The new season of the Evolving Faith podcast debuted this week! I’m so excited for you all to see what this community has up its sleeve for this year. We start off with a bang from the ever-wise Barbara Brown Taylor, revisiting her talk from the 2019 EF conference.
She has this quote in there:
I’m thinking about how tired a tame Christian can get. Tired of self-censoring, tired of swallowing the questions that matter most, tired of putting more energy into being good than being alive.
That line in particular hit me hard. Thus far in my life, I have ultimately been preoccupied with that goodness. Not just the goodness in a sense of being right or moral, the way an Enneagram 1 might, but in the sense of the Enneagram 3. Is this good? Is it meeting your expectations? Is this okay? Am I doing it right? Is this what I’m supposed to be doing? Is this what you want from me? Is this what we’re scripted to do and be and say? At the root of these is the question of worthiness and earning, achieving belonging by measuring up, adhering those ever-shifting standards of what is expected and required and demanded by a society that rewards those who win at its games.
And some of the games, a few, I can be so good at. I play until I am exhausted. So tired, as Taylor says, of all my energy going into my efforts to hold back and to not be obnoxious or too much, to silence myself.
I do, sometimes, need to silence myself. To exhibit tact and self-control, an overlooked fruit of the spirit. I do need to listen more and center myself less, to plug in to empathy and pass the mic. But I don’t think that’s what this is about.
This is the goodness-instead-of-being-fully-alive decision point. The part where we choose to grit our teeth and nod along, prioritizing approval over authenticity. To “lop off any part of ourselves that falls outside the lines,” as Taylor says in her talk. We try to force belonging and it becomes fitting in, fitting into the box at any cost, even when we have to leave some parts behind.
Of course, there will always be some parts of ourselves that get more airtime in certain spaces or relationships. But what is it costing us when we have to hide entire parts of who we are in our churches, homes, families, friendships, workplaces, and communities because the standard of goodness is a different shape than the shape we occupy?
We are tired. So tired. It’s not always our choice, and for that, we grieve. We grieve for when it is the only choice, and for when it is the best bad option available to us. We grieve for when others can’t see our belovedness and for when we can’t bring ourselves to face it in the mirror.
Taylor says grief sets us on a path to “embrace the full terrain of living.” Fullness beyond goodness. Fullness beyond looking around for confirmation we’re doing it right. Fullness beyond holding back in fear and inauthenticity for the sake of fitting a hole in a box like a child’s toy, made for simple shapes to be granted entry. Stars in the star spot, big hearts in the big heart spot, even ordinary squares in the spot for ordinary squares. And perhaps we’re something else entirely, not simple or familiar to those making the rules of the box.
Or, for a more lively metaphor: Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could thrive like wildflowers, decadently ourselves in whatever ways we have the capacity, instead of pruning ourselves back into neat little rows of acceptability and shame and control and the kind of goodness set by those trying to sell us our belovedness in numbers?
There are the numbers of control all around us, from our bodies to our bank accounts, from our square footage to our rank on the ladder, from follower count to test scores. No wonder we are so, so tired. Measuring tape at every turn, held up to determine the size of our lives, whether our shape fits the box’s hole, whether the dimensions we are growing in are acceptable.
You’re not crazy. It’s not just in your head. It’s not all your fault. And sometimes you may not have a choice. But together we can dream of the fields across the terrain where we can throw on our brightest colors, grow in abundance, thrive, and put our energies into being our full selves, fully alive and free.