Today’s episode is straight up . I got to know Cindy Gao last year, when she reached out to me about an internship. As a student at Harvard College, she experienced a crisis of meaning and found her way to faith—and—to emotional healing. I have loved getting to know Cindy, and I know you are going to love her too.
This episode is raw and inspiring. It’s packed with insight into faith, mental health, and Gen Z. Here’s what we cover:
1. The phrase Cindy Googled in a moment of desperation & what she found
2. What to do—and not do—when a young person expresses interest in faith
3. Why emotional healing & faith cannot be separated
4. The core belief that almost kept Cindy from faith
5. The challenges & longings of Gen Z
Do you have questions about friendship for Dr. Alison? Leave them here.
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Music by Andy Luiten
Sound editing by Kelly Kramarik
While Dr. Cook is a counselor, the content of this podcast and any of the products provided by Dr. Cook are not specific counseling advice nor are they a substitute for individual counseling. The content and products provided on this podcast are for informational purposes only.
Boundaries For Your Soul by Dr. Alison Cook and Kimberly Miller
Try Softer by Aundi Kolber
“We all are born into the world looking for someone looking for us, and that we remain in this mode of searching for the rest of our lives.” –Curt Thompson
Related Podcast Episodes
Episode 62: Your Questions About Friendship—How to Test a New Relationship, Manage Your Capacity Through Different Life Seasons, & Become a Friend to Yourself
Episode 33: People Pleasing & Developing Your Own Inner Compass: Thoughts on Depression, Mental Health & the Church, and Finding Hope in Dark Places
Episode 27: 7 Ways We Manage Perceptions Instead of Forging Real Connections
Episode 28: The Pain of Performing For Others and How to Claw Your Way Out with Toni Collier
Episode 6: Do I Really Have an Inner Child? What It Means to Reparent Yourself
Alison: Hey everyone, and welcome back to this week's episode of The Best of You Podcast. I'm so glad you're here. Oh my goodness do we have a treat for you today! I've been looking forward to having this conversation all summer, and I am so excited for you to hear it.
Today we are going to talk with my assistant and media coordinator, Cindy Gao, about her incredible story of a search for meaning and coming to faith in a really dark place. She is part of Gen Z and I know that so many of my listeners, you have either kids who are headed off to college or you're reading the news there's just a lot of buzz around this generation—what they're dealing with and what they're thinking about and Cindy just has such a unique ability to articulate her own experience with clarity and honesty and sincerity.
I am just so grateful that she was willing to share all of that hard earned wisdom with us as we seek to understand the young ones in our lives, whether they're your own kids, whether they're your grandkids, whether they're just the kids that you care about in your life.
You first heard from Cindy on Episode 62, where she and I discuss your questions about friendship. It's a great episode. I love the wisdom that she brings to it. So you can check out that episode. And she also helped me out in the Best of You Facebook Book Club. So if you were a part of that this past January, Cindy will be a familiar voice to you.
I first met Cindy last November, almost a year ago. She reached out to me via email. She was looking for part-time work. I was in need of assistance. She came on as an intern and she's been helping me out ever since. She's just been such a gift to me. And when I first heard her story, it just stayed with me. It's just such an incredible story and a beautiful example of how God works through Google, God works through the pandemic, through even the isolation that was so awful. God met Cindy in such a powerful way through all of those terrible circumstances and he wants to do that for all of us and all of our kiddos to find us, to restore us and to heal every single part of us.
I love this story and I'm so thrilled that Cindy shared it with us today. Cindy Gao graduated from Harvard College in 2022 with a major in economics and a minor in psychology. She is married and she's starting her master's degree in counseling at Denver Seminary this fall. She was on the Canadian national fencing team for five years and was a six time national champion fencer. You'll hear a little bit more about that in today's episode. She's just a great woman. I'm thrilled to have gotten the chance to get to know her. There's just so much wisdom here for all of us as we work together to help each other become more whole.
Alison: I'm so glad that you're here with me today, Cindy, we meet every week, but this week is really special that we get to know more about your story. So thank you so much for being here today.
Cindy: Yeah, I'm so excited to be on again.
