On Playing Small and Showing Up

A breeze blows through the open windows. I sip coffee, apply makeup, get ready for the day. I wonder when 0600 will stop feeling early. After spending two and a half years working nightshift, it always feels early. Hope, my cat, runs from window to widow jumping on the sills to check on the noises filtering into our home: the birds, the traffic, people trekking to their cars and walking their dogs.

The leaves are just starting to turn. Hints of reds and yellows and oranges just beginning to make their presence known. There’s just something about this time of year. As we begin to lose the light sooner and the nights grow longer and life begins to slow from Summer’s unrelenting pace, I always find myself thinking about where I’ve been and where I’m going. A familiar rhythm of Autumn that seems more pressing this year than than most.

Recently, I was asked to think about my life like books on a shelf and look at everything I’d picked up along the way: experiences, beliefs, knowledge, relationships and sort it into piles: keep, let go, and maybe.

In your twenties, you’re a sponge soaking up everything,” she tells me. “Taking it all in. Growing and changing. Now, is a good time to sort through what you want to take with you into your thirties and what you want to leave behind.”

So I sift through my life: who I am, who I’ve been, who I want to be.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver’s lines haunt me as I go, burning its way into my soul, reverberating back to me across blogs and stories and art.

“Have you been writing?” a dear friend asks.
“No,” I answer,  knowing she already knows my response.
“Why not?”

Why not? I can’t remember exactly what I told her but I know it involved not having  that much to say. And it’s mostly true. But sometimes I’ve wanted to write but what I want to put into words seems irrelevant. Or that there’s already enough words out there. Or that someone else would do it better and certainly with fewer grammatical errors.

I listen to the whisper lies, “Not enough,” and  yet somehow simultaneously whispering, “Too much,” until the pen becomes metaphorically too heavy to pick up and my blog is neglected for nearly a year.

I’d like to say those whisper lies only affect my writing, but I know that’s not true. I’ve let them sink in and breed insecurity and doubt. I’ve let them fester and take up space. And in turn, I’ve played small. And as Marrianne Williamson points out, that does not serve anyone:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

This life is wild and precious and I don’t want to look back in another thirty years and realize I spent it running and hiding because I was afraid it wasn’t enough to just be me.

So, I’m done playing small. I’m leaving that behind.I  don’t want to carry that with me another day. Which isn’t to say, that I expect this to be easy. I just don’t want to hide anymore, even if the only person that sees I’m hiding is me.

Shauna Niequist wrote this book called Present Over Perfect that has this way of wrecking your life (in a good way) as you find yourself thinking, “Ugh, that’s so my story and it has to change.” Then, came across this bit in a chapter titled “Your Mess is Mine”

But there’s something so human about feeling embarrassed, about wanting to hide, about wanting to conceal and control the out-of-control and painful things about our lives and stories and families.

Love, though, doesn’t allow hiding. Love invites whole selves and whole stories out into the light. Friendship sees into us, into our secrets, into our elaborate games and excuses. Friendship carries all this mess together, so that you don’t have to hide, so that you carry it together. What a miracle!

[. . .]if you walked by the party, you might think, I’m not like them. I have secrets and problems and family members who embarrass me. I’m afraid, and our secrets are the bad kind. You’ll see children running around and happy parents, and you’ll think you’re not like them. But that’s because you’re not seeing what they carry. I see it, though, because they’re my people. I see each of us who are carrying those heavy weights together, for one another, on behalf of one another. And it’s the most beautiful thing I can think of.

I read this chapter and realized “Yes, that’s so my story and I hope it won’t change.”I hope thirty years from now I still know what it means to show up. I don’t mean showing up to earn a paycheck or to that social obligation. I mean showing up for the people who are your people.

I pray I never forget that grieving together can look like playing board games late into the night. That sometimes Mario Kart is the solution to all the adulting you cannot possibly do any more of in this twenty-four hour period. I want to always be a person that understands that sometimes the only thing that softens the blow is comfort food and a stiff drink and sitting together in the weight. There’s picture after picture we’ve sent that essentially say, “I saw this preposterous thing and wholeheartedly believe you will find it as preposterous as I do, so, I had to share.” There are endless streams of texts asking for prayer for family, jobs, health, babies, hopes, fears, disappointment, and dreams. Because you need to know when you are in the pit that you are not there alone. There’s something so sacred about sitting in those places together and crying ugly tears and giving voice to those dark, ugly things that need said just once so someone else can look you in the eye and help you see what is and isn’t true.

You make meals and break bread. You laugh until you cry and cry until you laugh. In the darkest night and the most joyful celebrations, you remind each other that surely His goodness and mercy will follow us all our days. You become His hands and feet.

And in no way, shape, or form is that playing small. No, that’s leaning in and living a wild and precious life. That I pray I carry with me all of my days.

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