I have had this fear for years.
It started in junior high, when bible studies became A Thing, and kids who spoke up and got a round of nods or “mhms” or (even better) an “MHMMM TOTALLY” from the group leader, were so totally cool. People who prayed prayers people liked—not too long, not too many pauses, references that made you chuckle, a tidy tie in of the discussion, etc.—also had a special place in the hierarchy, but that’s a tale for another
rant time. Putting two and two together, and being a raging introvert, I quickly deduced that if I didn’t have a fully baked, concise thought, I probably shouldn’t open my mouth. Speaking aloud became this giant monstrosity that had to be done, or I wasn’t engaging, yet my comments had to be pithy, intelligent, authentic—or what sounded close to it in the early 2000s and by the measurement of other teenagers. This led to a decade of butterflies and shaking hands every time I felt that ‘tug’ to say something in bible study or a group of people, in any context.
Yeah. I had a problem.
And, of course, getting older just made this fear more subtle. I was better at voicing my thoughts, but the underlying terror became nuanced: “What if what I’m saying is spiritually false? What if I’m committing heresy in some small way? And, worse, what if someone says something? What if they shared that passage to convict meee? What if I make a suggestion about how to live, and look like a hypocrite because I can’t do it myself? What if someone here has the gift of prophesy like the guy from that story that one time and dumps my spiritual laundry all over the church carpet?!”
Oh, you need a specific example? I thought you’d never ask.
I once overheard a story of this little girl who would randomly avoid certain teens and adults at her church; they were active members of the body, too. When asked why, she simply said (a la Divine Child Archetype), “They don’t have the Light in their faces.”
As in, God’s light wasn’t in them. Perfect.
I became terrified that some beautiful, precocious little child would point at me one day and say that I didn’t have the Light in my face. I am not even kidding.
It’s not hard to see why I have often felt like I need to study the bible and pray for a while, just to garner the courage to go to bible study. To be honest, I went through this a couple hours ago. But the last few months of
choosing trying to believe that I am truly Free kicked in, in an unexpected way. I began to rabbit trail, spiraling into fearful thoughts that I’d said something wrong, and seriously considered texting a friend, to make sure I wasn’t crazy—or that I was. Then I stopped. And I thought, “So what?”
So what if I just said something mildly heretical, revealed an ugly part of myself, looked like a hypocrite or am 1000% sure that that passage so-and-so shared had my name all over it? If I’m wrong, it gives someone the chance to speak up. If I’ve shown a bit of my ugly, it frees someone else up to show theirs. If I was acting like a hypocrite, lucky me—I’ve just been humbled in a crash and burn sort of way. If they shared that passage to remind me that I’m not always right, got carried away with my own ideas, forgot that I’m talking to people with feelings and to generally remind me that I am human, GOOD.
Because I am human.
My point is, and I hope this encourages someone out there, even if the worst is true in these situations, it’s just not that bad. You don’t have to curate every word, or fear judgment if what you said doesn’t come out right. The worst that will happen is someone will misunderstand, fail to ask for clarification and come to some incorrect conclusions about you. But, for the most part, saying what you think just gives other people an opportunity to really see you, and you to see them. To connect in a real way.
I’ve been finding that I have a lot of fluff, a lot of canned responses that keep people happy and don’t reveal too much. I’ve been trying to get rid of that fluff. It’s been disorienting and uncomfortable, and I feel much smaller. But the tiny bit of me that remains is real—like a bead of iron or steel.
I often think of that scene in C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, when the visitors can’t walk on the grass because they’re not solid enough. I honestly believe that you become more solid to other people when you share your thoughts, even if they turn out to be misled or incomplete. Only then can you actually find one another and have the chance to grow, because you are each sharing a bit of yourself. A little teaspoon of realness.
I want to be solid. I want to be real. Whatever it takes.