I have always struggled with the relational contexts that I have lived in. The family I was born into, my cultural context, and my religious experiences all left me with an overwhelming desire to run away, to escape from it all. Struggle has characterized my life for so long that I have often wanted to leave these contexts altogether. You see, I didn’t just learn individualism from my educational and entertainment experiences: this was the coping mechanism I learned as a matter of survival for the first three decades of my life.
- Rarely did I experience a lot of love that connected with me
The family situation I was raised in, my mom and dad plus five sisters and one brother, was often difficult for me. My parents did love me in their own way, but rarely did I experience a lot of love in a way that connected with me as a young kid. Sometimes it got so bad that I wanted to deny my family upbringing, even though this is where I came from.
- Had a hard time getting along with one another
The members of my family had a hard time getting along with one another, as many families often do. It was common for my parents to fight and yell at each other, and I did not want to be around them very much as I got older. My mom would often threaten to leave after a fight with my dad.
We lived in a three-bedroom little rambler house with only one bathroom. We were poor and my dad often had to work two or three jobs just to pay for basics like food and utilities. I became ashamed of my upbringing. Sometimes, the tension was so bad that I didn’t know what to do.
- Angry at God for the kind of family I was born into
As this tension grew over the years, the desire to leave my family and never speak to them again had crossed my mind many times. Sometimes, even still, I find myself angry at God for the kind of family I was born into. Why couldn’t I be from a more supportive, loving family who valued me the way I am? Why couldn’t we all just get along together?
- Growing up in the United States
Growing up in the United States has not been easy for me either. I felt suffocated by the culture’s expectations for me to be popular and successful. The pressure to find my identity in money, possessions and a prestigious career left me disillusioned. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest during the time of the grunge music scene. I could always identify with bands like Nirvana who struggled under the pressure to measure up to something they did not value very much, to be somebody they were not.
- Disillusioned with the unbalanced life of individualism
I was left disillusioned with the unbalanced individualism that characterizes so much of the Western world. Over the course of time, though, I began to realize that running away from it all may not be the best option (although sometimes I still feel like it). Instead, I have had to learn to face this situation with a new imagination for engaging life where I am.
- The constraints of popular culture
Living within the constraints of popular culture has been one of the hardest experiences of my life, because it constantly promotes an individualism without interdependence. This always left me feeling disconnected, fragmented and lonely. Many times I have wanted to leave my cultural context and move out of the country altogether.
- Pain and difficulty will not just disappear
Sometimes I think this will bring me to a better place where many of my problems will disappear and life will be much easier. But I know that this isn’t true. Leaving my life will only cause me to face my challenges somewhere else. Pain and difficulty will not just disappear by leaving where I come from.
- Not truly relational and authentic
My experiences with religion and the church have not left me faring much better. It always seemed that the people I encountered were not truly relational and authentic. The churches and cathedrals I encountered promoted an individualistic spirituality that did not always support interdependence in everyday life.
- Rarely fit in with churches
They seemed to offer services, but I was looking for deep friendship and relational meaning. Their projects and propositions were frustrating for me, an ordinary guy who needed meaningful connection in everyday life with others. Consequently, I have rarely fit in with churches that felt like an institution.
- Living in anger or cynicism will not do
And yet staying connected to people of faith is what God has been calling me to do. Living in anger or cynicism will not do. But pretending that I am happy about the ways I have experienced my Christianity has not been helpful either. It is so much easier to give up on the church than to have an imagination for something more.
- I cannot completely abandon the relational contexts that I live in
I am coming to understand that I cannot completely abandon the relational contexts that I live in. There may be times that I must leave those contexts in order for God to teach and awaken me, but I am discovering that the Spirit uses the people and places to which we are called to transform our lives and give us hope. I can no longer abandon my sense of responsibility to where God has placed me.
- The reality of friendship, family, and community
I have discovered that the Spirit gives me strength and support to make decisions that can bring life and healing. God has used my struggle of place to give me courage and love. I can no longer use my human agency to lead a selfish lifestyle detached from my relational context. All my experiences have helped me realize that the reality of friendship, family, and community is a miracle that requires divine grace, both if we’re to live together faithfully, and to respond with loving courage when we don’t.
How have you struggled with the relational contexts you live in?