Much of my childhood could be represented by the casual question: “why are you so quiet?” As if that had a simple answer.
I encountered this question at school, at church, at home when people visited and—generally—anywhere I went. In high school, one of my teachers suggested before the entire class that my “superlative” for the yearbook be “the most shy.” It was the word most associated with “Mary” and was often the only thing people knew about me. Even in college, when I went to a spring break conference, I can remember feeling pleased with how out-going (a relative term) I was being. And then someone made a comment about how quiet I had been during the trip. I was so frustrated!
Despite it all, I’m not particularly upset that people saw me as quiet; I can’t deny that that was, and can still be, very true. But what continues to bother me, as a woman in my mid-twenties, is the continual assumption that something was wrong with me. And I can tell you that this has had a lasting effect on me. The questions, the statements and the branding identity as the quiet girl have instilled in me a hypercritical view of how people see me.
Let me take a moment to say that my own self-centered nature has played a starring role in this play as well. People don’t make us do or feel anything. But I will say that people’s words have consequences. And, can it be surprising that the little girl that people continually called “quiet” now struggles with the way people view her? Struggles with being “too quiet?” Too awkward? Too pensive? Too serious?
And so this imposed identity became a self-labeled one. And this identity has led me to compare my words and my level of quietness (or awkwardness) with those of the other people in the room. And this, in turn, has led to a lot of little “g” gods.
So often my goal is to please fickle humanity, whose values and standards are as variable as the number of persons on earth. It is—when a person is struggling for it—the most soul-sickening striving anyone could work toward. Because it’s wrapped up in failure. Complete failure. It’s a losing race a mile before the starting line.
And this has defined my life for far too long.
It’s often the reason for my speech. It’s more often the reason for my silence. And it’s almost always the reason for the knot in my stomach when I’m in the presence of people. I make people into People, defining them as little “g” gods and treating them as such. Will my actions please them? Will my speech make them smile? Will my personality mesh seamlessly with theirs?
Here I would like to write a paragraph about what I’ve done to reverse this state, but I can’t yet. I’m still struggling. But I see the vanity of this and desire with all my heart to throw caution to the wind and just be. Just live.
I’m so tired of this kind of bondage.
. . . are you?
Maybe you’ve been labeled as pushy? Or outspoken? Or too … [insert attribute here]? Maybe it feels like you’ve been boxed in so many times that the stall is now too small to move?
Breathe deep with me. Breathe it in and breathe it out: we are who we are, and we all have room to grow up into who we’re meant to be. I’m not sure who said it first, but “we are our true selves in Christ.”
We are meant to live free. So let’s struggle for it. Struggle to give to God, struggle to submit to sanctification, and when all is said and done, just pry open the hands and let it all go.
We were set free for freedom’s sake.
Let’s be free.