If you’ve lived in China at all during the past 10 or so years you’ve probably encountered the phrases “I believe in me,” and “I just need to be myself” fairly often. In fact, at times these phrases seem to be the mantra of the Chinese millennial. The phrases are often thrown out as the solution to friends who don’t understand you, trials you’re facing, and personal struggles with historical issues in your past.
In this article, originally published in Jingjie, author Wang Ming Li examines the very public and famous journey of singer Annie Yi, who ultimately decided that the path to overcoming rejection by her father was to “just be myself.” But is this really a panacea for our life problems? How do we as Christians respond to significant family of origin wounds? Wang first examines Annie’s journey, then shares her own personal experience and reflections.
*Note: if you are interested in the TEDx talk that Wang refers to in this article it can be found here.
Healing the River of Love
Annie was born the seventh child in a family of daughters. In response to her mother’s “failure” to produce a son, Annie’s father left shortly after her birth.
At one point her mother said, “if it weren’t for you, Mommy might have had a better life.” From a place of deep self-reproach, Annie swore to herself: “I will act as this family’s eldest son; I want my father to know that I am just as strong as any son.”
This year on Mother’s Day Annie published a long blog, admitting that when she discovered that she herself was pregnant with a daughter she felt extremely conflicted. “The Little Prince (her son with her ex-husband) was as the sun; there wasn’t a single day of my pregnancy that didn’t go by without a smile, no day failing to overflow with love. And now this daughter is the moon, cold and gentle, pushing me to my female self, embracing an awareness that has always hidden deep inside of me. . . . I’ve finally stepped out from the censure of this unjust world and walked towards a place of meditating on this fear and dread that I’ve put myself through.”
In recent years the public has come to know Annie in a new way, reading her blogs filled with sharp wisdom and following her search for spirituality and intellectual growth.
She seemed like a phoenix rising from the ashes; becoming reborn as she went through the baptisms of life. First she faced the crumbling of her marriage, followed by the trials of life as a single mother, all while navigating the challenging seas of her career. She remarried a man ten years her junior and, at age 46, discovered she was pregnant with a daughter. All of these trials she calmly recounted over Weibo. In reality, laughter and tears interwove throughout these years, crossing the many flavors of life.
“I want my father to know that his daughter is as strong as a son.”
In August of 2015 Annie spoke at the Chaoyang TEDx Women event. Her topic was her own path to self discovery.
“I’m the youngest of seven. Starting very early I struggled with a sense of guilt, feeling that I should not have come into this world. My arrival brought my mother suffering.”
Annie’s mother often repeated this one painful sentence: “Without you, Mommy’s life would have been better. But Dad left, and Mom has been left to raise you seven alone.”
In response to the tragic life brought on by their traditional society, Annie vowed that “I will act as this family’s eldest son, I want my father to know that I am just a strong as any son."
She acknowledges, "I have constantly been trying to prove this one thing.”
However, on Mother’s Day of this year, Annie considered this: “I spent the entirety of my youth seeking to prove that I was better than any son, and yet when I hear any voice to the contrary I find myself again like my mother, trembling with inferiority and fear.”
H. Norman Wright, in his book Always Daddy’s Girl, offered this fitting description:
If a daughter’s femininity is not valued and approved by her father, as she grows into adulthood she will become just as one writer described: A heavily armed woman warrior. In order to confront this irresponsible father, she will arm herself by taking on some of the responsibilities that should belong to the father. Since her father did not provide the required male image, she decides to play that role herself. She will rely on her own success or put incredible amounts of hard work into a given task in order to create a strong and masculine self-image.
This put-on masculinity serves as a camouflage that women use to protect their external appearance… covering the weakened and underdeveloped aspects of their femininity, all because they never received the affirmation that comes from a father, but instead felt rejected to their core.
Such an armor on the one hand keeps out the dangerous world while on the other prevents the woman from releasing her feelings.
Isn’t it true that so often the armor we wear today is the result of our response to past experiences? Perhaps our experience is not as dramatic as Annie’s, but without doubt our family of origin influences us in ways that we often fail to realize.
The “me” that exists today is a blending of the hopes and expectations of my parents, their joys and regrets, how they related in marriage, and so many other factors. Many of us received beautiful blessings and abilities as a gift from our parents, but woven in are challenges and hurts that were part of our growing up years.
To Hate Your Parents Is to Hate Yourself
When we look in the mirror we see the evidence of inherited genes, and likewise in facing the issues of life we often inadvertently find ourselves copying the behavior of our parents.
In facing the negative aspects handed down from our families some people choose to seek escape, attempting to create great distance between themselves and their families even to the point of completely avoiding them. Others choose confrontation, believing that in honestly pouring out every thought and feeling they will find freedom from suffering. Unfortunately, this often leads irreparable damage in relationships. Finally, some people will take this hurt and turn it into a kind of power, seeking at all costs to avoid the mistakes of their elders, but the invisible heritage passed on from their parents continues to leak out in speech and behavior, as they hurt those closest to them because of anger and fear.
In their book “Forgiving Our Parents, Forgiving Ourselves”, clinical psychologists Dr. David Stoop and Dr. James Masteller, wrote: “Our self-perception is influenced by our parents, and how we look at our parents will naturally approximate how we see ourselves. If we hate our own parents, most likely we will also have a certain level of hatred for ourselves; if we love our parents, we are more likely to see ourselves as acceptable. If we find that we need to forgive our parents, it is likely that we will discover the need to forgive ourselves as well."
In Annie’s TEDx talk she said, “My mother passed on her guilt over not being able to produce a son to me, and when I had my own family I also brought this sense of guilt with me, putting it onto the next generation. How long will this cycle continue?”