Alison: That's right. Yes. This time we're putting the spotlight on you. All right. So you reached out to me via email about a year ago, maybe a little less than a year ago, just letting me know a little bit about your story, of coming to faith partway into your career as a student at Harvard. One of the things that was really important to you on your spiritual journey that we're going to learn more about today was bringing together this mental health piece with theology and with your faith journey.
I'd love to start a little bit backtracking to the beginning. Tell us a little bit about your background. What were you raised to believe about faith, about the nature of reality, about the purpose of life? Tell us a little bit. Set the stage for us about what Young Cindy was thinking heading off to college. What's your idea about the world and about faith and things like that?
Cindy: Yeah. I grew up in a suburb close to Toronto in Canada. I was raised by an immigrant mom, and both my parents are from China. So my mom raised me and my brother on her own, really, while my dad worked in China. He visited a few times a year, but from a very young age, I knew how hard it was for my mom to be raising me and my brother.
Also since we were immigrants, I felt a lot of pressure to assimilate to North American culture in order to belong and feel safe and really for my mom, she believed that this path towards safety was through prestige and success and having other people's approval. So really, ever since I can remember, I spent every waking second trying to achieve and perform and be recognized and seek my safety through that sort of stuff, through the high regard that other people would have of me.
Yeah, I got pretty much straight A's since kindergarten. I made sure I was always very positive and bubbly, so people would like me socially, and then I was also a really high level athlete, starting from fifth grade. I started fencing, and then I started competing on an international circuit from my first year of high school up until my last year of college.
So I guess to paint the picture, essentially, on the outside, I'm this really confident, bubbly, high achieving, really decorated, scholar, athlete, popular kid. But, what's really going on in my heart is that I'm being driven by really deep fear and insecurity. And I just think about whenever I got my good grades, or won a competition, or was elected a student body position, I never felt proud of myself, really or confident in those moments.
I felt relieved. Relief for avoiding the alternative situation that felt really dangerous.
Alison: Which would have been what?
Cindy: Not winning. Not winning and losing felt like it wasn't an option for my survival. Saying that out loud, I understand that I would have been able to survive if I didn't win, but in those moments it really felt like life or death.
I was so stressed out. I tried so hard for everything. And for most of my childhood I would say it worked out like I did win a lot of things. But yeah, to answer your question about reality and what I believed about my purpose, I'm just going to get pretty raw and honest here, I believed that I had to make up for how bad of a person I thought I was.
I saw how hard I made my mom's life. Growing up, my mom tried her best, but an experience that really impacted me deeply was when I was in kindergarten, I was afraid of the dark and I couldn't sleep at night, and I would knock on my mom's door and she would just be so upset with me.
But I couldn't control my fear. I was just scared. But that kind of made me just believe that this unchangeable part of me was just causing my mom to suffer. And that's basically this core belief that I had of myself was that I was just bad and I needed to spend my whole life working to offset that.
Alison: Yeah, children pick up these burdens. It makes sense that a part of you picks up a burden. That mom's stress, even if that's not literally being communicated, that you see her stress, you see the pain she's in and you tell yourself, a part of you tells yourself, it's my fault. I am responsible. And so then you're working overtime to make up for that.
So that's that life or death, the stakes. And what I hear in everything you're saying, Cindy, is a really activated nervous system. You're in a state of fight flight, most of your growing up years to try to Get that hit of, I can't bring, I, I can't lose, I can't let this drop because it's not just, and it's not rational, I understand that, but there's this sense of it will, this will bring more pain to my mom and I will be responsible for it if I don't get this just right.
Cindy: Yeah. Yeah, for sure.
Alison: Yeah. So tell me a little bit about Cindy, were you raised with any kind of particular religious worldview or faith background? Did you guys go to church or anything like that?
Cindy: No, well, I remember when I was in first grade going to church a few times, but something happened at church. There might have been some church drama, and my mom was hurt by a family in church, and then we never went again.
But I would say I grew up very agnostic and I grew up in an environment where it was even a little bit hostile towards Christianity, painted this picture of Christians as just people who weren't very rational, just believed in crazy miracles and didn't think too much about what they believed and also judged other people for not believing what they did.
Yeah, I'd say that was the environment I grew up in.
