I range from moderately anxious to completely terrified, anytime that I feel like I’m supposed to be writing about controversial topics. I hate making waves. Hate it. I spent years actively avoiding creating confrontation, even though I knew I felt differently than a lot of my peers and community. I desperately tried to channel my frustrations or controversial tidbits into reasons to be thankful and joyful. I filtered anything I liked or posted on social media for fear of starting something I didn’t want to finish. I ignored this aching need to say something in defense of people who were being railroaded or criminalized in a social setting. Sure, I would send private messages or text messages lending my support behind the scenes, but to do anything publicly was too scary.
I remember the first time I wrote a blog post in college that admitted, out loud and in public, that I was a feminist. It sat as a draft on my blog for 2 months before I worked up the courage to even label myself on my own site. The first time I felt like I was supposed to post about the pro-life/pro-choice debate, I cried the entire time I wrote it. When I posted a Facebook status about racial inequality and Black Lives Matter for the first time, I talked myself out of it for the better part of a day, and had to leave my phone in the other room after I posted it so that I didn’t immediately take it down. I am not what one would consider a particularly bold activist. If I post or write about something, it because I’ve admitted defeat to the still, small voice that won’t stop nudging me to say something.
Often, I feel like I’ve said too much, done too much, out of a desire to make myself look and sound smart, to come back and say anything now. I minimized, shamed and demeaned with the best of them. I thought I was doing the right thing. I thought I was pushing for justice – and that sense of righteous indignation burned through bridges faster than I knew. I told dissenters that they were being divisive, and welcomed those who thought like me while turning away those that didn’t. I told those who were struggling that they only needed to work harder, to do more to pull themselves up without help. I told myself that too. I accused people and groups of misusing grace, and brandished scripture like a weapon.
I thought I was doing what I should do. And remembering the things I’ve said and done in the name of that crusade makes me feel ill. It makes me feel like I have no right to stand up now and that any right to say something worthwhile died out long ago. I’m afraid that one of these times I post something that flies in the face of who I have been, someone will call me on it. They’ll use my own words against me, and I’ll have nothing to say in my defense.
I’m afraid that I’ll alienate myself from and hurt people that I love by speaking things they don’t agree with. By claiming that my Jesus feels and says things about people that they don’t see in Him. I’m afraid that I’ll go too far, and people that I have spent my life loving won’t want me anymore. That they won’t continue to open their doors to me, or that they’ll ridicule me behind my back. I’m afraid that these conversations I attempt to start will never achieve anything beyond creating discord. I’m afraid that I’ll step out and pour out my heart on these things only to later find out that I was wrong. I’m afraid I’ll speak up and be met with condescension and lose my temper because I let it become more about my pride than the One I’m standing for.
And for a long time, the fear of those things was louder than anything else. It choked out any ability or willingness on my part to say something or be something that deviated from what I thought I needed to be. It was louder than Jesus, as He consistently invited me to stand for the things I believed in and asked that I trust Him to give me the words and the bravery to keep being seen. It told me that unless I had a fully detailed battle plan, I was going to certainly fail, so I might as well sit this one out.
What I didn’t know then, and still sometimes forget now, is that fear sounds a lot bigger and scarier than it actually is. Speaking about something that will be met with resistance is still routinely stressful for me, but it’s also rather like a muscle – the more I work with it, the stronger it gets. And if God is leading me to and through it, I will see more good and more growth come of it than I thought possible. I’m coming to realize that my dislike of conflict may never fully go away, but that being brave looks like being scared and willingly doing it anyway.
This process requires grace. I spend too much time worrying about how people will respond, and find myself needing to repent for being anxious. I spend too much time waiting to see what others will say, and I find myself needing to repent for not stepping out when and where the Lord has asked me to. I finally step out, and people insult my intelligence or integrity and I feel the anger come rushing in – and sometimes I let it free in ways that aren’t helpful, so I find myself needing to repent and ask forgiveness for making it about me. Sometimes I get irritated that people aren’t seeing what I wish they’d see, and I forget that I was worse once. I find myself needing to repent for losing sight of humility and the fact that I’m not the one who does the heart and mind changing.
And though it makes me more than a little uncomfortable to think about, I may work up the courage to speak, find ways to do so gently and with love, and even have a hand in people deciding to rethink their own stances and dig deeper – only to find out that I was wrong. But I think as long as my intention is to create conversations that are not about how smart or skilled I am, focusing on ways that we can be better at loving God and our neighbor (whatever that ends up looking like), all of this is worth any discomfort that comes up along the way.
Be gentle with me, friends, as I am doing everything I can to be gentle in return. Be gentle with yourselves too, trusting that whatever the Lord is doing here is going to be for the good of us all in the end. Consider being receptive to things that are different and uncomfortable, please, and be willing to bring me things that are different and uncomfortable – working towards unity, together as we’re all different.
Let’s be a brave people, a just people, a kind people – who stand for what we believe in without holding down or climbing on anyone to get there.