Getting trapped in a crowd causes my ears to pulse. I can hear the thumping of my heart pumping blood. My eardrums rattle like the china in my kitchen cabinet when our neighbor’s bass is turned up too loud. My heart races. Fight or flight. Survival mode kicks in. My temper fuse, which is normally fairly long, shortens to millimeters.
Suffice it to say: I hate crowds. When having to deal with people en masse, I stick to the edges. Keep myself in a place where I can briefly observe, and then make my escape. At concerts, I like the back, watching all the action in front of me. Being right up front smashed in with folks dancing and grabbing for the stage — oh no. No. No. No. Not interested. I don’t want people I don’t know touching me or in my space bubble. Not at all.
Not being able to control my movement pace and not having the ability to escape a scenario terrifies me. My brain downshifts to lizard brain. Watch out world. Get out of my way.
So typically, I avoid crowds. I structure my life in such a way as to avoid masses of people. I arrive places at off peak times. I look for quiet, hidden gems instead of big bang attractions. There’s not much that I want badly enough to brave crowds.
Cut to Holy Yoga last Saturday. Yes, it’s another HoYo post. My instructor started reading from Mark 2:1-5, the story about a group of friends bringing their paralyzed friend to meet Jesus.
People crammed in to listen to Jesus; they filled the house and spilled out the door of the house. Seeing the throng of people blocking their path to Jesus, the men lowered their friend into the house through the roof in order to get him in front of Jesus. Watch out down below. Incoming. Back out of the way.
As I listened, I remembered my loathing of crowds. And my first thought was a bit smug. I am not sure if there is anything that I want badly enough to pack into a crowded house to gain.
That thought was immediately followed by a swift mental kick. That thought reeks of privilege. My needs are so well met that there’s not anything I can think of wanting badly enough to pack in with the group. Guilt and shame rushed in soon after that.
Following that, sadness crept in. How sad for me! Would I skip over seeing Jesus today if it meant braving crowds of people? Would I walk past the house thinking there’s not anything worth risking my calm for? What am I missing out on by not being so invested in something that I’m willing to endure discomfort or desperate enough to drag someone else with me into the throng?
Last week, I started reading Brene Brown’s Rising Strong. I’d asked for it for Christmas, and finally had opportunity to start reading it. Early on in the book she makes the point that “we can choose courage or we can choose comfort. But, we can’t have both. Well, at least, not at the same time (4).”
This quote haunts me, friends. It follows me around in my thoughts like my beagle follows me around the house. I don’t like it. I’m convinced she’s right. And I kind of hate that. I want both courage and comfort. But, in wanting both, really what I’m ultimately wanting is comfort. I want comfort without risk. I don’t want vulnerable. I want easy.
Looking back at the past year, I asked myself where have I felt most alive? Where are the moments where time pauses and I feel present to myself and my surroundings? Where have I felt most comfortable in my skin and delighted to be breathing and alive?
Sitting at coffee shops both writing and drinking in words of wisdom from someone else has been a highlight of the past few months. Soaking in books, and sharing the challenges I received. That feels life-giving. Time seems to pause as I write and read. I swim in ideas and float along in a thought cloud. Pouring words back out onto a page or blog post makes my synapses zing with energy and purpose — regardless of whether anyone else reads or cares. I mean, it’s way better when the words actually connect with others. Not gonna lie about that. Having an audience who resonates with the words is a thrilling gift. However, the process of writing itself is ultimately enough for me.
Standing up in front of a group teaching or preaching became an unexpected source of fun. Scary. Loaded with risk. And yet, God showed up and did mind-boggling things in people through words I spoke or questions I asked. What a humbling thing to witness! And just altogether cool. Preparation is terrifying. That moment before my mouth opens and sounds come tumbling out is petrifying. And then, God moves. Time pauses. Conversations happen. That, too, even while vulnerable, feels like living.
Stumbling into deep, real conversations with people, whether through teaching, blogging or regular life, made me feel connected. Those conversations where we get to drop the masks, the “I should” or “you should” posing, and we just dig into messy, authentic life in its difficulties and triumphs. Even better when these chats come out of nowhere, with people from whom I least expect it. These are gift conversations. The “Me, too!” moments help me remember I’m not in this life alone. And being present to God moving in all of our stories keeps my hope alive. Even as an introvert who requires massive alone time, these talks fill my energy cup. Life abounds here.
Seeing the world through my camera lens delights me. Photography continues to teach me how to be present to the world in front of me. Playing with an extended zoom lens this past year opened my eyes to a myriad of little bits of beauty splayed out in nature that I’d never noticed before. I fell in love with mighty oak trees as I hiked and explored in each season. I’d been content to ignore them previously and relegate them to background noise. Now, I feel a rush of wonder whenever I see oak trees. They unearth a delight in God’s creative ability in me. As the shutter clicks on my camera, time seems to wondrously expand, and I find myself contentedly lost in the scenery before me. And somehow in getting lost in nature and capturing images, I find myself. God speaks to me, spurs me on and unleashes ideas.
These things — writing, teaching, deep conversations, photography — are where I most often find life. And on the flip side, they’re the ones that are so tied with danger. Much of me is wrapped up in them, so fear of failure swoops in quickly like a dive bombing hawk. I often shrink back from these life-giving areas. In fear, I say “no” to opportunities here. Fear I’m not enough — not creative, not smart, not Godly, not wise, not well-spoken, not animated, not gifted, not worthy. Fear that somehow all these things don’t amount to much, that there’s not a paycheck in these pursuits. And what does it mean to settle yet again for something less? I wonder if I’ll be the one at the end of my life wondering what life would’ve been like if I had been willing to work harder and suffer more for something I thought was worthwhile. God, I hope not.
Finding myself stuck, I found myself praying this week. And it felt like a big prayer. There’s been a handful of times when I found myself praying something specific that, even as I’m talking to God, I feel my life start to chart a particular course. This was one of those times.
Here’s what I asked: God, will you give me a vision so compelling that I’m willing to risk everything on it? Something so audacious and incredible I can’t do it on my own. Something so magnetic and meaningful I can’t talk myself out of it. Help me to dream something so much bigger than I can dream on my own and to find something worth the risk of struggling or failing.
What about you? Where are the moments in the past year where you’ve found yourself feeling most alive? Most grateful for the gift of your life? And what are you choosing for your life right now: courage or comfort? What do you need in order to be ready to take the risk of being present and fully engaged in your life?