Alison: Yeah. And then, so what, tell us what happened. So when you reached out to me, the extent of the story that I know is you told me a little bit about how you were, what year were you at Harvard when you
Cindy: I was a junior when COVID hit.
Alison: Okay. You told me that there was a point at which you started Googling meaning
And through that Google search, that's what ultimately led you to an experience of faith in Jesus. So tell us what led to, so everything you've said up till now, you're super successful. You are, I would assume up until you go to Harvard, I don't know, but you're not happy, but this is just the only way you know, and it's working in a sense.
Alison: The exterior, it's working, people like you, you've got those accomplishments, you're now getting into Harvard. So what happens in those first two years of Harvard that leads you to that moment of Googling meaning?
Cindy: When I first got to Harvard, I was still trying to achieve, trying to make my mom proud of me, and to see her happy.
And I remember very distinctly sophomore year I was working so hard, I was sprinting on a treadmill every day. And my mom fell into the deepest depression I've ever seen her in. And I just felt so helpless. And I soon followed suit, because I knew I was pushing myself to my limit. I couldn't try harder physically than I was, but it still wasn't enough.
Externally I seemed to be thriving, but I knew, some part of me deep inside knew that something wasn't right. I felt really empty inside, and every time I tried to bring it up with my mom or my friends, I was met with, “Oh your life is so good, Cindy just don't think about that”.
And, that was really hard for me because I knew something was wrong, but whenever I tried to talk about it was, “Look at your life. You're so lucky. Look at all these things you have”.
Alison: Yeah, you started to become aware of cracks between the external you and the inner you that's not feeling very great, but I hear what you're saying you went to the people around you who were caught up in that same mindset going, “You have everything”.
And so you're not getting that validation of someone saying, “Tell me more–what's going on”. So you're probably feeling even more isolated to some degree.
Cindy: And that's what led me to really question the meaning of life. If this is what people are telling me, and what I have always thought is supposed to be the meaning and purpose of life is to get these achievements and have all these things that I have. But why do I feel so empty and so devoid of meaning and purpose?
And yeah, that just stopped me in my tracks and I fell into a pretty deep depression starting in sophomore year. And then COVID hit my junior year and I really had to stop living my fast paced life when COVID hit because everything just shut down and slowed down. And that's when I really started having all this time to be alone with my own thoughts and my own anxiety and had to face all this internal angst that had been building up for a while
Alison: Your old coping tactics of just running, pursuing, achieving, producing were stripped away during that time. Oh, wow. And were you also isolated, literally? You had to be alone in a dorm room, probably?
Cindy: Yeah, we got kicked out of school. That was actually a pretty scary moment for me because my parents were both in China at the time and so I was actually completely alone, just me, in Canada In a house all by myself. So that was really scary. I thought it would be temporary, but it wasn't.
Alison: Yeah, okay.
Cindy: That's pretty much the backdrop of when I started Googling, “Why does everything feel meaningless”? And it was a pretty desperate move at that point. I never thought about doing anything to actively end my life but I was definitely in a state of suffering. It was a pretty desperate move by me to Google that.
But yeah, when I googled that I was scrolling through all sorts of different web pages and resources and I found the book of Ecclesiastes. And this is a book in the Bible that starts out with, “Everything is meaningless”.
And I got sucked in. I just kept reading it and so much of it just resonated so deeply with me. The author talks about how he's achieved all this wealth and done all these things that people seem to care so much about. And he's like, “It's just the blowing of the wind!”
And I was like, “Oh my gosh! That's exactly how I feel”! That was the beginning of this journey for me to explore more deeply what meaning and purpose is.
Alison: It's like you found someone finally who validated your and mirrored your experience versus what you're getting from your friends. He's saying, it was Solomon who wrote Ecclesiastes, he's I got everything and it feels empty. And you're like, “Oh my gosh, I'm not alone”.
Cindy: Yeah. That connection and validation I felt was so life-giving. So life-giving. And I really needed that because, as I said before, whenever I tried to bid for connection in my relationships, I was shut down with “Get over yourself, like your life is really good”.
