It’s time for some real talk.
In the short 22 years that I have been alive, I feel like I have become the master “stifler.” According to Dictionary.com, the definition of “to stifle” is to “cut off, conceal, choke, or smother.” I have always been a people-pleaser. I do not like to be in the way. I painfully submit to the quiet narcissism of worrying 24/7 about what others think of me. I find myself constantly “holding back” parts of myself; and when you do that for so long, oftentimes you lose sight of what exactly you’re holding back FROM. As I become older, I am starting to realize that this technique of both living and being stems from an interior line of defense, a method of self-protection that really ends up doing quite the opposite. I know that this concept echoes the classic and hackneyed story of “Oh, I am so guarded, I’ve been hurt before, I am the way I am in order to protect myself.” But what I am talking about, at least to me, is radically different. Though being guarded with others might be an inadvertent yet prominent side effect, I am talking about protecting the self from the self.
What a weird concept.
Sometimes I feel I am afraid to know my true self: to know my limits, my passions, the facets of my identity, my communication method with the Divine. I fear giving something my all, and failing. I fear facing all this, and what I will find. The mind-boggling part of it all is that one should rejoice in and chase toward these things that ultimately complete the self. But for some reason, I am having a hard time getting to that point.
I am ultimately afraid of vulnerability.
When we graduated, Ryan Lebre gifted myself and Jacquie a book called Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. I have only read the introduction and the first chapter, but this book by Brene Brown has already hit home–it has torn me open, and has left me caught and exposed. I cannot escape the truth it is setting forth. Through reading about vulnerability, this book is causing me to wrestle with my issues with vulnerability.
Brown speaks of a state of being called Wholeheartedness. To Brown, Wholehearted living is about “engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night and thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”
Worthiness. Man, that cut me like a knife. Because does not our tendency to stifle, and ultimately our uneasiness of vulnerability, stem from our fear of not being deemed “worthy,” whether by ourselves or others?
This seems like high-school stuff. But it is more widespread and powerful than we will ever know.
Brown states that the first step of embarking on a Wholehearted and authentic life is “understanding where we are, what we’re up against, and where we need to go.” Thus, I give you a few examples of things that make me feel vulnerable, that I am “coming to terms with:”
Wearing my glasses. When I was a senior in high school, I was published in he Chicken Soup for the Soul series with a story about how I “got over” my insecurity of wearing glasses; though I have made great strides in this insecurity since, sometimes I feel like a fake. Ever since I began wearing contact lenses, I have always had trouble with them. They always hurt, they were always uncomfortable. They were, and still are, a pain, both literally and figuratively. My days and mood would be dictated by whether or not my contacts were feeling ok; if I was wearing my glasses, I would take them off my face if someone I knew started walking towards me. It was exhausting. In a time of my life where I was struggling to feel loved and accepted, my glasses seemed to be just another pothole that would hinder me from being liked. Finally, I found a brand that somewhat worked, and reveled in my college years with the freedom of being able to choose wearing the contact lenses, or wearing my glasses. I had the power, and if I was ever feeling insecure, I knew I had my contacts to fall back on. But now, for the past month, my eyes have begun acting up again. I just can’t put and keep the dang things in my eyes. I have been forced to wear my glasses consistently–and I need to come to terms that this is probably a new reality. I find myself, once again, allowing the state of my contacts to ruin my day. I allow the fact that I have to wear my glasses dictate my self-worth. I am still not yet brave enough to love myself fully or completely with my glasses, or to believe that others view me as lovable or worthy with them. I know, it sounds childish and trivial. I read this, and think “How stupid.” But my glasses make me feel extremely vulnerable.
Knowing that the limit DOES exist. Oftentimes, I feel that we base our self-worth on whether or not we can do something: run the distance, get the grade, land the job, etc. We use these “accomplishments” in order to “mark” our progress in the success of our lives and personhood. Though setting goals are great, and trying new things and succeeding being both uplifting and healthy, it becomes dangerous when we begin to define ourselves by these “markers.” I am sure most Lasallian Volunteers find this all-too-familiar: the fear of never doing enough, or not making a difference. I have found that there is such a fine line between “stepping outside your comfort zone” and being “uncomfortable” to the point of compromising the self. For me, driving the short school bus at work has caused me to wrestle with this grey zone. When I was first offered my LV position, everything seemed perfect–except for the bus part. I have never been a happy nor a confident driver, even on the low-key roads of Northern California. So the thought of driving a large vehicle filled with students in the Bronx literally set me into a nauseous panic. Nevertheless, I decided to take the position, because I wasn’t going to let that one thing hinder me from an incredible opportunity. And with that, I have already exceeded my expectations of myself by a landslide: I have driven in the Bronx, in tight, double-parked roads, parallel parked, and learned how to use my mirrors and spacing. I would never have imagined myself being that successful. It takes a lot for me to be proud of myself; and in those moments, I actually felt it. I COULD do it.
Just because you CAN do something, does not necessarily mean it is the right thing for you. I have met many people who have tried horseback riding, have made strides (literally), but at the end of the day knew it just wasn’t something they were comfortable doing. They reveled in their accomplishment of trying and growing, and then made an educated decision based on what was best for who they were.
