What are you holding back?

Consider that most fear
is not fear of failure:
rather, it’s fear to live fully,
in full power.
– Clarissa Pinkola Estés


For a decade and a year, I’ve had the feeling that I’m holding something back.  I told a friend this over pasta salad at Parker & Otis and she said, “Maybe it’s because you’re an introvert.” This is one explanation. Another explanation is that I am afraid of something. This is the more likely explanation. I am afraid of showing up in church as my full, true, complicated self. I am afraid I am too much to handle.

I am afraid you won’t be able to handle me. You won’t know what to do when I say during the prayers of the people, “I am mad (and I have been mad since I was eight.)” You will want to comfort me, make it better, make the madness go away but what you don’t understand is the madness is a part of me. I wish you would ask “Tell me why you’re mad,” or “What does it feel like to be that mad?” or “Where does the madness live in your body?” Instead, I fear I’ve rendered you helpless, put you out, made you uncomfortable. I didn’t want to do that. I just wanted to be mad.

I am afraid I won’t be able to handle me. Silence is a romantic kind of thing. Sometimes it’s easier not speaking my voice. It’s easier not knowing if there are a few good souls who can hear my story and say it is theirs, too. It’s lonely to say in a small group “I am always finding and losing myself in marriage,” and to hear in response, “How old are you? You’ll learn to comprise.” It is as if I am a caricature of my generation rather than a real person. When I speak about who I am, what I love, and the questions I hold close, I risk feeling more alien than before I spoke. I can hardly bear the disappointment of finding out there is no echo for my longing here. I’m already mad enough.

I am afraid that God won’t be able to handle me. I’ve always believed that God can handle anything. I also believe that God loves what is holy, and if I could just decide to be more holy, more obedient, more intentional, I wouldn’t be such a mess. I would show up in prayer contrite not confused. I would show up on my blog confident not questioning. I would show up in worship controlled not abandoned. It’s not that I think God can’t handle me; it’s that I behave as if I can handle me without him. I wouldn’t want to make him mad.

To celebrate Women’s History Month, I’ll be co-leading a Talking Taboo workshop at Middle Collegiate Church in Manhattan on Sunday, March 16th from 4:00 – 5:30 p.m. Joining me are two contributors, the Reverend Jennifer Crumpton and Poet Aja Monet; together we will ask the question “What am I holding back?” and “How can I start showing up?” at church.

Because a holy life or a “wholly” life takes public practice, not private perfection. It starts with a decision to show up, then another to test that feeling in the quiet, and then another to speak your knowing out loud. It continues on like this with a lot of bumps and bruises as your complicated self gets tangled in my complicated self, but it always ends in a live encounter. And isn’t a live encounter the best any of us can hope for in church? That moment where the spirit of God breaks through the b.s. and we can say to the person beside us with awe, “That shit just got real”?

It only takes one person to show up as her full, true, and complicated self at church to make it a little bit safer for everyone else to do the same. The only thing holding us back is our fear, and fear can’t handle a love like ours. God’s love is too much.

Perfect love casteth out fear – 1 John 4:18

3 responses to “What are you holding back?

  1. you have been reading my thoughts. I have been mad ( anyway you slice it- grin) my whole life as well.

    your posts are always a breath of fresh air to me.

  2. Thank you for this. I so wish I could attend the workshop. Your words resound within me. I am always holding back and I’m an extrovert. So there. I hold back for all the reasons you share. Who wants to feel more alien after they speak than before? so I smile and carry on…and hold back… Thank you Erin.

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