But here I was reading this book that validated what I was experiencing and I just wanted to go deeper. So that's how I got sucked into reading more of the Bible and connecting with Christians.
Alison: So what happened from there? So you're at a really desperate moment. You start connecting with Ecclesiastes. You start reading more of the Bible. What, where do you go from there? What, tell us what happens next.
Cindy: I really wanted to talk to people who read Ecclesiastes and I wanted to understand how they found meaning and purpose. So I, and everything at this point was shut down, we were still in the pandemic, in the initial stages of it. But I reached out via email to a Christian campus group at Harvard, and it's the Cru Campus Group.
And I just said that I'm curious to talk to some Christians, that I didn't want to be Christian, I didn't really want anything to do with Christianity, but I just had some intellectual questions. And they connected me with a small group called Big Questions, and it was so amazing. I remember meeting every Friday, and I'm so excited every Friday for those two hours that we met through Zoom.
It was a place where we really explored deep existential questions. And I met Christians and non-Christians alike who were really engaging in these questions. And I also met Christians who actually had really intriguing reasons for God.
They weren't just Christian because their families were. They weren't just saying “oh, I just believe in this stuff because it's true”. They had put a lot of thought into their faith and there were such rich conversations about the nature of reality and historical evidence for Jesus's resurrection and I didn't believe all of it right away, but it was so interesting these conversations.
And it helped me rethink a lot of the assumptions I had made about Christians from growing up.
So during this time, I was also reading the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, telling the story of Jesus. Ecclesiastes was what I was really in for, but I then also wanted to read the other parts of the Bible, and, the Bible is centered around Jesus and the Gospels tell his story, so I went there next.
And the stories of Jesus just hit me like a train. I was reading about His life and seeing how he acted and how he really did not people-please. He did not live for the approval or praise of other people.
He went against his own family sometimes, to live out who He's meant to be and I saw that and it was so inspiring. I saw in the life of Jesus what I needed. This strength that I saw in him to be able to do that? I was like, I need that. Where is that strength coming from?
And there's other parts of the Gospels where Jesus talks about the Pharisees, and he's criticizing them for judging people who aren't following the rules. And this whole time I thought that Christians were just supposed to be like that. But then when you read the Gospels and Jesus is criticizing people who are like that, you really have to be like, “Oh, this isn't what Christianity is about”.
Christianity is not about just judging people and imposing all these rules on people's lives. It's so much more than that. It's so much deeper. And so I would say all of those things just drew me further in.
And one last thing I'd add that was really important for me was that I met safe adult Christians. They were the first people I felt safe sharing all this pent up pain and anxious thoughts with. I had never shared those things with anyone before. And I shared it with them and I experienced the healing that happens when you share hard things, and there are compassionate people present with you.
And all of those things just changed my life. And I didn't need any more convincing after that. I was like, this is the way to life. There's no other way towards life. This is it.
Alison: It's like your nervous system had that healing reparative experience from those first of what it feels like to feel seen and soothed and loved and safe. And it's almost I hear you saying there's a bunch of different things, but that was one factor for you of, when the psalmist says, I've, or I don't know who says this in the Bible, but “I've tasted the goodness of God”.
You experienced it. It was intellectual, but you also experienced it–Oh this is what I've been needing is this kind of acceptance and unconditional love.
I want to ask you, and we'll circle back to this because I, there were some key ingredients that when we circle back to talking about Gen Z and more general issues here for folks who are listening, because there were some really neat things that Christian groups on your campus did right.
I'm thinking about that big questions group. I get the sense it wasn't high pressure. There wasn't an agenda. There was a lot of authenticity. People were just allowed to show up with their questions and ask them. Because my sense of you is you would have seen right through. A hard sell. That's what brought you in is genuine interest, not someone trying to proselytize you.
Cindy: Yeah. And I do have to say, if someone tried to just tell me what the gospel was and ask me to ask Jesus into my life, at that point, I would've run away. I would've been like, Nope, I'm outta here. That's not what I'm looking for right now.
I just want to have some conversations, and I don't want to feel pressure to not be in the place that I am now. I want people to be with me where I'm at, and not to push me in the direction they want me to go.
