This general sense of malaise won’t leave me. I want to hibernate, to give up, I feel content to go through motions; dare I say – it feels like an attack.
Because I’m supposed to be doing stuff. Namely taking on new responsibilities and participating in new directions for the food pantry; writing things; applying to grad school; and working on a sermon. And in theory, in the abstract, I’m excited about all of these things. In practice, I’m discouraged and unmotivated.
It’s that same question, the one you’re supposed to know the answer to, you think you’ve figured it out but (if you’re me, at least) every time, it pops back up and bewilders you: “Who do you think you are?”
Why should I be preaching in place of a beloved, gifted, wise pastor? Where did I get the idea that I could earn a Ph.D.? Since when does my writing deserve to be read? What does it even matter if I buy fair trade or recycle my milk cartons? What makes me think I am special enough to sustain this nonsensical approach to life as some kind of countercultural anticonsumerist adventure?
Enter this quote. I don’t care if you’ve seen it a thousand times, it’s one of the truest things I’ve ever read:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. -Marianne Williamson
In the past, this paragraph has inspired me. But this time around, even though I still think it’s true, I feel cynical: great, Marianne, you’ve described my situation, any ideas for what to DO now? And behind the cynicism - fear. I feel myself cowering under the glower of these words. They feel harsh. I mean, I’d like to shine, but I don’t feel shiny.
I wonder, though, if all this self-doubt isn’t actually wrapped around a kernel of pride, or at least self-preservation. I don’t want to stick up or stick out. If I speak loudly, I may be misunderstood. If I learn too much, I might encounter too much responsibility.
If I try to do all this stuff, I could fail.
And there’s the kernel.
Pride would rather be “successful” at small and unchallenging things, in a little pond, with good-enough results, than take a risk on big and difficult things on a grand scale with preposterous dreams. Pride cannot stand to think what others would say if they did not understand, if they became jealous, if all the hard work in the world turned out to not really do much of anything. Pride wants to see labor rewarded and accomplishments lauded, and that is best guaranteed by exceeding low, manageable expectations.
Humility doesn’t really need to be able to write all that well or “make a difference”; but it will. Because humility doesn’t plan to do these things alone. Humility proclaims, my help comes from the Lord, and therefore so do my dreams. Humility asks for help, does one thing at a time, and waits on God for the outcome in quiet confidence.
I will serve and trust that it can be called leading.
I will speak with conviction in my small voice and trust that I will become a preacher.
When darkness threatens to overwhelm, I will not stop pursuing justice and love. I will live out of hope in a world I cannot yet see, even when I do not know how my small part matters; such things are too wonderful for me. I know only that I have been called to an audacious dream of the kingdom, and the step toward it I am taking today.
May we all know ourselves to be gifts of God, that we might find strength to forget ourselves and shine the more brilliant under God’s care.