confessions of a recovering only child

I’m an only child. Well, technically only half of one, considering having divorced parents and 50-50 custody and two stepsisters. My only-child identity, and all that comes with, becomes more and more apparent to me around the holiday season.

There are a lot of different stereotypes and studies on the particular nature of only children. A New York Times article quotes, ‘In fact, according to G. Stanley Hall, who oversaw the studies and was the acknowledged child expert of his day, being an only child was a ‘disease in itself.'” As mentioned in a Time Magazine article by Lauren Sandler, some other dated perceptions describe only children “as permanent misfits” and “overprivileged, asocial, royally autonomous … self-centered, aloof and overly intellectual.”

While I may sometimes describe myself as a misfit, and some of these adjectives may in fact be an accurate description of me, my particular only-child-dom has been characterized by a particularly defined sense of independence. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I embody the “spoiled brat” stereotype, but I definitely think that my being an only child has influenced my perception of what I have control or influence over. For example, I really don’t like to ask for help. More specifically, I don’t like to have to ask for help. I am very content to believe that I am totally capable of handling anything that comes my way all on my own. My ability to count on, or even relate for that matter, my family or my peers has been distorted enough that whether or not I can in fact count on them, I prefer not to.

Cue life transition: my twenties. Post-college. Part-time barista. Job searching.  Church shopping. Scraping together money. Living in my mom’s basement. Community scattered. Inconsistent schedule. Unsure about Peace Corps. Altogether confused and pretty dang lonely.

Over and over in this season I am learning that I cannot do it alone. Despite my independent nature, my over-intellectualism, and misfit-type self, I realize over and over that I am at the end of my rope. I can’t muscle my way through the next step, force things to conform to my timeline. And that is HARD to admit. Next to impossible.

So today while on my run after receiving my millionth job rejection email, I just stopped. I flopped down on a bench and wailed. While my emotional display was probably disturbing the Canadian geese trying to nap, internally something shifted in me. I have been so determined to make it alone. By being in a stage of singleness while so many of my friends are engaged or newly married, by being in transition, I have been bound and determined to just make this work, to just make it on my own, without roommates or close family relationships or consistent friendships or romance – just refusing to admit that I might need some help.

Yes, I’ve prayed, but never the kind of gut-wrenching, heart aching prayer that means that deep down, you know the only thing that’s going to do anything is Jesus. And in the empty, going-through-the-motions kind of prayers I’ve been praying, I have taken upon myself the mantle of my own worth, power and success, and have basically relegated God to a fairy-godmother that is doing a dang crappy job. And no matter how untrue I know that to be, I don’t know how to operate any other way right now.

Everything I want or am hoping for seems to be just out of reach and I can’t blame other people for it, I can’t blame God for it, and I can’t even blame myself for it. So what then? How do we move forward when it takes so much energy to grieve over closed doors? What it’s all we can do to retain hope that good is someday coming, that He will come and wrap us up in His embrace? How, in that place, do we manage going through the motions of daily living?

This isn’t really a conclusion or a well-intentioned take-away, but more the state of my heart right now: How do we hang onto hope when the act of waiting tears everything we value apart?

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