Growing up as a girl in the 90s, I was taught a lot of things through the decade’s culture:
It’s all about “girl power”, show men how feisty and powerful we are.
Always hold back a little of yourself in relationships, try and maintain your independence through keeping your own money and owning your time.
You can grow up to be anything as a woman, you just need to be assertive and make sure you don’t lose focus on your career.
I took a lot of it to heart as a young girl, especially as a naturally independent person. I was academically very bright, ambitious and introverted, so quite happy to keep ploughing along with the goal of a bright career and an independent life at the end of the tunnel that was school.
I lived by the Destiny’s Child motto:
I plodded along happily (sorry, I mean I confidently marched my way) for many years, knowing that I was a girl who didn’t define myself through boyfriends, I was a Christian who also made sure I had my options covered just in case God didn’t come through for me, I was a bright girl who was getting myself a good education in order to get the right career.
But something was missing, something wasn’t quite right, and I couldn’t figure out what it was…
The reality of what I was grasping at started to dawn on me during my gap year in a Christian community, but it wasn’t until my second year at university that I truly came to understand. When I was told that I had advanced cancer of the lymphatic system at just 20 years old, I did what I had always done: I dealt with it as best I could, held my head up high and tried to distance myself and keep myself independent from my illness.
But reality soon dealt me a hard blow. I remember the first dose of chemotherapy like it was yesterday. The first was the worst, I just wasn’t prepared for it. Within ten minutes of them starting the treatment, I fainted and had to be carried to a hospital bed by four nurses who put me on oxygen. When I finally returned home I got straight into bed, with help, because I could barely stand. I was just about able to gulp down a few bites of dinner before it all came back up, and I spent much of that night running from my bed to the toilet.
It got better, and I was eventually able to deal well with the treatment and come out of it the other side. But that first session brought me to my knees, and brought me clarity I had previously lacked: I couldn’t control everything. And maybe, just maybe, I needed to let myself be helped. Perhaps this time, I had to be dependent. On the treatment, on the doctors and nurses, on my family and friends, on God.
It’s been four years, almost to the day, since that first treatment, but the lesson has remained vivid in my mind. It was only in being truly dependent that I was able to make it through that time. People looked at me and commented how strong I was, but the truth is, I was weak and scared and exhausted. But there was strength in me. It just wasn’t mine. It was God’s.
I have learned a lot more about dependence since that day. Through my study of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, I have discovered the beautiful wisdom of the Church as it states that:
Engagement and marriage gave me a very practical image of this, and it took a lot of adjustment. We are constantly told in today’s society that we need to “find ourselves” or become completely “sure of who we are” before we can give of ourselves to another. But what is so beautiful about the truth of the above quote is that it is actually in the “gift of self” that we truly discover who we are. It is our relationships that define us: our relationships with God, our spouse and children, our family and friends, our neighbours. This is why so many end up volunteering on gap years in order to “find themselves”; because it is in that giving that they discover themselves.
Marriage is exactly that. Every. Day. It is hard, and it is painful, and it is more rewarding and joy-filled than I ever could have imagined. My husband and I share all of our money in one account, we share a house and our daily life, we share our God and our faith in Him. And we share each other. We depend on each other. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Because even though we will let each other down daily, it is only our dependence on each other that keeps us as one.
There is no bigger gift of self than in the vocation we choose: to marriage or to virginity for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Because it is first and foremost a gift of ourselves to God, in whom our true identity is fixed and found. And it is secondly an all-inclusive gift of self to another, in order that we may be constantly drawn back to Love Himself, who gives us the courage and capacity to keep giving and loving in all things. We realize we have come to define ourselves by our faith and our family, and we discover what seems like a paradox to our generation: that the dependence on (and gift of self to) another sets us free.