Really Known

I’ve managed to keep the last few weeks of writing rather information-centered. Not that that’s bad, and I happen to believe the information was good stuff, which is why I wrote about it. But, it’s not the same thing as sharing myself.

There is some vulnerability in sharing my ideas, especially considering how little I like conflict since there will always be someone who disagrees. But there’s not that much risk to it. I’m really good at being able to engage, share thoughts, talk about ideas, ask questions, and even answer questions about myself—all without really exposing anything really very real about me.

Why do I do that? I don’t really want to do it. It’s lonely. Much of the time, I am lonely. Some of that’s because I’m busy. Most of the people I know are busy. School and work and family and church and whatever else comes up that demands or deserves my attention and my time and my energy… and there’s only so much of me to go around. So, partly I do it because I get tired.

I’m tired right now. This month has been exhausting and stressful, and right now I can feel this awful tension in my neck, and anxiety and depression have been peeking at me and trying really hard to move back in. And maybe they will. Or maybe I can find a way to take care of myself, to connect with the Spirit, to connect with the people in my life, to connect with myself and find some life to cultivate and hang on to.

But withdrawing and licking my wounds is easier. Not that solitude is bad. In fact, it’s necessary. But for me, engaging the stillness inside is more important and more lasting than fabricating quiet around me.

Why don’t I engage? With any of it? What keeps me from engaging stillness and opening up and giving myself to people in conversation, opening up and being vulnerable when I write? Well, if the informational content of my last few posts has anything to say worth reading, it’s that first fear and then shame, both wrapped up in self-protection, lead to just about every form of disconnection and destructive thing.

I’m afraid no one cares what I have to say or think or feel or that I exist, or—maybe worse—that they care in the sense that I’m a bother, that they would much rather I just shut up and get out of their space.

My first assumption with people is that my presence is an inconvenience. Any interest I might show in talking with them or needing anything from them is going to be judged or second-guessed. I know consciously that’s not true, or at least it’s not true most of the time. I know intellectually that most people are far too worried about similar ideas for themselves to be thinking such things about me. But it’s almost always there in the back of my mind and my heart. And while it’s stronger with people I don’t know well, it doesn’t go away just because I’m closer with someone.

And all those fears lead to shame. I know I have things to offer, but if I assume others don’t want those things, then maybe they’re right. I’m probably not fun enough to be around, or they have too much else going on that’s important, or they have other people they’d rather talk to, or maybe I overstepped my bounds and I assumed we were closer than we are. If I suggest getting coffee, do they want to? Will they roll their eyes? Say no? Say yes but resent it? I’m probably not how they want to spend their time or energy.

Or, maybe that’s all ridiculous and I just need to pull it together. Stop being so needy. I shouldn’t need reassurance all the time. I’m not strong enough to just be confident in myself. I shouldn’t care what they think. But I should care enough not to be rude or make them uncomfortable. Am I doing that? Can they sense I’m nervous? Crap, that will make me seem awkward, and then they’ll be uncomfortable, and then my presence will be a bother, and then…. Damnit. I’ve come full circle.

So the shame and the fear. They’re there, and they’re real. And I am trying to learn stillness. To quiet the fear and transform the shame. To learn to trust and know the value and grace that are more real than any of the rest of it.

I just took a class called Shame and Grace. Part of the class involved imagining shame and drawing an image that depicted what shame meant to us. Here’s mine:

6_25_18-3_05-pm-office-lens

What do you see there? What physical sensations, emotions, and associations does it bring up for you?

After we drew our pictures, we were asked to write a personal definition of shame. Here’s mine:

“Shame is crushing isolation in the suffocating darkness where I am small and weak and a disappointment because I can’t be strong enough to reach the goal, to meet the need, to have no needs, to be unaffected.”

Does any of that resonate for you? Maybe you have your own. If you were to do the same thing (it might be a worthwhile thing to try) what would you draw? What would you write?

After a grueling day of wrestling with the concept of shame, we had a second day of class focused on grace. We repeated the same exercise. Interestingly, it was more difficult to decide what to draw and write. After thinking a bit, here is what I came up with:

6_25_18-3_06-pm-office-lens

What do you see there? What physical sensations, emotions, and associations does it bring up for you?

Here is my personal definition of grace I came up with:

“Seeing someone truly, accepting them fully, and joining them where they are, allowing that presence and connection to cultivate life-giving energy to grow good things for and in them. It is the gift of oneself to lift up the humanity in someone.”

There’s no direct mention of God in that, but of course, God does all those things. Jesus is those things. And the Spirit works in us through other people who do those things.

If you drew grace and then wrote your personal definition, what would you draw and write?

If I think to Genesis, I see the purpose and value of creation and humanity. Of Yahweh being present with us in the garden, seeing us in the naked reality of how we were made. Fear of death and of not being enough led to seeking control and self-protection, which only led us further away from life and meaning. The shame of that failure and insufficiency drove us even farther from presence with each other, from valuing each other, and from presence and trust with God.

Like Eve, I am afraid that I’m not enough, and I try to protect myself. The typical way I do that is to avoid. I avoid conflict and asserting myself and reaching out for connection and even expressing that I value someone. That’s how I protect myself from the danger of rejection and isolation. But in the process, I reject myself on others’ behalf and isolate myself from everyone. My frantic search for security leads only to what I fear most. That’s how it works for all of us.

Jesus, however, can be trusted to good is into life that is true. He restores presence and connection. Jesus restores unconditional value. Jesus gives us someone to trust, taking the fear and shame and replacing it with love and acceptance and grace, with relationship and purpose.

And I forget. I mean, I know it, but I forget it. I can’t keep it at the forefront of my mind and my heart and spirit every moment. I get bogged down and overburdened and fixated on the messy and unbearable things in myself and around me, and expectations, and global atrocities, and the chaos of children and the terror of intimate and vulnerable existence in my marriage, and I forget.

Presence. Engagement. Stillness. Purpose. Relationship. Community. Trust. Grace.

These are worthy things to cultivate. And being present to my body and mind, my emotions, and my relationships, in prayer and meditation, in conversation and cooking and writing and working all contribute to growth and joy and meaning.

Just writing this is helpful. It helps me, anyway. It engages some stillness. Puts some things in order. I didn’t write an outline or plan what I was going to write. I didn’t know before I got there that I was going to include the pictures I drew in class. I’m working on not presenting to the world only the perfected product after I spend time agonizing internally about what to say and how to say it. It makes me more comfortable, and it gives room for other people to speak, but then I’m not known. It’s lonely. And honestly, the best thoughts and experiences I have always involve letting someone else into the process.

I’ll get there. At least closer. And maybe if I share the process, the journey, other people can help me get there, and maybe they’ll come along and make it their journey too.

Want to come along?

3 thoughts on “Really Known

  1. I could have written this blog! I identify with most of everything you said in it.
    I have at times considered the possibility that our enemy discourages us from doing what God wants us to do, which is to love others and give ourselves to them for their sake.
    Transparency is quite risky. However, when using discernment it becomes a gift to both myself and to the other person. I am blessed when I “expose” myself for the benefit of the OTHER person. In the process I get to see myself as they might see me. I see my own weaknesses and strengths. I become open to healing and am healed. Because I have been transparent, the other person feels safe to be real around me. It builds relationship.

    Liked by 1 person

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