The Elephant in My Mind

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Nicole T Walters -Elephant in My Heart3

I can feel the sweat collecting into a little river trickling down the small of my back. The summer sun is beating down but I think much of the heat is coming from within, my cheeks always flushing when I am uncomfortable. I sit quietly off to myself while laughter drifts by me, a dream-like melody I feel can’t touch me. I have started to shrink back more lately, becoming silent at any sort of gathering of family or friends.

I’ve always avoided controversy, but lately I am feeling more raw and exposed in conversations that often wander into territory where my opinion isn’t the popular one. Conflict is an uncomfortable place, like an ill-fitting pair of pants always digging into your middle section. You try to move around the tightness, but it is always nagging at you, cutting into your core.

I know this is part personality (an introverted feeler, I spend way too much time inside my own head and the jumble of emotions there.) I care deeply about people, helping them and never hurting them. If I believe anyone is upset with me, thoughts of that disruption in our relationship will overwhelm me, gathering like spoiled dinner in the pit of my stomach. I’m sure another large part is the family culture that shaped me, the one in which we never talked about the big gray bulge under the carpet. We tried to hide the wrinkled trunk of that awkward beast behind an artfully placed piece of furniture, anything but talk about our problems. We held our breath as we tiptoed past that which must not be spoken of until we were about to burst—and many times we did burst later with tears, depression, anxiety. The unhealthy thing about the elephant in the room is the stink it leaves when no one will tend to its mess. When the truth is not spoken, our souls suffer.

I”ve noticed the tension between avoidance and antagonism more since having children of my own. I try to talk to them about hard topics instead of sidestepping them, keeping them in the know about what is going on in the world. I’ve even noticed how vocal I’ve become in my own family, picking fights with my parents about politics or ranting about issues to my husband. Put me around extended family or church members I don’t know as well, though, and I lose my forceful voice.  

My kids, on the other hand, haven’t yet learned the fear of what others think that keeps me quiet. They readily spit their disgust to anyone who will listen when news of a certain political figure comes across the television while their mom’s eyes grow large. They speak what I’d like to, but with a little less tact than is socially acceptable. It reminds me of what Mira Nair says about her visionary filmmaking: “I always like to reveal the fact that the emperor has no clothes. And children are best at that. They teach us how to see the world in that sense. They are without artifice; they see it for what it is. I am drawn to that ruthless honesty.” I want a little more of that fearlessness but I’m not sure ruthlessness is exactly what is called for; I feel there is a little too much of it and not enough measured speech these days. When love is not spoken, relationships suffer.

Of course, I want to be a speaker of truth. But there is always this elephant in my mind—this unspoken fear that I will say it all wrong, that I will reveal my own ignorance. What if I damage a relationship? What if they look at me like I am a fool? (This has actually happened a time or two.) This tension in my heart between speaking out and shrinking back has me thinking a lot about the difference between (childish) ruthless honesty and (mature) loving honesty. I think most of us live somewhere in the middle.

The ideal that few of us achieve is the example of the God who is Truth, Jesus who always spurs us on with words that may cut us deeply but that always heal us in the end. I think The Message version of Ephesians 4:15-16 says it best:

“God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.”

I’m not very healthy in truth telling, or robust in love for that matter. But I want to grow in both. The elephant in my mind screams to me about self-preservation. Jesus whispers to me about growth, both mine and that which can take place in others. I have a long, long way to go.

Where are you on the journey to maturity, to speaking the truth in love?

Wherever you are today, this is my prayer for you and for me: May Jesus, not the elephants in the room or those in our minds, be the One from whom we always take our lead. May we measure our speech and our silence, living in that space between the two that is filled always with Love.

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Nicole T Walters
I love to experience and to write about this messy, noisy, beautiful world and cultures not my own. Though my family’s roots run deep in the soil of the Southern United States I, along with my husband and our two little ones, am learning to love hot milk tea instead of sweet iced tea as we make our home in South Asia. I hope to help others create space to hear God’s voice in all the noise of life as I write about faith from a global perspective at A Voice in the Noise {nicoleTwalters.com}. I have authored essays in several books and my writing has appeared in places live CT Women, Relevant, and Ruminate. I am a regular contributor at here at SheLove, The Mudroom, and READY Publication and am a member of the Redbud Writers Guild.
Nicole T Walters
Nicole T Walters

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Nicole T Walters
  • Tracy Nelson

    yes, yes, YES! Speaking the truth in LOVE- always. So good. And I agree – I chuckle at my children, too … I have a similar personality to yours – but they are kids – they tell it like it is, even if it’s really, really, awkward – God bless ’em!

    • It’s such a hard balance. When I am with people I am comfortable with I can speak the truth but usually with anger. Oh, how I can pick fights if I know that person is close enough that disagreement will not make them go anywhere. But if I don’t know them well….retreat. I really want to dig into the wealth of wisdom the Bible has to offer about our words and how very important they are. It’s amazing – I think I have as much room to grow in this area as I did when I was a (bless her heart) child!

  • And then there are introverted thinkers who quietly assess the situation and decide the situation is not worth risking the expensive investment of opening our mouths. I like your sin better than mine.

    However, like you, I am in the process of being rescued by my kids’ example — and by the overwhelming need for those who see (and smell) the effects of the elephant to get out our shovels and get busy.

    • Seriously, motherhood is about the best discipleship process I’ve been in. Oh, how they show me my sins and also how I can grow!

  • You know you have found a loving community of women when you find your best and worst called out again and again no matter who the author is. Thanks so much for this piece. Your descriptions of your family dynamics and your ill-ease with controversy and expressing yourself maturely in conflict are my stories too. This is something I’m wrestling with daily on so many fronts. Like you I’ve found courage in my own home, in my marriage, with trusted friends, even a new level for disagreement and challenge with my siblings and parents…. but beyond that I clam up like no other.

    Shauna Neiquist said something recently on her interview with Oprah on super soul Sunday that really struck me on dealing with this. She said in gist that she was slowly learning to focus intentional time towards her own inner soul work, so that she could bring a “grace-soaked soul” into every situation and messy conversation. She then talked about how it’s far more common for people to wade into conflict and disagreement with little attention given to that inner work and thus our efforts are fueled by hurt, by anger, by bitterness, resentment, and an inability to listen to or see anyone else’s perspective. Or at least that’s what I gathered. She said it much better I’m sure, I need to listen to it again. A “grace soaked soul.” What a beautiful idea. Maybe this is a key to finding that maturity you are talking about here.

  • This is such a needed and important post. Thank you Nicole.