“I didn’t share it with anyone except Yoshi. It seemed best left in metaphor… Best left unnamed. I didn’t want anyone to laugh at me or raise their skeptical eyebrows or to simply not pay attention.”
[Kim Edwards, The Lake of Dreams]
“I think I… kind of… hate Christians“, I ventured out loud, while my brother and I were doing the dishes.
This was a long time ago, maybe 15 years, but I have been thinking about that conversation lately. It surprises me that I can remember standing there with the drying towel in my hand as I tried to name my inner disquiet …. and as I received understanding.
I think that’s why I remember. The understanding. Isn’t it always the most powerful response to receive?
He did not say “Now Sharon, you don’t hate Christians…” or “What you really mean is…“. He did not even say “I understand, BUT…”. He was a theologian and a preacher, even then, and he ‘got me’… gave me permission to explore my niggling unease.
I felt relief, and hope. He became one of my small number of go-to-people over the next decade as I shared and confessed and wondered my way through my faith journey, and through All Of The Thoughts about Church.
We need our Yoshis, don’t we?
But why is it that many of us so desperately need our ‘safe-people’, when it comes to our truth about faith? It seems a sad thing that we fear laughter, scepticism or indifference from those who share it. Or those who preach it…
It is complicated, I know… some of us rant too much, some of us need space, even wilderness years… some of us over-confess and some of us don’t even try to tell the truth. We over-react, we make presumptions and assumptions and we contribute to our own lonlieness sometimes.
But often it’s just this: We don’t want anyone to laugh at us or raise their sceptical eyebrows or to simply not pay attention.
This week a colleague, of whom I am extremely fond, tried to find his voice. He had an issue with a matter that was being discussed at our staff meeting. He hates talking at staff meetings, it is not easy for him to speak up. He feels intimidated by those that seem to relish ‘fighting their corner’. I know he was nervous and as a result he had dwelt on it too much in the run-up to the meeting.
I was glad that Jim was speaking up. He had a valid point that was worth consideration. He was concerned, and that deserved respect. But what happened was he spoke too much and he spoke too hard. He overstated and repeated and went round in circles. What happened was, he was so intent on finding his reluctant voice, that he just couldn’t listen. He could not hear what was being said back to him. He was so worried, I think, about being dismissed or pammed off, that he just assumed this was happening. Yes, he said the things that he’d been thinking about, but he was unable to enter into actual conversation about them.
Sometimes, I try to find my voice in the exact same way as Jim.
Are you here, like me, trying to work out what your ‘voice’ sounds like outside of the trusted conversations, the ones with a drying towel in your hands? Away from your Yoshis, your mum or soul-chums, your safe people… outside your inner circle and away from your own kitchen table? How do you tell your truth in 140-characters, or on a blog post, in home-group or a work meeting, at the front of church or to the person sitting beside you in the pew? Should you? Does it matter?
Brené Brown says vulnerability isn’t ‘letting it all hang out’, that we should only share with people who have earned the right to hear our story. And Preston Yancey wrote in a blog-post about how a friend in AA taught him that you learn to be honest without being loud, that honesty and authenticity is quiet work, lived out carefully and tenderly.
But maybe you’ve tried gently and it seems like no-one’s heard you. Maybe you are asking careful questions and speaking bits of your story tenderly and all you’re left with is what Brené Brown would call a vulnerability hangover. Embarrassment and regret. But then, what was that other thing you read? About vulnerability being like a cat? You create a safe place for it and wait.
I hear some preachers identifying my generation in the church, the ones who used to want to change the world, but who sold out, and I feel misunderstood and dismissed. Once upon a time I would have ranted something about hating Christians in my frustration. I’m trying not to React that way, these days. But I do hate that there is no safe place for the stories of many of my generation, in the presence of this kind of preaching.
I do not recognise my friends in the cold cynics being identified from the pulpit. I think of thoughtful text messages and emails, of careful confessions made in my living room chair and chats with the car still running. Stories and wrestling and depth shared. Like this friend:
“i found it so hard shaz. i tried going to this church, it was a nice one, good preacher, normal looking people. but i didn’t know anyone. and i sat in the back row, and i just kept crying, week after week, a big hard lump in my throat. because i used to stand at the front and lead worship, and i used to know everybody, and it used to feel like home, and then i couldn’t even sing because i didn’t know if i believed it anymore, and i was so ashamed of the tears pouring down my face. i went there for 7 months and about 6 times someone spoke to me. “
I don’t want to be mad at church, I don’t, I don’t want to be mad at preachers, but I do want to say: there are people coming and going with tears on their cheeks and lumps in their throat and they are being told they have sold out to toasters. They are being wrapped up in Rally-calls and humour, and no-one is noticing their hearts breaking in the back row.
I opened the curtains this morning and saw the dark figure of my husband nipping round from the back to my car at the front of the house. It was raining and I knew he wanted to be in work early, I presumed he needed something from my car. But no, he was putting up the bracket for my Sat Nav.
I hadn’t asked him to do it and I was not going on some epic road trip. I was going approx 8 miles up the road on a play-date, to somewhere I have been multiple times before. And I need Sat Nav?! This makes no sense to most people. Laughter. Sceptical eyebrows.
But I just struggle with driving. I just do. I struggle in embarrassing, ridiculous ways. Ways that are not shared in any shape or form by my husband who fears not the Autobahn, who DOES NOT NEED DIRECTIONS. But he knows my ways, and what helps me. And it feels damn good, does it not, just to be helped? No pep talks or advice, just help.
It feels good to share our work-in-progress selves, to have our clumsy journeys valued and to receive help … whether it’s to navigate a run of roundabouts, or to navigate a run of feelings about Christians.
I finished my initial read of Brené Brown’s ‘Daring Greatly’ about a year ago, perched on a rock by the sea at the front of the Slieve Donard hotel. Since then, I have had the courage, more often, to show up and let myself be seen.
Her wisdom helps. So does Susan Cain’s.
When I first watched her TED talk about the Power of Introverts, and sent it to other people to watch, my mum and my husband both sent her closing words back at me: “But occasionally… I hope you will open up your suitcases for other people to see, because the world needs you and it needs the things you carry.”
Some things are best left in metaphor. I think so. Some things we don’t share easily, our story is sometimes earned. Honesty and authenticity is quiet work, and I’m still learning. I want to listen more than I speak. I want to be someone’s Yoshi. I want to wash dishes beside you and be a safe place for your confessions. I want to notice what helps on your journey. But sometimes, I want to speak, too. I don’t want to be driven by fear of laughter or scepticism or indifference. I want to be free of that. Here’s where I still find it hardest: Church. Christian community. I have the least courage here, I am the most affected by feeling misunderstood or out of place here.
What about you? Where do you find it hardest to show up, and let yourself be seen?
Where do you most long to feel understood?