Alison: That's right. Yeah. You'd known enough of the pressure system. Your whole face just lit up when you talked about those Friday evening zooms where you could just ask the questions that were actually on your mind and show up. As that part of you that had been so buried deeply inside that was really hurting.
Yeah. Oh man, it's just such a powerful story. So you've talked Cindy a little bit to me here and there about how it seems as if fairly shortly thereafter you did take an interest, I don't know if it was through books or if you saw somebody in faith based therapy. Tell me a little bit about that.
You're in this journey of thinking about Jesus, of reading the Gospels, of getting to know other Christians. Your nervous system is having this whole different experience of a way of being. So there's a lot going on at some point in here, you come to a whole body experience.
People can have an intellectual belief and never have really tasted the good, and hearing you, it's like mind, body, soul, emotion, every part of you is like something here is true. This is a whole body experience. And so this is happening. And then somewhere in there, you also started to be drawn to some Christian mental health resources. And I'm just curious how that played into your journey.
Cindy: Yeah I would say it's inextricable, the mental health and emotional healing and my faith, those two things had to come together for me. A big barrier for me to accepting the gospel was this core negative belief I had about myself, that I was bad and unworthy.
And I had lived experiences that shaped those beliefs for me. I had experienced things growing up that I interpreted to mean these things about myself. And, for someone like me, hearing the gospel that there's a God that loves me, that I'm worthy, that I'm good, that's gonna trigger a lot of cognitive dissonance in me.
That does not align with what is true. And I'm not gonna be able to just latch on to that story when I have so many experiences that back up what I believe to be true. And it was always very intuitive to me that I would need this deeper unpacking of what has shaped me to believe these things about myself.
And no amount of theology was going to help me just bypass that pain and believe this new story. You could tell me all these facts, quote all of this scripture to me, and it would do nothing. I would just be like, ah. I understand that's what's written in the Bible, but I physically do not feel that to be true, sorry but I don’t exactly know what’s wrong with me.
I had to choose a different approach, and in the psychology/therapy field, we learn about corrective emotional experiences. And that's this idea that your healing doesn't come from insight alone. It's experiential.
I needed corrective emotional experiences with safe adults, like therapists that I found, like the Cru staff in my life, who showed me that when I share my emotions, that doesn't make me a bad person.
Like, maybe it's possible that there are people who care about me enough to want to know how I'm doing, and they care about my suffering. I thought that these adults were gonna respond in a way that's gonna shut me down and all those things, because I had those experiences in the past.
But when they didn't, I started to be like, oh maybe it's possible that I am not a bad person, I'm not just complaining. Could it be possible that I deserve better? Could it be possible that I'm worthy of being treated this way? Could it be possible that there is a God who loves me?
That's how it went for me. And without those sort of experiences I just would not have been open to the gospel.
Alison: Yeah. There's something so powerful in what you're saying about this. You can have all the world's best theology, but there's that lived experience where the parts of your soul, your nervous system, whatever, whatever words you want to put on it. You are experiencing the truth, the whole body, the lived truth of the words.
Otherwise it's just words. And you can want to believe it and you can even intellectually believe it. But yeah, I just hear you saying it was through and you knew something in you. There was something in you that knew. You gave yourself permission to almost expose yourself to a different way of someone being with you and someone experiencing you. I would imagine that was pretty intense.
Cindy: Yeah, it was. Honestly, Alison, reading your book Boundaries for Your Soul, and I also read Aundi Kolber's book, Try Softer, and reading about these psychology/mental health/therapy fields, ‘cause you guys are in that intersection between faith and mental health and therapy–it gave me insight and helped me understand that I needed to form this basis of safety and allow my pain to be seen.
The insights that you guys drew from your field of study and how you integrated that with faith, it made a lot of sense to me. And it helped me to take that risk, because it is a risk to expose yourself again. But yeah, I knew I needed to do that in order for my pain to be seen, to make room for hope. I had to, that's just how the process goes.
Alison: It's so interesting listening to you because I could see it so easily. You could have the intellectual, you could have the joy of wanting to believe this. And if you had bypassed the pain, it would have come out at some point, but I love that you, and this is the work and now you're going in to do this work, which is so beautiful.
