Wednesday, September 11, 2013
My History of Silence
I've spent most of my life apologizing for my opinions, but I'm currently experiencing a lot of opportunities and encouragement to use my voice boldly. Over the past five or six years, I've learned to own my thoughts and feelings on just about everything, and now I'm learning to express them appropriately. It's even more difficult than I thought it would be.
In my former life as a diehard people-pleaser, it was hard to object to anything about me because I didn't give people much to object to. I toned down my personality. I kept disagreements to myself or vented to a select few. I avoided conflict at all costs. I always tried to think of myself (and therefore my opinions) as much less important than others, because isn't that what the Bible teaches? On top of that, as a woman I was supposed to take a backseat to men, so there wasn't much point in getting too passionate about anything.
You can imagine how this played out in my marriage. Since the main advice to Christian wives in difficult marriages is to submit more – aside: a post on that topic is on a slow boil within me – I doggedly pursued the elusive, magical degree of submissiveness that would make things right, make a husband love his wife like Christ loved the church. Spoiler alert: it doesn't exist, and I almost lost myself trying to reach it. But when I hit rock bottom, the Holy Spirit was there. He showed me that I had inherent worth and value, that I wasn't created to be an empty vessel, existing only to be filled with whatever pleased my spouse, family, church, or employer. No, God made me, on purpose, as a whole individual with preferences and feelings and rights. I had dignity because He created me, myself, in His image. This epiphany was my rebirth. I started saying no to people who were taking advantage of my yes. I started setting boundaries and dreaming dreams. I started standing up to my husband, pointing out legitimate needs that had gone unmet for years. He didn't behave any differently, but my confidence increased as I climbed, hand over hand, out of the pit of being everyone's doormat. Because of that sacred time in my life, when my ex finished wiping his feet all over me and walked out, I was secure enough – in God and in myself – to let him go. No matter what anyone thought, I knew I had fought the good fight and kept the faith. That his choices were his own responsibility, not mine.
That was the beginning.
In many ways, after my divorce, I had to learn who I was all over again. I had to give myself permission to swing too far the other way, trusting that God would catch me in the middle. The same is true about speaking up. I have to risk overdoing it sometimes to drown out my programming. I just concluded two years with a wonderful Wednesday night small group, full of honest, fun, flawed people like me. Even within that safe community, I went home many Wednesday nights thinking, I talked too much (i.e. maybe two or three contributions). I shouldn't have said that. I should have been more delicate about that. No one needs my input anyway. It's the same with my writing. Everyone else has already said this better. No one cares. Someone will disapprove. The fact is, someone always will disapprove, but we all have to make our peace with that.
I can't stay quiet and meek anymore; now the battle is preventing myself from disclaiming or apologizing after making any sort of strong statement. Last week during a discussion in Sunday School, I said some honest things in front of several elders and immediately thought, Great job, you just flagged yourself as trouble! But I resisted backtracking, and it felt great. Because, like Joey Tribbiani, I wasn't even sorry. I want to stop hiding my light under a bushel. There are times to do that in a spirit of caring and sensitivity, but it's not a good approach to life in general.
Sometimes I fear that with every step I take toward boldness, I'm considered less and less of a (re)marriage prospect. Plenty of strong Christian men don't want to be with a passionate woman who knows her own mind, no matter how humble she is (unless they like the challenge of "taming" her, which is sick beyond belief). But I'd rather live alone and free than partnered in a cage, if those are my only options. God can fill me however He wants, but my days of being an empty vessel for another human are long over.