How To Love The Family That Says You Are Not Enough

silhouette of man standing beside shore under brown sky during daytime
Mike Scheid / Unsplash

We all want to be good children. We listen to our parents when we are younger and when we grow up, oftentimes out of a sense of responsibility, duty, and sometimes love. We learn how to best deplete ourselves. We run to and fro, scrambling between their house and ours, rubbing the sleep out of our eyes while being greeted with frowns and narrowed eyes.

“You aren’t helping out at home enough.”

“Why aren’t you spending more time with Grandma?”

“You’re not a good sister because you weren’t there.”

Sometimes, when you’ve decided you’ve had enough, when you steal yourself away from the squabbling and chaos, you find yourself back in that other place. The place that rings with carefree laughter and ease. A place of light. Sometimes it’s quiet and there is neither laughter nor breeze but only the silence that pervades all sound and space. And it is during such stillness that suddenly you become aware of the shape of your body and the tiny speck of pure awareness that is bigger than your personality.

You realize you are vast, you are inside your chest and head and arms but you are also outside of your body. You can see your sadness, but it doesn’t affect you. It is a heavy gloom that carries its own fragrance, and it is as much a part of you as your kindness, as your golden courage.

Your heart yearns to stay, but you know you must leave. You must return to the grey ruins of a reality colored by expectation that says, “I will be happy when.” You adopt their colors. They tell you that you are a worthless muted yellow and so you wear muted yellow. They tell you, “Here, don this cloak of self-pity. If I am wearing it, so must you.”

And thus you envelop yourself with whatever drabness they picked out for the day. Because they are family. Because if you do enough they may clap their hands and say you are wonderful. Because if you somehow keep painting yourself in their colors perhaps one day you will find the right one, the perfect shade of external validation. And yet somehow you know even the most beautiful robes cannot hide an emaciated soul.

You don’t want to regret, you say. If I don’t give up my soul to save them, if I don’t lay myself on the dirt for their judgement to walk all over me, if I don’t carry the heaviest burden and let the tendons in my arms break with a splintering snap, then how will I ever show I am good? How will I ever be enough?

And so you keep running back and forth, desperate to paint a portrait of family harmony, of parental love and acceptance. If only I chose the right color, if only I do exactly as they say. You strain your back with each stroke, color splattering onto your clothes, staining your hands and your twisted, tear-ridden face. You don’t stop, because they are family and for family you give everything. It is not until you put down your brush to breathe and take a step back that you see what you have created. Your eyes widen and the paintbrush falls onto the floor. It is not blossoming love, as you had imagined, but cold, dripping fear.

Don’t you see? No matter how noble your vision, how calculative your technique, if you paint with fear, you will only see darkness. If you consume fear, it is nothing but fear that runs through your veins and rots your bones like lead that destroys you, cell by cell, from the inside.

How does one break free of the chains, you ask? There is a place you have been to before. A place where such a thing as “being enough” is absolute folly. What does “enough” look like when your wisdom and love run as deep as the oceans and you had always belonged to the sun and the marigolds? Remember that in your heart, you are always as free as birdsong, and that you must keep this place inviolate. Keep your home inviolate.

Faith isn’t something hard and impenetrable. It is a subtle, warm glow that rests just beneath your skin. You are aware of its presence during winter, the barren, lifeless months when the earth takes back everything. And yet all of this—the destruction, the snowstorms, the nights without stars—you must let be.

Faith’s power does not come from puncturing the cold, but rather from its softness. How its wisps flutter about and gently land on your hair like newborn snow the moment you become still. The moment you can sit with yourself, your sadness and pain. The moment you can sit with yourself is the moment you understand faith. And when you understand faith you understand love, that love is not fixing and doing and mixing colors to paint a portrait of happiness, to construct a “you” that is worthy.

You cannot put together what you already are. You cannot mend what is already whole. TC mark

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