, dance recitals, birthdays. I’ve loved every minute that I’ve spent with my nieces and nephews, and am always grateful that my siblings are willing to share their kids. Still, when we’re all together I often feel like I am outside of their family circle, on the fringe, looking in. And I’m always well aware of the fact that those kids aren’t mine. And sometimes I’m drained by loving so much something that isn’t mine.
Years ago I was talking to a good and very wise friend at work about my emotional instability (he was always very nice about my emotional instability), and he said something that has stuck with me, “You can’t define how you feel about yourself by what others think of you." Or, I'll add, by how much you think you mean to them, or by how important you are in their lives. Heck, most of the time when we try to figure out what others are thinking of us we get it wrong, so that’s nothing to go on. I’ve thought about that advice hundreds of times since then, and have tried to apply it. It isn’t good for me to be constantly at risk of a mental breakdown depending on what other people say or do. Ridiculous, and yet it’s so easy for me to put myself in that place, and so hard to feel strong enough on my own to have emotional stability.
So after all of that, here’s my point – I am trying to find my own strength, independence and self-assurance. I’m trying to feel like my existence is worth something, all on its own, without the label of wife or mother, without the validation that comes from being listened to or considered in everything. I want to feel good about myself and my life all by myself. I want some peace.
Life is a transitional thing. We move through it in stages. Children grow up and move away; marriages sometimes dissolve; there’s death. I’m sure that eventually everyone faces a time when they have to do what I’m doing. I have a friend whose father died more than ten years ago, and her mother, who was in her sixties at the time, had to for the first time live on her own, and found even the simplest decisions hard to make. My parents committed themselves whole-heartedly to raising their six children, and now we’re all off on our own. I’m sure that they’d love to have us there in Minnesota, but all of those years of them giving so much to their children didn’t mean that we’d stay with them. I went 1200 miles away. My niece Sierra will leave for school in a month, and will for the first time be on her own. She’s at that point in her life when this is exactly what she should be doing, and I’m sure that she’ll love it. But I also know that it’s freaking her out, and for good reason. There’s a huge learning curve ahead, and she’ll have to learn to depend on herself. She knows, though, of course, that she has all of her family’s love and prayers behind her, including mine. I pray for all of the kids, every day. And maybe there are people praying for me too. I know that my parents do (in fact my dad writes me letters now, which is so much fun).
So eventually most of us live in a place by ourselves, and when that happens we have to know how to live happily alone. We have to have personal definition that is independent of anyone else and that can thrive on its own strength. We need God. We need prayer. We need the Holy Spirit to give assurance, and we need to know that we are worth something all on our own – as one single individual. Gosh it’s hard, and I really am not good at it, but I want to be. I pray for it. Relationships are wonderful; they are what makes life worth all of the trouble. Cultivate them and keep them alive and well, and include in that work the relationship you have with God, and with yourself.
I’m going to end with one of my favorite quotes, from a TV show (ok it’s Sex and the City, but don’t tell anyone).
“…I got to thinking about relationships. There are those that open you up to something new and exotic, those that are old and familiar, those that bring up lots of questions, those that bring you somewhere unexpected, those that bring you far from where you started, and those that bring you back. But the most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. And if you can find someone to love the you you love, well, that's just fabulous”.