I love that you almost instantly were like, I got to go deeper. I got to do that. The healing work as part of this whole thing, it's not. optional. It's not a la carte, it's part of it. It's intertwined. That deeper healing work is intertwined with really absorbing and metabolizing the truth, which isn't just intellectual.
Again, it's the true experiential truth of a God who is ultimately this safe place for us, but when we've never had an experience of safety, how in the world do we understand that? That's just abstract until other people show us what that experience of a presence, a loving presence, is.
Cindy: Yeah. And even just reading the Bible, that is the sense that you get of what God wants for us. He does not want us to just know all these scripture verses and be able to quote them off. He wants us to experience His love. He wants us to feel the safety and strength that comes from truly believing that He loves us. Unconditionally.
He loves us so much that he would send his son to die for us. What kind of people do we become when we let that truly sink into our souls? That's it changes who you are on a very deep level. And that's what God wants for us. It's not just this behavior change that he's looking for.
Alison: Head knowledge, behavior change. Yeah, we really short sell it. I don't want to ask you to speak for all of Gen Z. That would not be fair. But I do think some of what you're saying speaks to the cry of a heart of the generation that wants more of what you're saying.
Before we get there, I want to touch on one other point, which is that you told me at some point that speaks to this whole body transformation that was going on. Mind you, you're still at Harvard. You're still like, doing classes. I'm assuming this is most of that junior year where you were remote, but you told me that at some point, maybe this is when you return to campus, that your nervous system had undergone such a shift in how you experience things that it would be hard for you to be around the anxiety, the fight flight kind of crowd, the achieving producing crowd, your prior friends.
And I, these are my words, but it was almost as if you were saying, ‘cause your nervous system had experienced a different way of being in the world, I don't have to just move through life in a constant state of stress and fight flight that it was hard for you for a while too. You had to almost extract yourself during that season a little bit. Can you tell me a little bit about that? And are you comfortable talking about this?
Cindy: Yeah, I can try. That was a really hard thing to navigate. I took a gap year right after my junior year and that's where a lot of what we've talked about really happened for me. All these insights and seeking healing and beginning to open up to people that all happened during my gap year. And then, I was really scared to go back to Harvard to finish up my senior year because I didn't want to fall back into the same patterns I had when I was there last.
Alison: Totally. Yeah.
Cindy: And I mean, I look back and I don't think I necessarily did everything perfectly. It was so hard, but yeah, I did have to learn to give myself permission to say no to a lot of things my first three years of college, I partied a lot.
I lived such a fast paced life ‘cause I didn't want to ever be alone with my own thoughts, but I knew I needed to embrace a slower lifestyle. I needed to say no to a lot of parties and things that were going on and that was really hard. And I had to navigate changes in my friendships.
That was really hard, because my friends also had to adjust. It was like I was a new person and not the same person that they knew from before. And so navigating all of that was really difficult. We talked in that Q&A episode about friendships about the guilt that comes up when you change as a person and how that can affect your friendships. You feel guilty because you're like, Oh, my friend is actually uncomfortable because I've changed.
And it's not because they're a horrible person, but it's just, it's different. So it's uncomfortable. And, is that my fault? Oh no, I don't want to make people uncomfortable but I can't go back to how I was. And so really, learning to sit through that, and be okay with disappointing other people because And that's what Jesus did, he disappointed so many people because he just needed to be who he was. And he wasn't gonna change himself for other people, so I remember always reminding myself that my senior year of I, this is really hard, but this is the path to life. I need to be who I am.
Alison: And Cindy, what I love, the fruit of the spirit is so evident in what you're saying. It's the humility of it's, I don't want to hurt anybody. I love these people. I'm not trying to send a message. It's just, this is what I have to do for my health and wholeness. This is what I have to do to be more like the person God wants me to be.
And I love the humility in that, but when there's that humility, there's also sometimes more of that sensitivity. to, it's almost easier to put on the mask of starting to judge other people, which is why sometimes Christians it's, we don't have to then face the pain of that feeling of separation.
There's such a genuineness in what you're saying. I just needed to save my own soul. I needed to mind my own heart, mind, and soul in these old ways, whatever they were, whether it was overperforming, whether it was trying to distract myself by staying busy all the time, I have to make different choices.