Reconciling to our family of origin is for many a life-long process. As we grow we discover that while we may desire to give out love, so often it seems impossible; and the more we want to forgive, the harder it becomes.
We live in a sinful world, with twisted values that are corrupted and fallen. Even when we have love and good motives towards others, with our distorted value systems and in our own powerlessness we continue hurt others.
Man-made methods might be able to ease the pain and guilt in our hearts, making us “feel” a bit better . . . but these things cannot heal our most fundamental spiritual sin problem.
In response to the hurts we have experienced our hearts store up bitterness, complaint, and hostility. In this we need to confess our own sins, otherwise these things will become a hook used by the dark powers to create a black fortress from which we will not be able to escape.
In this place we seize onto the identity of victim, leading to our own transformation into the perpetrator of the same hurts, not even realizing what has happened.
The Bible describes a child who also deeply desired his father’s love, committing all manner of offenses to gain that his love and blessing.
In the Old Testament, Jacob was the second son in his family. Though born only minutes before Jacob, his brother Esau received the birthright. Having received this status of elder, and because of his personality, this older boy became his father’s favorite.
Jacob desired the love and blessing that his father bestowed on Esau, so he used deceitful tactics, even to the point of disguising himself as his own brother, until finally he managed to get his father’s blessing. But for this he paid a terrible price.
Jacob’s pursuit of this missing piece, his father’s love, turned him into a man who was always grasping after things. In pursuing wealth and various external things, Jacob sought to prove his own worth.
Although he himself was deeply hurt by his father’s favoritism, he unwittingly became that same man. As a father, Jacob preferred Joseph to the point of ignoring his other children’s needs and desires for the love of a father. The negative impacts of his family of origin hurt not only Jacob but his family as well.
Annie shared that her adolescence was consumed with continuous attempts to prove herself. Through sheer force of will and extraordinary effort, she worked to prove to her father that she could be better than any boy, and was more worthy of being loved. With the birth of her first child, a son, she says that she finally breathed a sigh of relief. After her divorce, she met Qin Hao, ten years her junior, and joyfully announced on Weibo “I’ve finally found someone to love me”.
Is it possible that her father’s abandonment and value of sons over daughters left her with a life-scar, pushing her to chase after an unconditional love that would never abandon her?
Continual Self-Reliance Leads to Repeating the Same Mistakes
So then, is it possible that we also find ourselves ceaselessly searching for our place, identity, and an unchanging love in response to the pain brought on by our families of origin? In Annie’s TEDx speech she mentioned that she believes there is a higher wisdom in this world, a wisdom that will guide her when she faces suffering, that will love her and help her to accept herself. She decided to go to India to search for this so-called greater force. In 2001 she left the limelight to search out a spiritual mentor there
On the first day she was part of a “rebirthing” class. The teacher helped the class go back through their mother’s birthing experience. After this, the teacher asked what emotions this experience had turned up for the students. Annie said, “I feel very angry, even to the point of wanting to hurt myself. In this dark place I want to beat myself.” The 18-year old teacher said, “Your mom didn’t want to have you. Go call her and ask her why not.”
After a very difficult conversation with her mother and some tough self-examination, Annie came to the end of her speech and said that the way to solve this problem is to “be yourself.”
The truth is, regardless of what it is we grasp so tightly in our hands, regardless of whom we rely on, none of this will help us to release the hurts and burdens from our family of origin. The thing we pursue so vigorously, that thing or one we admire, in actuality is just as limited and broken as we ourselves are.
When we try to rely on our own selves to break the family curse wrought in our lives, we simply discover our own propensity to repeat history as well as our lack of any real ability.
When we try to rely on our successes to take revenge on the ones who hurt us, we will find ourselves paying the higher price. If we seek to rely on a spouse or our own children to heal our wounds and give us the ability to be made new, we will eventually discover that the other party is also simply a sinful, finite being who will also one day face ultimate death.
In the Old Testament, Jacob spent his life trying to seize his brother’s birthright, his father’s blessing, and the wealth and fame of the world—only to find that his own relational world was heavily damaged. He and his brother had become enemies, he had to part ways with the uncle who had been his partner in business, his two wives were in constant battle, and his children hurt one another.
At the lowest point in in his life the grace of God came to him and revealed that nothing in this world could give him true blessing and happiness, only the presence of God and holding tightly to the blessings of God. It was here that he finally found healing from the hurts inflicted by his family of origin.
God had given us the most beautiful blessing; that is, the blessing of reconciliation.
Two thousand years ago Jesus Christ was nailed to a cross for our sins and paid the price, bearing the punishment for our sin. He did this so that we who do not deserve to see the face of God could be reconciled to God and come boldly into his presence. Now we can be called his loved children, in whom he is pleased, having complete forgiveness and acceptance.
When I faced life pains too great to bear and broken relationships, my spirit became filled with bitterness. I was like Jacob, chasing my own success to constantly prove my ability and that I was worthy of love.
But the light of God shone down on me, causing me to see that bright and beautiful outer cloak I had wrapped myself in simply encased a soul hungry for love and helplessly crying out.
Facing past hurts and defects, God’s love surrounded me, as if to say, “the things you lacked during your growing up years, I have already made up for with my great love and sufficiency; my love is without limits, and the love I can give is greater and far beyond what your family could ever provide you with.”
Only when we return to God and are reconciled to him can we, through his unsearchable and rich love, find forgiveness and acceptance. It is then that true love for one another is possible to achieve.
Only God’s love can turn the hearts of fathers to their sons, and the hearts of sons to their fathers. In the grace of God, we can find the answer and a way out from the brokenness passed into our lives from our own families.
Original article: 经典回顾之医治爱的河流 (Territory)
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