I’ve been quiet for a while here. I’ve drafted a few posts, and then been unsatisfied and deleted them. There is a lot going on in our country right now, and there’s a lot going on in my heart. I want to talk about some of those things, but I don’t know if I’m ready yet.
Right now I don’t feel like I have all the answers. I feel like I have all the questions.
I am still reeling a little from all the response to my post on guilt. And from some subsequent conversations I had with a few people – good conversations, hard conversations, grace-filled conversations.
I’ve been thinking a lot about truth-telling. And how a few months ago I made the decision to speak the truth. To stop saying what I think everyone wants to hear and say what I really think. The only problem with that is sometimes that hurts people we love. So my question is: Where is the balance?
You know, I’ve been struggling with my memoir for the past month. I’m home for the summer and have time to revise, but every time I sit down to work on it, it just feels like too much. You see, none of that guilt stuff is in the memoir. (Yes, I talk about reasons why I left the Nazarene church, but when I do I talk more about things like worship style and emotionalism and user-friendliness and liturgy.) In fact, my writers group has read a couple of excerpts from it and one of my writer friends said, “I really like how you appreciate and value what your friends and family gave you when you were growing up. You don’t use a tone of cynicism or negativity when you write about them.” I’m glad she said that. I don’t want to lose that sense of love and appreciation in the book.
Yet I wonder if some of the feelings I felt as a teenager need to be shared. As I continue to scour through journal after journal, there is this sense of never enough. My journals reveal that I almost constantly felt like I was disappointing God, and that I was too selfish, and that I needed to be better at evangelizing. I realize that I have to read all of it with a grain of salt because, after all, I was a teenager at the time, but I keep wondering why I could never just be okay with me and God.
Right now I’m reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. It is rocking my world. She is a shame and vulnerability researcher. (You can watch her TED talks here and here.) In this book Brown talks about the “never enough” mentality. She calls it scarcity. Scarcity is a mindset that is aware of lack. Scarcity is telling ourselves we’re never good enough, never thin enough, never powerful enough, never spiritual enough, never smart enough, never successful enough. Shame, comparison, and disengagement are all a part of scarcity. What’s her answer to all of that? Vulnerability.
“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”
Brene Brown talks about how allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, believing that we are worthy of love, and developing shame resilience will help us to dare greatly in this messy arena of life and will help us be able to engage with other people in positive, meaningful ways.
She addresses perfectionism, too:
“Perfectionism is a defensive move. It’s the belief that if we do things perfectly, and look perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around, thinking it will protect us, when in fact it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from being seen . . . Most perfectionists grew up being praised for achievement and performance . . Somewhere along the way, they adopted this dangerous and debilitating belief system: “I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfect.”
Wow. She could be talking directly to me there. She could be talking directly to many of us. Do you know how freeing it is to believe that I can be my real, complicated, true self, and that self is worthy of love? Not because of what I do or accomplish; because of who I am.
But back to my question about being that true self: To what extent do I broadcast my truth? If I’m going to be vulnerable, how do I balance that with the possibility of hurting people? I want everyone to know what a great family I grew up in and how much I loved the Thai people and how that moment in the airport the day I left Thailand they all started singing “We Are One in the Bond of Love” is FOREVER seared in my memory. But I want everyone to know that after years of feeling the pressure to evangelize the world, I don’t think I ever converted anyone and that’s okay. That my once rock solid faith now sometimes makes its foundation on the soft sands of doubt and questioning and searching. That I still love Jesus but I have to give up trying to be perfect for him and for everyone else. That maybe once I thought God called me to something or somewhere but instead I took the fork in the road and now I’m here, and here is good. How do I say all those things without somebody getting hurt?
Here’s what Brene Brown says: “When we stop caring what people think, we lose our capacity for connection. When we become defined by what people think, we lose our willingness to be vulnerable. if we dismiss all the criticism, we lose out on important feedback, but if we subject ourselves to the hatefulness, our spirits get crushed. It’s a tightrope, shame resilience is the balance bar, and the safety net below is the one or two people in our lives who can help us reality-check criticism and cynicism.”
So it’s a delicate balance, isn’t it? Here’s the thing: I want to be a truth-teller, but I also want to be a grace-giver, and I’m still working out how to find that balance. I need your help and your truth and your grace, too. So here’s to being vulnerable and daring greatly. Together.
“Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.” – Brene Brown
P.S. Thanks to my friend Susan Cushman for recommending this book to me via her blog, and to my friend Marianne Robbins for sharing the above quote with me on my facebook page right when I needed it the most.