And I do think about Jesus a lot, he had to stay true. It is the narrow way. It's not an easy way. It is the way of life though. So I love that. I'd love it if just here at the end, if you would share with us a little bit again, not asking you to speak for your generation, but what do you think?
So as you, as about your story and about listeners who are sending their kids back to college or are preparing their kids for college or , I just am curious, some of your thoughts about what do you think other folks in your generation are needing or longing for or seeking as it relates to faith and wholeness.
How can we be more mindful and more attuned to those needs as adults as those safe, hopefully moving toward those healthy adults. What would you say about that?
Cindy: Yeah. Mental health is something my generation talks a lot about. A lot of us are struggling with anxiety and depression and, a whole host of things that are, that we're struggling with internally. And it's really interesting because Gen Z, we have enjoyed so much progress in terms of all these technological advances, advances in medical care, and we just have access to so much more stuff than ever before.
And it looks like it's so much easier for us to navigate life, technically. But, I would actually say it's been extremely hard for my generation to navigate life emotionally and psychologically. We grew up with cell phones and the internet and, you're like 13 and you're reading about all the tragedies that are happening around the world on your phone.
And you're scrolling through them one by one. And, our brains are developing, we're so overwhelmed, there's so much going on, there's, we're also exposed to, cyberbullying, or, all the social pressures that you feel when you're in person at school growing up, we had to feel that also online, you don't get a break from that when you leave school and go home, you're wanting to belong and wanting to fit in. You can't only care about, Do I fit in, do I belong at school?
You also have to care about your online ever present persona. And a lot of us just grew up so overwhelmed and constantly alert and emotionally burdened. We have access to so much technology, but how do we navigate that? I don't think we necessarily know. Having opportunities doesn't guarantee that we have the wisdom to navigate those opportunities.
So we need people to guide us and lead us to resilience and emotional intelligence and these sorts of skills that we can't learn just from the internet. We need the presence of other people in our lives, teachers, parents, safe adults who we can talk to about our feelings.
We have so many feelings. And we really need safe places to talk about that. We need unconditional love.
Alison: It really makes a lot of sense. In last week's episode I talked with Sissy Goff, who is a therapist, and she talks about anxiety, but one of the things she talks about is how, it underscores what you're saying, which is it's really on the adults, it's on the parents. We can't, as adults, sit around and bemoan the state of, it's no, we have to be a safe place.
We have to figure it out and walk in there with you and hold that calm space with you so that your nervous system has a chance to release some of all some of that cortisol and some of that toxic stress that you're carrying around. We have to do. our jobs, if it means we have to get off line, if we have to do what we have to do to regulate so that you have someone to help you find those reparative emotional experiences with. It's really interesting what you're saying. Yeah, it's pretty profound.
Cindy: And I would add, people in my generation, we're all trying to fit in, to be accepted, to belong, to be cool, maybe. And, what would be great for parents to be able to provide to their kids, or just adults to be able to provide to people that they're leading:
As adults, you have all sorts of fears and desires for these kids, in your lives. But the big blessing for those kids would be, in the situation that the kid ends up doing something that you didn't want them to do or they didn't do something that you wanted them to…Do you think you can still be that safe person for them to talk to about it to walk with them through that?
Because as kids, we are sometimes maybe even pushing those buttons like hey, is there a point where we will no longer be accepted by you? Where we will have to hide from you? And we want to push that sometimes. And having that safe experience with an adult, it's like a lived experience of what God's love is for us.
God has high standards for his children. And those standards don't change if the children don't want to fulfill those standards, but God continues to pursue our hearts and continues to be our refuge and our sanctuary when we fall short and when we do the things that break his heart.
And that's a very lofty thing to ask of parents, but it will give your kid a lived experience of God's love. And that will change your kid's life.
Alison: Yeah. Yeah. That's a good word. Preach that. It reminds me of what Curt Thompson says, something along the lines of “we're all born into the world looking to be found”.
And when you're describing whatever the kid is doing, even if it's to push you away, they're trying to be found. They're trying to say, will you come find me? Will you come after me? I love that. Is there anything else before that you want to add or answer? You've done such a great job. Oh my gosh, you're so articulate.
