...currently writing from: Monrovia, CA
I HATE NEEDING ANYTHING.
Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been rewarded for not needing any extra attention. I’ve been an ideal student, a well-behaved daughter, and a consistent friend. Somewhere along the way, I learned that not depending on anybody for anything was easier and helped me stay in control.
I used to hide food in my room as a kid, not because I was hungry, but so that if I ever got hungry, I wouldn’t have to admit it to anyone.
I knew how scared I would get when people got angry, so I never let myself get angry. That way no one would need to tell me that it hurt people.
I refused to sit on the carpet with my fellow kindergartners, because I didn't want anyone to think I needed to be taught anything.
I learned to never need help. Or at least, never to admit it.
Instead, I learned to hide.
I started to notice what people praised in me, and I focused on showing those things and holding back everything else.
Especially my needs.
Like a curator, the person who manages art at a museum, I chose the pieces that people liked the most about my personality, and I hung them on display, with perfect lighting and pretty descriptions.
The worst thing about this was that I didn’t realize I was doing it. I only knew the shame that I felt when someone recognized one of my not-so-tidy qualities, and how much I wanted to avoid that.
I valued perfection. Perfection meant striving for what was acceptable and well-received. It also meant that any quality, need, or emotion that wasn’t perfect should stay hidden at all costs.
I’ve got just as many insecurities as the next person, but I thought that deep down, my insecurities and imperfections were way worse than anybody else’s.
This foundational belief that something about a person is wrong, unaccepable, or necessitates an apology, is called shame. One Harvard psychiatrist, Andrew Morrison, described that for some people, particularly women, having any unmet needs at all, “...to feel anything other than self- sufficiency -- a need for support, for attention, for physical contact -- is a source of shame.”
This is how I thought about myself. If I needed something, it meant that there was something wrong with me, and I couldn’t let anyone know that.
“If you don't speak your unpleasant truth, your unpleasant truth finds ways to speak. The truth of you is in your symptoms, in the things you cannot say. The symptoms become the prophet. They become the place where change can really happen."
- Peter Rollins
Sometimes it takes a big event-- a letdown, a disappointment, a loss-- to wake you up to something as serious as this about yourself.
This was true for me.
I’m about to turn 28 in the midst of a really confusing season. These last few months have been filled with failure, uncertainty, and loss. I realized in the midst of my pain and loneliness that the people closest to me don’t know me very well. They only know my mask, my curated, amplified image of only the parts of me that I think are acceptable. I didn’t realize how much I was holding back about myself, and even that there are parts of me that I don’t really know.
All of a sudden, it was so clear that God had been peeling away those well-manicured layers to remind me of this truth:
That there is so much more to me than just the idealized image I tried to keep up.
For maybe the first time in my life, I started to take a look at who I really was and what I really needed.
I wish I were done with this process. I wish I were done being afraid of people asking, “How are you?” I wish I were done feeling like I don’t really know myself very well. I wish I were done crying in my car every day. And I wish I were done so that I could have all the answers to hand out to anyone else who might find themselves in this situation.
I’m in the middle of what will surely be a lifelong process of learning to trust God with every part of who I am, and maybe someday being able to trust another person with that.
FOR NOW, THIS LOOKS LIKE SAYING "YES" TO GOD FIRST, EVERY DAY, AND IN EVERYTHING, DESPITE HOW I FEEL.
Now when I am uncertain, I say “Yes” to the truth that God knows everything, and He is never caught off guard by any piece of information, no matter how serious or surprising it may be to me or to other people.
There is so much comfort in the realization that He has watched me hide my whole life, but waited to call me out of hiding until this season when He was perfectly present to welcome me into the light.
Now when I am vulnerable, I say “Yes” to the truth that God died on the cross bearing all my sin and my shame, which means that I can live in freedom instead of fear. I can inch forward with my shortcomings and insecurities, bringing them to God and to my close people slowly, giving myself time and space to admit them, to confess, to ask for love and forgiveness. He is so faithful to that.
And when I am afraid (which feels like all the time), I say “Yes” to the truth that God is fully in control. This doesn’t take away my fear, but it gives it a safe place to land so that I don’t need to put it on my “Things to Hide” shelf. He is able to handle, understand, and respond to my fears-- no matter how irrational they can be.
THE PRAYER THAT HAS BEEN WHISPERED FROM MY LIPS EVERY DAY OF THE LAST FEW MONTHS, FOR MYSELF AND FOR THE PEOPLE I HOLD MOST DEAR, IS THIS:
“Let us love without fear.”
I want my life to be defined by total surrender and trust in God, and by love for Him and for others, unrestricted by fear.
I know it will be a long process of learning not to hold things back; learning that I can trust God with everything, including my fear and shame. For now, I am taking it one day at a time, and trying to live honestly in the midst of this mess. Accepting grace from God and others is the most humbling part of life, and this process has taught me that there’s no substitute for that grace, even if we think we would rather work for it. It’s grace, it’s a free gift, and it is the answer to all needs and all my questions.