A reflection on our upbringing and God’s invitation to exuberant life
Our attraction to each other is fundamental to our common humanity. We are born with a natural curiosity. Our urge to explore helps us to keep deepening our knowledge of the other. This desire to discover is so important for our sexuality, which, when appropriate, gives us a deep sense of connection.
When we were children, this movement out of ourselves could have easily been damaged. A harsh word, look or action would have dampened our natural exuberance and left us feeling rejected or shamed for who we were. We were full of energy and an appetite to find out about ourselves and our world, but with most of us, the urge was shaped by well-meaning people in order to make us into acceptable members of society.
These inhibitions placed on us countered our urge to life, and ‘what if…?’ still holds us back. These fears have shaped how we feel about ourselves, how we act or won’t engage, or are careful about how we are. It is important to consider areas in which our childhood shaping has limited us. External constraints have now become internalized and we might find our urge to become and to explore is watered down. The social game we were taught is visible if we always want to fit in and please without question, and choose friends of one group and never of another.
All of us grew up with a reference point of what was acceptable or not. Either we complied with it or reacted against it. Compliant children kept the reference point happy and were pleasers; good little boys and girls. Reactive children did the opposite of what was expected, but neither position is free as it’s always measured by that reference point. Even as grownups, though our parents may have died, we continue to refer to that same inner parent.
God’s blueprint for us is so much bigger than the one we (or others) have. God knows that we’re made to be so much more than we even know about ourselves. When we pull back into what’s expected of us, we become smaller. Every movement away from our growing edge is a response to security as we seek to retain what we think is ‘us’.
We’re all being invited to move out of our inner space to become all God calls us to be. We alone are the keepers of this delicate space. Jesus helps us in this, and gave us the example of moving out to those who were on the fringes of society, the outcasts and rejected ones. He asks us also to love our enemy, both the parts of ourselves that we reject and those people we deem unworthy of our love. As we receive these and push through our normal boundaries, and love the image of God in all, we grow, but it’s a risky process.
Initially, moving into the unknown spaces in ourselves and behaving differently won’t feel good. For as we act in our habitual way, we get familiar and affirming feelings that keep us stuck. As we risk exploring a new, unknown part of ourselves, we’ll get new uncomfortable feelings and voices inside that say, “You can’t do this, it’s not you!” We will immediately feel this if, as compliant people, we start to take the risk of disappointing others or, as reactive people, we take the risk of pleasing. Even so, as we practice a new behaviour we update old information about ourselves, receive a larger identity and choose a freer, inner reference point. We will start to behave more integrally, to have relationships which are more ‘meaty’, satisfying and real.