Cindy: I've really enjoyed this conversation. We could probably talk for hours about just all the stuff.
Alison: I know Cindy, you are just you're so articulate. I appreciate just your perspective and you're sharing your perspective. And I find myself as I listen to your story thinking I'm, when you paint that picture of being all alone during the pandemic and facing the existential realities as painful as that was. If there's a severe mercy in it to use that, is it forced to the surface? But I just think of how many kids are probably feeling that. And I just so appreciate your, you're sharing it with us. What would you want? Your younger self? I don't know, maybe back to 13. What would you want her, or whatever age.
What age feels good to you?
Cindy: Maybe four?
Alison: Four. Yeah. What would you want your four year old self to know that you know now?
Cindy: This is interesting. I'm still currently pretty deep in the process of grieving my younger self and when I think about some of the ways that I interpreted the world and messages about myself, it just brings tears to my eyes and I feel my body tense up as I remember how unsafe I felt and how deeply troubled I was always feeling.
My heart just breaks for her, but my younger self can sense that, and she knows that I feel that way about her, and that's really healing. Yeah, I guess I wish that she would know that she's a gift, and that she's not a burden. I wish that she would know that she's good. But, yeah, I don't even know if current Cindy is fully there yet. I guess that's also my wish for my current self.
Alison: Yeah. Yeah, I love what you're saying. There's a paradox of grief, of having to revisit and the pacing of it too, the pacing of revisiting and knowing that we have a whole lifetime really to do the work of it. Re parenting those younger parts of us and helping them to understand what we know.
But I love that you're getting little glimpses and that she's getting little glimpses from you and from other people around you. So it's beautiful what you're, all the work you're doing to give her what she deserves, which is just that. One of the things I love about IFS work is when we invite these young parts of us to unburden, they almost always want to dance and play.
It's always really light, and I just think about that for you, when about your little four year old girl, that's what I'm like, ‘cause I, I picture this hard working and I'm like, Oh man, I just hope she gets to have a ball. And I know you've been having, you've been doing a good job of helping her out. And what is bringing out the best of you right now?
Cindy: Yeah, what you mentioned, allowing that younger part of myself to play and be silly. I have spent the past two months this summer in a really small town in Illinois. It's called Dietrich. It's where my husband and his family live. There are 800 people in the whole town, and it's been really good for me.
From my story of just always chasing prestige and feeling a lot of pressure to always get the best job or like the most prestigious whatever it is, in this town, I feel none of that. It's so much easier for me to give myself permission to do less here, to slow things down, to just have fun and relax.
And that's been so good to me.
Alison: Every time we would get on the Zoom to talk this summer, you'd be like, I was at a carnival,
Alison: –or I was at a fair. It's funny listening, in the context of this conversation, there was a sort of wonder about you, just like that childlike wonder oh, she went to a fair.
And it was just so cool to see you just enjoying it. That's cool. I love it. Let's see here. I cannot wait to hear more from you as you enter into this new chapter of your journey at my alma mater, at Denver Seminary, where you're going to be studying counseling. One thing I love about you, Cindy, is you are very clear about not putting that pressure back on yourself.
You're doing it because you love it. You're doing it because you want to learn, you want to grow and you're really good about just being very clear about your intentions. And so I would love to, I cannot wait. I'm so excited to vicariously hear what you're learning about and what's bringing you life as you go through this journey.
But we just thank you so much for just sharing your wisdom with us. You're just a gem and just such a gift. You've been such a gift to me. It brings tears to my eyes. I remember when I got that email from you and there was just something about it, the way you wrote it was so authentic.
And I was really on this journey of needing help and not knowing how to get help. And we just started talking and both of us had very different seasons of life, but committing to being very true in the moment with each other about what we needed and our different growth curves and just effortlessly figuring out how to work together.
And it's been such a gift to me. So I'm just so grateful for you and grateful for you sharing this wisdom with us today.
Cindy: Oh, it's been a really big blessing for me to be able to work with you too.
Alison: Yeah. It's fun.
Alison: Thank you for being here and we'll I'm sure we'll hear more from you down the road.