The Elephant in My Mind


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.