“We are meant to grow around a table of words, sharpening our ideas, filtering our thoughts, trying them out in a public space so they find more clarity. We are meant to grow like this, not in silence.”
“Why am I so scared, so overwhelmed, by writing at the moment?” I poured out to God. Tired of feeling stuck. Tired of not getting out words I’d hoped to write. I’d been feeling the Silence from my old story, like a giant Tupperware lid covering me, shutting me up. It was feeling a lot like Night.
The irony of our theme for October–“Rise”–didn’t escape me.
On that Saturday afternoon in an Italian deli in a former Japanese fishing village–20 days into our theme–I moved my pen across the lined paper, leaning in the only way I knew how to pierce through the paralysis.
I asked: What is holding me back from being who You created me to be, God?
The answer came almost immediately, simply: Entering into the process.
I sat with the words, swirling them around like a San Pellegrino with lime, examining the answer from the depths of my heart … I felt the gnawing in my stomach, my heart clamping up, the flutter of anxiety.
My body reacted with a familiar fear. It must be true then, I thought.
The thing that is holding me back right now is this: my fear of entering into the process.
Yep. I wanted to throw up.
Rewind to May and our Women’s Theological Intensive at the Amahoro Africa gathering. A group of beautiful African and globally-minded women, gathered on a Burundian hillside, learning from each other.
Beautiful, soulful Rene August, friend and fellow South African, facilitating and leading, along with the wise, learned Latina Ruth Padilla … On Day 4, I remember some questions asked into our sacred space and I remember speaking out answers from my mouth, but how they just weren’t connecting. I remember feeling so frustrated, because I wasn’t hitting a sweet spot.
I sensed God was wanting to do something in me.
I sat through the rest of the discussion, quietly pondering.
Then, finally, these words plopped into my head:
“Be in your story. Don’t abstract from it.”
– to develop a line of thought from a concrete reality to a general principle or an intellectual idea
– to make a summary of the main points of an argument or some information
I wrote the words down in my journal and, as I did, tears of recognition started rolling down my cheeks. Yes, I can’t be in my story, if I am constantly trying to make sense of it first. Observing, extracting, finding principles, seeking answers and understanding. I imagined I could live life while simultaneously offering up a synopsis and a clear explanation for why I was feeling what I was feeling or doing what I was doing. But it wasn’t connecting.
So many parts of my story–South Africa, Apartheid, Taiwan, Canada, immigrant, mother, writer–I’ve struggled for clarity, themes and understanding, but I’ve done so for most of my life processing in silence, not entering into a conversation with others. Until I could offer a principle, a summarized idea or revelation, I figured it best to stay in my head and on the sidelines. About the big things, like racism, injustice, gender equality … But also about the everyday things. Because I haven’t figured out how to write out my daily life–how to bust through the abstracting–I stayed silent.
In my darkness, I’ve named myself incompetent, without confidence, cluttered, silent.
In the Light, like that day in Bujumbura, God consistently calls me to dive in, speak my piece, share my heart, sit at the table, participate in the conversation, lead.
But at the table I grew up at, I learned only two modes of communication: stunted silence and frustrated, accelerated shouting. I learned either keeping my mouth shut or running off and having to find answers/calm/sanity in books and poetry or pouring out my heart on paper; words never meant to be seen.
I didn’t learn a middle ground. I didn’t learn to simply be honest with what I was feeling and thinking at the time and to find acceptance, understanding, encouragement and Love there. I didn’t learn to sharpen ideas.
So, over many years, I learned to figure things out for myself, in the silence of my own head and heart and in the pages of journals.
Until, in my later twenties, I married an extreme extrovert. A loving, kind, gracious extrovert who very early on asked his editor wife, not to listen to the words he was saying necessarily, but to listen for his heart in it. He asked that I would take into account who he is and who I know him to be, before I nitpicked at the sentences with which he chose to express his thoughts during our
I’m still learning.
And then: It wasn’t that long ago when I sat around our Friday night dinner table and there were friends eating with us and the discussion was rich. And I remember catching ideas on the backs of words and I remember the wave of understanding I felt … like tables are meant to be filled with words and love. I remember thinking: We are meant to grow around a table of words, sharpening our ideas, filtering our thoughts, trying them out in a public space so they find more clarity. We are meant to grow like this, not in silence.
For me, rising is writing. And it is a fight against the Silence that keeps wanting to shut up, shut down or divert.
Here’s my not-so-secret confession: I do want to change the world. I want to speak out against injustice, inequality, racism and division, because I have been there and I can tell you from that place that it’s not pretty having your own little white corner of a world. In fact, it’s ugly and painful and unjust. I also know intimately how division wrecks: economies, countries, families, futures, hearts. Wouldn’t I want to save future generations these painful consequences of injustice?
Which means, according to Luther, I have to pick up my pen and write, even when it feels like Night.
So, I embrace Proverbs 31:15: “She rises while it is yet night …”
Not necessarily in the 4:30am wake up call kind of way, but in the way of rising into the Night that I see all around me and so often struggle with, even within.
The Night that looks like gender inequality, violence, oppression, poverty and suffering.
The Night that looks like not having all my ducks in a row and all my themes clearly abstracted.
The Night that looks like admitting struggle and anguish, but also joy.
I am encouraged because into this very Night–our own and our world’s–women of valor rise.
Eshet chayil, says beautiful Rachel Held Evans.
So–that blessing, that ode to womanhood in Proverbs 31, for me, speaks to our valor and our ability to rise, in spite of.
– When we don’t have all the answers yet, to rise …
– When we don’t know exactly what we are doing, to rise …
– When we are criticized and ridiculed, to rise …
– When it seems like Night is winning in the world, to rise …
– When the darkness wants to overwhelm, we will rise …
– When we don’t have it all figured out yet, to rise …
– When we make mistakes and fall down, to rise …
I don’t want to be scared of entering into the process any more. I don’t want to be scared of making mistakes and saying the wrong thing or of being overbearing, because I’d like to imagine that we are listening for each other’s hearts–with ears of Love–and not just for the words.
While it is yet Night–in my own struggle and in our world–I want to rise … I hope you’ll join me.
My dear SheLoves friends:
- What is the Night that you want to and need to rise up into?
- What does your rise look like? Is it writing? Is it speaking? Baking? Baby bottoms? Business?
- What is holding you back?
Image credit: Surrender, by Child is a Rebel