Shared by Aileen Hong
For most of my life, I really struggled with measuring up. Specifically, I felt the need to strive for the Asian American Dream. I grew up hearing stories from my grandmother about my cousins who attended Ivy League schools, got respectable high-paying jobs as doctors and lawyers, and married good-looking successful spouses. As I heard these stories, I wanted to be someone my grandmother could be proud of. I secretly hoped that I would be worthy of her praise too, not just my cousins. So, I internalized these stories of their worldly successes as expectations upon myself. Yet having fallen short of these expectations, I always had a hard time accepting myself deep down.
It was hard for me to admit how inwardly eager and desperate I was for my grandmother to be pleased with me. I wondered what other Christians would think of me if I revealed my struggle to them. Would they tell me that winning approval in her eyes–and in the eyes of the rest of my family–was an idol in my life? If so, I wasn’t sure how to solve this problem. I prayed to God and asked Him to help me.
A week ago, my grandmother passed away. During her last month of living, she was immobile and physically unable to care for herself. She struggled to communicate her needs to nurses who didn’t understand her language. Compassion for her moved me to spend all my spare time with her during her last weeks. As I sat there and held her hand as she lay on her deathbed day after day, my perspective on life began to change. I began to think, What does it matter if I had all these degrees, gone to the right school, married the right person, got the right job, made the right amount of money, got the right number of kids in the right genders, had the right house in the right city, and the best of everything – what does it all matter? At that moment, being there with her while she was dying–though unspectacular and not very “productive”–was so much more important to me than any degrees or titles or education. All that mattered to me was that she would know that she wasn’t alone nor abandoned in her darkest hour, that she could die comforted by the presence of those who loved her (even if she was just sleeping the whole time), and that she could experience God’s love everyday through human touch. To me, that was the better gift.
Aileen Hong is a marriage and family therapist, as well as Executive Assistant of FIRE (Fuller Institute for Relationship Education). She was born and raised in southern California and became a Christian in junior high. She has a BA in Psychology from UCLA and an MFT degree from Fuller Theological Seminary.
Interviewed by Joy Wong