This is how I feel with the bus. The other day when I was practicing driving, I just got to a point where my body was screaming “no” so loudly that I had to listen, and pull over. I did not feel comfortable, I did not feel safe. It was something different than outside my comfort zone; it just didn’t feel right. Vulnerability so often involves us recognizing these voices, and taking the courageous step to actually listen to them. Because with the bus comes my fear of not being deemed “worthy:” I fear that my discomfort with the bus and therefore my limitations with driving it will define my work ethic, my capability to minister, and my level of desire to make a difference to those around me. It is a sucky feeling that puts one in the really difficult position of going against the intuition, something I already struggle with..
Knowing about and accepting these limitations makes me feel vulnerable. Now, this does not mean I completely refuse to drive the bus, because I know there are situations where I can. But it does mean that I must take the steps to swallow my pride and speak up when I know something is not right for myself. And accepting something that insidiously masquerades as weakness? That is hard. It is in these moments that I feel naked and exposed. But it is in these moments where we learn about ourselves, and thus cultivate Wholeheartedness–even if it makes us feel defeated at first.
The questions of faith. This is a tricky one. Anyone who knows me knows that I have been very involved in my Catholic faith from a young age. In high school, my faith was the center of my life–my relationship with it and God was strong, constant, and reliable. Or so I thought. Don’t get me wrong, my faith in middle school and high school was very much real and authentic; but I had yet to finish growing, or exploring what all of this meant. You see, when you’re young, you don’t always question things. You take things as they are given. But college turned my world upside down. It is important to recognize and emphasize that I was NOT brainwashed through my classes and experiences; they simply gave me, for the first time, freedom to learn and grow into my own beliefs. I always say that being a Theology major in college has been the biggest blessing and biggest curse for my faith. On one hand, my classes revealed to me a God who has liberated oppressed peoples throughout all of human history, a God who lifts up the lowly, a God who loves beyond all boundaries. I was once again set on fire to work for social justice, and imitate the kind of life Christ led. Yet, on the other hand, I learned of the corruption of the Church I thought I knew, and became baffled and confused about the seeming discrepancies between some Church doctrine and the message of the Gospel. For the first time in my life, I found myself caught in a place where some of my deep convictions about God and the world did not necessarily line up with some of the beliefs of the Church. That tore me apart, and I am still recovering from that collateral damage.
Something once so stable in my life had, and has, been weakened. I have emerged from all my theological training with so much knowledge and new insight–but now I have a difficult time looking at religion without impressing a critical, academic lens upon it. I find myself standing on a fragile branch with my faith–and that makes me feel vulnerable. Instead of embracing an embarking upon a new journey of faith (for we all know that a healthy faith is indeed dynamic), I find myself shutting it out completely. I fear the questions and ambiguity (*cough* vulnerability) and just choose “not to deal with it.” I find myself avoiding prayer because either a) I think that the efforts are pointless, or b) I am afraid of what I will hear. And I think both of these fears, once again, stem from the fear of vulnerability. In order to live an authentic life with an authentic self, I need to come to terms with being vulnerable in my faith. I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that I just can’t do this all on my own, that my human efforts can only get me so far. That I am NOT the one in power. That I need God, and that I need to figure out how to reach Him/Her again. My fumes have run out. And now I am being forced to be vulnerable.
These are only a few things in my life that I am working towards coming to terms with (and I have yet to talk about my issues with body image, my questions surrounding sexuality, and my fear of mortality. But those topics are for another day). Though I am still on a bumpy road in these “coming to terms,” I do know my destination: to live a Wholehearted life with an authentic self, one that does not have to be “qualified,” but one that is free to just be. I preach this so often to others, but need to believe it for myself. I crave the self-recognition that I am worthy and enough. Though outside affirmations of this are nice, I know that true progress must start within myself.
So where am I going with all of this? Last weekend, I had the opportunity to see Audrey Assad perform live. It was a simple show, yet so incredibly beautiful, raw, and transformative. I feel that I came out of that theater a different person; I just couldn’t explain it. I felt whole. I felt myself. I felt loved. I felt vulnerable, but in an exquisite way, as Brene Brown puts it. Here are some lyrics from one of Audrey’s songs from her latest album:
From the love of my own comfort
From the fear of having nothing
From a life of worldly passions
Deliver me, O God
From the need to be understood
From the need to be accepted
From the fear of being lonely
Deliver me, O God
And I shall not want, I shall not want
When I taste your goodness I shall not want
This song is particularly striking to me. The idea of letting go of these “needs and fears” screams vulnerability. But once we recognize our inherent worth as children of God, created with the reason and purpose to be exactly who we are, we are delivered from all of these things that we cling to in order to feel like our existence is worthy of mattering. We no longer will feel the need to “stifle.” We are enough–full stop. And with that self realization, we grant ourselves permission to really know ourselves as God knows us.
And what is more authentic than that?
*If you made it all the way through this novel of a blog post, thank you, and congratulations.