Recently I started reading Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People. Nearly immediately, betwixt laughter and tears, I found myself dripping with writer’s envy. The kind I’d heard other writers mention, but hadn’t deeply experienced yet. Could I ever write something like this? I mean, not exactly like this, but with the artistry in the book and simplicity of speech. I aspire to that. The levity and depth of thought. Getting at the sorrow and tragedy and wonder of the Gospel and human experience. Weaving deep thought with tangible human experience and owning of my own foibles. All of that rich tapestry in everyday, normal human speak. Even though we differ theologically, it was everything I hope to be as a writer. It’s also everything I’m deeply afraid I never will be — whether that’s fair or accurate (or not).
I’d been wrestling with my insecurities yet again. Feeling small, insignificant, useless. I have crappy self-talk, and generally I am my meanest critic and naysayer. I’d like to think that one day I’ll have defeated these little thought monsters, but the reality is they’ll likely come and go for the rest of my life. Maybe, as a gesture of gracious acceptance of my entire self –naysayers and all — I should give them names at some point? I’d even take suggestions if you had some in mind, perhaps grumpy-sounding names?
Back to the point, I’m just usually better at dealing with these self-loathing thought monkeys and especially at seeking out my circle of people, who talk me back into a more realistic picture of myself.
Instead, being around people had just been hard. People asked questions that echo my self-talk, and I felt judged — if not by them, then by myself. Life doesn’t turn out as I had planned (like almost ever. I know. Big surprise there.). Really, no amount of judgment I (likely mistakenly as I tend to be oversensitive) picked up from others compared to the scathing rebukes I gave myself. Plus, I didn’t want to be a project or mess or recipient of unsolicited advice, and the Southern manners instilled in me during childhood prevent me from interrupting anyone other than my sister and telling them to stop talking, like right now, when someone starts down a hurtful path.
When I’m busy striving (and feeling like I’m failing) to be “enough” or “worthy of love or notice,” I can’t rest in the wonder of grace or in the knowledge that actually, I am already enough and already loved. And when I can’t do those things, I’m not much help for other people, either. I either hide from people or I’m looking for ways that other people’s problems make my problems seem better (and let’s be fair here, too, while we’re at it: it’s not just me who does this.)
When I’m not ready to confront my brokenness, I’m less able to be gracious with the brokenness of others. When I’m unable to recognize the sea of grace which [still] holds me buoyant, I’m also unable to invite anyone out to float in the waters of mercy with me.
In the midst of my insecure downward thought spirals, I had a small sliver of insight that started illuminating bigger things about my life.
I’d stopped paying attention to my actual life in the midst of my recent rampant insecurity about writing and life in general. Instead, I’d been so consumed with the endless thought loop of anxious self-important questions.
Things like: Is it okay to dream of being an actual writer if this little space never grows bigger than 170 followers? Is it silly and self-important to want to create space in my life for writing, even if it seems like a frivolous privilege? Does anything in this tiny little blog matter to anyone outside of me? Does everyone think I’m nuts or narcissistic or self-important for keeping this blog? But, really, what does it matter what people think? But, do I actually suck at this, and nobody in my circle is honest enough to tell me that for fear of hurting my feelings?
See what I mean about an endless loop of anxious self-important questions?
Because I wanted to avoid my fear and insecurity, I’d stopped writing while asking those questions. And when I wasn’t writing, I stopped examining my life and moments within it.
I’d stopped paying attention to the little divine encounters that could change my life if I’d notice them.
That issue right there was a much bigger problem than the “what do people think about me or my writing?”
Because of my preoccupation with other people’s thoughts, I was missing out on the grace and wonder in my life, and all the while feeling like I was drowning in a sea of fear. I’m like Peter, ecstatically walking on water, until I looked to the waves, wind and darkness instead of the face of Jesus.
Peter, in looking at the gravity of his stormy situation, lost confidence in the One who beckoned him out of the boat and sustained him thus far. As he took his eyes from Jesus, he sank and panicked, calling out for Jesus to save him.
And like Jesus grabbed Peter’s hand and brought him back to the boat, as I opened my eyes recently, I’ve found my hand grabbed by Jesus. Not literally by the hand like Peter, but rescued nonetheless.
Instead, Jesus is working through people to haul me back into the boat on the sea of grace, so I can float again. And he’s doing it through, for lack of a better word, bizarre encounters with strangers and acquaintances: a Muslim family at the Social Security office, an 85-year-old woman I randomly met out walking, a twenty-something guy asking me for money outside a coffee shop, and a jaw-dropping conversation with an acquaintance who actually wants to come hear me preach and who surprisingly enjoys this blog.
To be honest, it always shocks me when someone actually wants to hear me preach or likes my writing; it’s an overwhelming and totally surprising gift to hear those words, because deep down, I don’t think I amount to much. I talk a big game otherwise, but it’s a fake-it-till-you-make-it kind of thing. Plus, I don’t like wearing my fragility on my sleeve if I can help it.
Lately, I’m finding myself floating in the sea of grace and mercy through these strange human encounters. Not so much because I’m reaching out, but because of the way Jesus flags me down when I’d rather be hiding out — if only I open my eyes and pay attention.