From a young age, my story has not been “normal.” I am one of six children, and most people thought that was weird. As an adult, I was single well into my 30s. Then I married a man who is an ethnic minority. Then I couldn’t have children.
So here I am, 40 years old, with a story that just isn’t what we think of as “the norm.”
We all know what “the norm” is:
~ to get married (preferably to someone who is like you in ethnicity, social status, and educational status),
~ by a particular age (Graduation? Age 25? Age 30 is the latest “acceptable” age, especially for women),
~ and start popping out your two to three healthy children (who will always excel in life), two years apart, within two years of marriage.
~ Have a consistently successful career (or be a woman married to a man who is successful, while you have the luxury to stay at home and raise your children).
From there, expectations vary, generally based on your community’s income level and social status. But I find that the expectations to get married, have [healthy] children, and get a good job cross most cultural lines.
So when your story doesn’t fit the mold, it can make you feel traumatized or defiant or isolated (depending on the day!). Comments on your life status can be taken as insults or condescension or just plain ol’ ignorance. You’re an outsider, and you’re painfully aware of it.
But to get more to the point: what are those of us who don’t fit the mold to do with the fact that our stories aren’t what society (and often we ourselves!) expected?
Here are some thoughts from my own journey:
First, you’ll have to come to accept and embrace the life you have. Sounds easy, and for some people it is fairly easy. Yes, some people love being single, are perfectly content without children, and/or love their work even if it doesn’t pay much or gain them recognition.
But for many, embracing their non-norm story can be painfully difficult. It requires courage, and facing your deepest fears, and trusting God when you think surely He made a mistake (or just isn’t trustworthy). It requires letting go of the expectations – and often your dearest dreams – of what you thought life would hold for you. It requires moving through pain into finding joy in what your life really is.
Personally, I generally enjoyed being single (that is, until I started crushing on Nagib!), but I have found embracing my story of infertility to be impossible apart from pressing into God – that is, moving towards Him instead of away from Him. I have found that He alone can bring joy in the midst of great sorrow.
I have also found that this process cannot be forced. It is slow, and it moves in fits and starts. Sometimes, there is absolutely nothing you can do. You just have to sit tight and wait. Waiting can be almost unbearably hard – but waiting on the Lord produces the finest and purest gold of character and heart. And don’t we all really want to be the kind of person who’s described as having “a heart of gold”?
Second, find people who share your non-mold story. Don’t completely surround yourself with them, because you need to be part of the world at large, but find people who can genuinely understand and give practical or emotional help when you need it. Rejoice that you are not alone in your story.
Third, learn to give grace to those whose story does fit the mold, to people who don’t understand your life. It can be so incredibly easy to let your heart be filled with bitterness towards them rather than seeing them as image bearers of God – especially when they make insensitive, rude, or downright mean comments to you. But each person you encounter is walking through their own difficulties in life. Look for how you can come alongside them and share their burdens.
I have been reflecting in recent years on a command in the Bible that I once thought easy, but now know to be unnatural apart from the Holy Spirit: “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15)
Obeying this command is a stepping stone on Love’s growth path, a choice to uproot bitterness or pride and plant love. It bears beautiful, rich fruit that satisfies deep hunger. It goes both ways – to those of you who have a “normal” story and to those of us who don’t. It means allowing joy and sorrow to co-exist, intertwined in the middle of your heart like chocolate and vanilla swirled ice cream.
I read a story recently, a lovely novel by an early 20th century writer named Elizabeth Goudge, entitled The Scent of Water. In it, one of the characters who has some mental illness shared a simple prayer that he prayed when he felt overwhelmed:
Lord have mercy. Into Thy hands. Thee I adore.
Maybe walking into our non-norm stories can be as simple as praying that prayer – step by step, day by day – and watching Him lovingly provide in unlooked for ways.