On growing up & being free

An open letter to my daughter at 21.

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City Church Christchurch

An open letter

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1 April 2020
By Cori Sanders

My darling daughter,

I’ve been thinking a lot about life cycles. How there are certain patterns at each stage of life.

We’re born curious - eager as sponges absorbing everything in our environment from family, culture, and friends. The world is awash with wonder.

Then we grow up, go to school and make friends. Before we know it, our peer group looms large in influence. Its magnitude inundates us like a tsunami in high school, just when we’re flooded with adolescent hormones. We grapple for the approval of our peers, even when we think we don’t.

As teens and young adults, we start individuating - trying to discover who we are. We buck the rules and chafe at the values we grew up with in order to discover what really matters to us. There’s a grating urgency to differentiate ourselves from our parents and their values and to see what we are capable of. (This is where you’re at at the moment, and I have to remind myself not to judge you because I went through the same thing myself!)

We charge pell-mell into adulthood, fired by ambitions and dreams, forging ahead trying to fulfill them. Slowly, we acquire the trappings of success – the house, the car, the kids, the corner office. And then we hit middle-age and wonder why something essential still seems to elude us. What are we missing?

We find ourselves caught in an incessant tug of war between an existential restlessness and what we’re told we should want. Unfortunately, when our significance derives from the opinions or envy of others, the clamor to be approved of and admired can be deafening.

And the noise of our striving mutes the quiet voice of our true self.

Life is, I think, a process of uncovering our true selves.

A mother and daught hold hands looking off into the distance at a mountain.

The school of hard knocks.

Let’s face it. Life will assault us with disappointment, disillusionment, heartbreak, and despair. But it will also bring great fun, joy, celebration, and myriad things to be grateful for. In the end, we all graduate from the school of hard knocks.

I’ve tasted success as well as the maddening lack of it. To my dismay, I’ve learned that you can’t stay at the top of the Ferris Wheel forever. That wheel goes ‘round and ‘round!

Gradually, I’ve come to realize that life will humble us, and that we should welcome it!

Because it’s only in being humbled – being honest with ourselves about ourselves – that we will truly be able to feel compassion and love for ourselves and others.

Moving into spirit.

At my stage in life, a lot of the external trappings have fallen away. I have allowed myself to be humbled by life. This is a good thing – contrary to what the world believes. I think it’s good because it means that I’ve moved away from the grasping ambitions of ego that rule all of us for decades and which is normal.

I am moving deeper into Spirit. I suspect that this is a natural progression preparing one to be reunited with one’s Maker. So, if you think I sound “religious”, it’s because I am drawn and magnetized to, smitten, captivated, and charmed by the Holy Trinity of Love: Jesus. Abba. Holy Spirit.

At your stage in life, this is probably not so important. You have pressing concerns like SURVIVAL. A JOB. SOCIAL ACCEPTANCE. Searching for PURPOSE and MEANING.

All this to say that you and I are at two completely different life stages. Our values will be different. Our expectations will be different. We won’t always understand one another.

All mothers worry.

I realize that, because I’ve lived through so much, I try to warn you, wanting to protect you from heartache and distress. I don’t want you to make the same mistakes that I made or experience the disappointments that I have. So, I try to head them off at the pass by telling you what to do, how to behave.

This morning, the Lord asked me, “Cori, did all of your mother’s warnings help you?” I answered truthfully, “No, because I wanted to experience life and I felt like she was stopping me from having fun.” He replied, “So it is with most kids.”

Life is fascinating when you see things from further along down the track. We humans are, it seems, all the same.

A woman holding a pen, writing something in a book.

What I want you to know.

So, my intelligent and thinking child, acknowledging that I cannot rescue you from yourself or make your journey sweeter, I want to leave you with some thoughts to ponder. Pieces of advice I would have given my younger self from the future me. I share them with love.

  1. Instead of setting goals, decide who you want to BE, e.g. brave, authentic, a leader, etc. and keep this as your north star to guide you. Act now in ways that will make your future self proud.
  2. Take responsibility for your choices, decisions, and actions. The world is full of blamers who feel better when they can blame someone else for their pain because it’s too hard to take responsibility for their role in the matter or for their choices. The majority of people live like this.

    I lived like this for a long time. I wanted everyone to sympathize with me and see that I was a victim of family dysfunction and my parents’ lack of love. They didn’t love me the way I needed to be loved. They made me feel unworthy. Not. Good. Enough.

    I felt emotionally and psychologically crippled and thought there’s no coming back from this. I’m always going to be a shriveled soul.

    All that this kind of thinking did was keep me small and pathetic, disempowered. And I was drawn to other people from dysfunctional families because misery loves company.

    When all of this got too intolerable, I finally sought help from counselors, psychologists, and self-help books and courses. Why? Because I did not want to be miserable all my life. And I knew that the only one who could get me out of this pit was Me. This was when change began to happen.

    I made the choice to get help wherever I could. It doesn’t need to cost a lot of money. And whenever it did cost money, I thought it a price worth paying... to be free.
  3. Work to make your mind your friend. Your thoughts can lie to you. Don’t always believe what you think because a lie can masquerade as truth.
  4. Your emotions will follow from your thoughts. If you are feeling negative, despondent, fearful, or angry, put on your sleuthing cap and trace your feelings back to the thoughts that prompted them. Can you absolutely know that what you’re believing is true? How do you feel when you believe that thought? Who would you be without that thought?
  5. Be kind. Everyone is having a hard time and hiding it…just like you. Walk around in their shoes. Get inside their skin. Try to imagine life in their place, in their world, and compassion will rise up in you. By getting out of yourself and your self-preoccupation, and doing something kind for someone else, you will like yourself so much better and be a blessing to someone.
  6. IF you want to be free, then Forgive, Release, and Bless those who hurt and offend you. You already know this.
  7. Remember that you have choices. You are not a victim. You always have a choice about how to think about something, someone, or your circumstances. When you feel like you have no choices, then power, strength and hope evaporate, leaving you feeling weak and powerless. Knowing that you have choices restores personal power.

    Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, who was a Holocaust survivor, said that the last choice that remains when all else has been stripped away is our attitude.

    “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” He also said, “A human being is a deciding being.”
  8. Lastly, always remember that God is FOR you. That He loves you in ways you can’t even begin to measure. As one song says, “Even when you don’t see it, He’s working. Even when you don’t feel it, He’s working.”

    He is the one treasure that will never tarnish, fade, or disappear. When you look into His eyes of love, you will know who you are. So, don’t lock Him out of your life now while you’re “having fun”.

    He is FOR you. He will never lie to you. He will always speak truth. And behind everything He does is Love.

I love you and only want what’s best for you. I hope that you will too (i.e. love, respect and forgive yourself), and be true to your highest self so that you can truly be proud of the person you become.

God bless you.

Love always, Mum