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It was during an attempt to make a self-deprecating joke to a friend that I realized there is no single word for Adults Raised In Cloistered Christian Homeschooling Who Are Now Dealing With It, so I coined the unwieldy ARICCHWANDWI. Somewhere between that moment and now, I seriously considered going back to school in order to specialize in therapy for the members of this tribe, until I remembered something crucial: the ARICCHWANDWI are penny-pinchers; they do not pay for therapy. So here is a generalized stab at it for free.

Dear fellow members of the ARICCHWANDWI,

You are smart. You know this about yourself because it’s been your strongest sense of your worth in the world. You are strong; you physically are capable of doing things that people admire, whether that is raising children or cranking tools or running marathons, and this also makes you feel good about yourself. Your capability, overall, is something you pride yourself on.

You may have even have gone so far as to say — as I have heard more than one of you say — that you’d never done anything you weren’t good at. I laugh to myself at this, because I know it is hubris. But I also know you don’t really feel so confident, that this is only true because there are many things you’ve never tried on purpose. You are afraid of not being good at things, and failing is not something you do. So, sometimes, you hang back, waiting for the perfect situation, some safe, failure-proof scenario that mysteriously never arrives.

Because for a long time, you learned that perfection meant not doing the wrong thing, and that in most practical ways, love and admiration was contingent on being “perfect” in this way. Growing up, you learned all about unconditional love, about agape. But no one really offered it to you consistently; you were spoon-fed fear and judgment from the cradle, and the angry sky-god who would smite the wicked, or really anyone who had a little, tiny impure thought about something, was modeled for you in the immediate correction you received anytime you were too messy, too loud, too slow, too absorbed in something else, too this, too that. Too you. You were not supposed to be you, exactly; you were supposed to be a neater, tidier, more manageable version of you. And this was called love; this was called modeling the love of God. You were told: God loves you even though you are worth nothing, even though you’re a filthy rotten dirty little sinner going straight to hell unless you say the right things, believe the right things and never, ever stray from the path of righteousness. So is it any wonder that you still, on some level, believe you are worth nothing unless you manage to be perfect?

But that is no longer true. You are safe being imperfect. You can still be a good human being if you fail at something. I’m sure you know this intellectually by now, but perfection has nothing to do with avoiding the wrong thing. Emotionally, however, it’s hard to restrain your sense of impending doom or guilt when something isn’t going right.

There is something you should know: you can have made mistakes and still be careful with yourself, discerning. And you never have to rush your process. You are right to wait if you’re not comfortable with something — particularly in romantic relationships, which are complicated to navigate when you go from courtship-only to dating-in-the-modern-world. There is nothing wrong with that, or with you. Above all, be compassionate with yourself and with those around you — and the most compassionate thing, in many cases, is being as honest as you can be about who you are and what you want. You might not know, and that’s OK too. It’s OK to take the time to figure that stuff out.

As part of your process, come to terms with your own attractiveness — in your clothing choices, in the way you look at people, in the way you move in your own skin, to eat and drink and play; in the way you think of yourself. Not in an arrogant way, but in a factual way. There is nothing wrong with being attractive. It’s nice to be attractive. It’s nice to be able to look at someone across a room and know they think you’re attractive. You do not have to apologize or feel guilty about this. And you are not only attractive if you smile, or say the right thing, or prove you’re smart. You are attractive, period.

You are worth something, period. I love you all.

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