What is most personal is also the most universal.
Henri Nouwen, With Open Hands
I read this statement years back, and the words were planted. I’m not exactly sure where – perhaps they seeped deep in the heart, or hid away in the hindbrain, or else found some dimensionless home in the spiritual realm – but regardless, the words were planted in a place where they continue to surface.
They tend to drift into my consciousness at those critical times when I’m confronted with “I’m the only one” thinking — I’m the only one who feels this uncomfortable way, thinks these strange thoughts, does those embarrassing things. Those are the times when I am most tempted to run away, cover up, or shrink back, but now a soft whisper encourages me with such gentleness: What is most personal is also the most universal.
I suspect the simple statement holds multiple layers of meaning beyond my current comprehension, but from where I stand today it offers sweet comfort. What you feel deep in your core is felt by others. If you dare to share it, you’ll learn you’re not alone. Not in the least.
Halt. That “sharing” part of Nouwen’s equation? That’s a terrifying risk to take.
Because, you see, there’s a large part of me that does not want to be seen. While that part is not all of me, she’s much stronger than I’d like to admit. She’s the part that thinks a dark, little closet – even thought it’s filled with fear – feels just fine. She’s the old nature, controlled by a spirit of timidity rather than of love. She’s the self whose bones still quake, even though her head knows her huge-hearted God is a rock, a fortress, a haven.
That anxious part resists forming convictions, for they could potentially lead to disagreement, or even worse, mockery. She’s weary of standing firm with strong beliefs, for fear of being written off as “wrong.” If she espouses opinions, other people could pity her for having nonsensical ideas. And pity – that dreadful feeling of being looked down upon – is to be avoided like the plague.
Sometimes this part takes charge. She paralyzes. She grips, trying to inhibit the rest of me from developing a stronger core or backbone or voice or identity. She wants to keep me shifting like a shadow, floating without roots, and unknown by others. She’s always on the defensive, scared that someone may ask a question that requires honest disclosure.
When this scared self is in control and others ask about my opinions, I can only seem to stutter…
- …jumbled words encased in anxiety because in truth I haven’t considered that matter thoughtfully or come to any personal conclusions. Why would I waste time doing so if my main strategy is to avoid convictions at all costs?
- …jumbled words encased in anxiety because I’m terrified to let you know what I truly believe. Will you laugh? Judge? Gossip? For years, my self-protective modus operandi has been to ask enough questions to keep the focus on you, allowing my shaking self to stay secretly tucked away. In the moment, I never dare to think that maybe my personal beliefs are important, and could actually add insight or value to our conversation.
- …jumbled words encased in anxiety because I haven’t had enough time to decipher your stance in order to reflect something similar back. When I have had time to craft an agreeable answer, I can at least rest briefly in our superficial sameness. “See, we think alike! No need for conflict.” I give you no grounds to challenge me, and no material to pity or mock. And then I sigh with a shallow breath of fleeting relief – phew, another question barely survived. Better get your guns up and be on guard for the next.
So, I now write out my insecurity, observing this scared self living inside with eyes of tender love. I cling to the promise that bringing to light those things hidden in darkness fosters freedom, and that lovingly embracing the seemingly unlovable leads to transformation.
Shame tries to convince me that I should have a stronger sense of self and more confidence by this age and stage in life. Yet I know in my knower that I am exactly where I need to be today. Right on time. And that astoundingly artistic God of Love who has already began skillfully sculpting my scared insides? He’s also promised that he won’t stop chipping away ’til he finishes his beautiful masterpiece. Word on the street is that I’m a work in progress, and that God-confidence and self-love don’t always manifest overnight.
So, I respond to that voice of Love with a feeble surrender. A “letting go” of insecurity and all my wishes that I were farther along on the path of development. I surrender shame, and the illusory image of the “ideal me” that I tend to judge my current state against. May self slip away that I may see and serve others more.
Spirit, I ask for more of you and less of me – may you bring your boldness, presence, and love into my experience here on earth. I thank you for making me me, and I pray for the courage to show up, stand up straight – or sit, if I so prefer – and simply be the me you created. For your glory!
How do you experience insecurity?