Letting Go of Your Past: Chapter 3: Finding Identity and Calling

Become Corporate via Individuation and Internalization

The Sanfords define the goal of maturity as “becoming corporate”. In this chapter, they throw around big words such as individuation, internalization and incorporation. It might be difficult to follow, but if you dig in and think about this chapter there are valuable gems to be found.

Normally we think of someone as mature if they think about others before they think about themselves. Good people skills and the ability to function well in community requires a healthy sense of trust that no matter what happens to them life will be okay. Mature people adopt values of love, humility and self-discipline. However before people can adopt these values their own (i.e., internalize those values), the Sanfords explain that they must first figure out who they are (i.e., individuation).

Beginning at conception in the womb, a person goes through a back and forth process between separating and “becoming one” … one with others and one with God. Here are some examples:

Individuation Incorporation
conception attached via placenta
birth breastfeeding
weaning being carried
walking being part of the family

Parents have a narrow window of time, from birth to age twelve, in which to train a child in foundational values. Such training helps a child to grow deep roots (hidden underground like in a tree) which will support a healthy fruitful life later (visible above ground for everyone to see).

The alternating process climaxes during the teenage years. Though it might be tumultuous season, there are no shortcuts: a teenager must be allowed wrestle on their own with conflicting thoughts and emotions in order to successfully pass into adulthood. At each stage of individuating/incorporating process, a person must graduate successfully otherwise they cannot advance to the next stage. There is a proper sequence of development that is best accomplished at the right time, at the optimum season in a person’s maturation process. As prayer ministers, we should ask Holy Spirit to guide us understand God’s proper sequence of maturation and like detectives to discern what is out of time and place.

To Parents of Teenagers

Some Christians fail as parents precisely because they try too hard. They are too strict with their children, never allow them to explore life on their own and complete the individuating process. If a teenager is too sheltered, sequestered and squelched, they will not be able to figure out for themselves who they are, what they believe and why. Young women should not move too quickly from their father’s house to submission to a husband and house-bound duties as a wife and mother. If they do so, she runs the risk of feeling the need later in life to abandon her husband and children in order to find herself.

By the time a child reaches their teenage years, parents need to let go and entrust their teenagers to the Lord and to the moral training they gave their kids before the age of twelve. So if you are a parent of teenagers, don’t badger your kids. Maintain rules, but show compassion and respect to your young adult. If you push them at this crucial stage, they may feel backed into a corner. If you pressure them in one direction, don’t be surprised if they go in the opposite in order to be different. The more you push them, the further out they may have to go.

Even if the teenager is forced into compliance, they will not internalize the values. Later in life, they might push further into sin than they otherwise would have in order to find out what they really believe about it. Unfortunately by then, as an adult, they will not have have the proper protection of parents to help them out of a bad situation. Also extra suffering (e.g., a spouse, children and career) may be caused as a result of the individuating process occurring out-of-order and the wrong time in life.

In some situations, when a parent just can’t control their own tongue, it might be a good idea to let the teenager live with a trusted relative (an aunt or grandparent). In a less stressful environment, the teenager may be given the opportunity to choose what is right for themselves when given freedom to do so.

To Individuating Adults and Spouses Who Love Them

If your spouse never properly completed the individuating process as a teenager, they may need to do so later in life while married to you. The Sanfords offer you some advice on how to handle it.

  1. Let your spouse have some time and money to explore suppressed talents and “safe” hobbies.
  2. Don’t let your spouse treat you as her parent and don’t treat her as your child.
  3. Show interest in your spouse’s new hobby, but don’t get too involved. Give him space.
  4. If your wife is a homemaker, encourage her to get a part-time job or something else to allow her to explore life outside the home.
  5. Go out on dates with your spouse and have fun! Make believe you’re teenagers again.
  6. Be sensitive to your spouse’s mood: when he want to have fun or when she wants to have a serious talk. Don’t nag.
  7. Help pick up the slack in your spouse’s responsibilities without complaint.

Destiny Malaise

The final step in the maturation process is to discover and fulfill our destiny. Each believer is God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works (Ephesians 2:10Open Link in New Window). These are God’s works, done by Holy Spirit in us. They are not religious feats of accomplishment pushed through by human tenacity. Finding out what our destiny is requires submission. We must give up trying to make it happen on our own strength.

Destiny malaise is a sickness of heart when you think you’ve missed God’s purpose for your life. Symptoms of destiny malaise include shoulder-slumping fatigue or overly dramatic emotionalism. If you’re suffering from destiny malaise, take the Sanfords’ advice: “Put it all on the altar. Stop searching and striving. Do what comes to hand. Bloom where you are planted.”

Letting Go of Your Past, a book by John & Paula Sanford, is part of the curriculum of the Elijah House Basic I training course which Elisabeth and I took in 2008. This is a book summary where each blog post will summarize a chapter.

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