I remember being part of a ministry in college where we were trained to be mediators for our fellow students. We had a wonderful pastor and counselor train us during a weekend retreat each year. Showing us how to listen, how to manage conflict, how to do the hard things of life with our fellow students. Every year he gave us a poem. I have a copy in one of my scrapbooks. It’s about risk.
I haven’t thought about it for a while, but I remember it having a profound effect on me, which is why I’ve kept it all these years. There is so much emotional risk in what we are doing in this life with each other. And because there is risk there is fear.
I spent a lot of time in my thesis exploring fear for the learner and how it creates obstacles to learning. And sometimes even greater obstacles occur in fear-based learning in how the learner uses what they’ve learned. There are many contributing factors for transformational learning to take into account as a teacher – and one of the biggest, in my opinion, was climate. If the tone of the room, the attitude of the professor, the mood of fellow students isn’t safe, fear becomes an obstacle.
When Don was in a weird place with his writing, taking longer and longer to finish each book, a friend told him he was being too careful with his writing. (pg. 142)
I find myself repeating this word, letting it roll off my tongue slowly. Letting the sound of those two syllables make its way up to my ears and sink in. Deep.
I’m wondering about being careful.
Finding connection with another human is hard. That’s why we are so careful about it. We are careful who we invite in. This makes sense. Our hearts are precious commodities; they should be handled with care. This hard stuff goes beyond connection, though, and then makes its way to the most painful of all emotions for the perfectionist and overachiever: failure.
This fear… this disequilibrating fear that messes with our head and our heart and hands.
This fear that paralyzes us in the face of expectations and those we love.
This fear that stop us from trying.
This fear of failure makes us be careful.
And being careful hurts.
It might not seem like it as we do all our maneuvering, trying so hard to avoid and side-step the hard stuff that we just can’t deal with because we don’t want others to see our junk and we don’t want to fail others when they are so brave to show us theirs. Being this kind of careful hurts those who want you to stop avoiding and stop being careful and just want you...
to be there. [This is a weird kind of whisper, isn’t it?]
Everyone’s version of being there is different. I have one friend whose idea of being there for me means calling me every morning at 7:50 while I’m putting on my eye makeup and just checks in. (This might be a little much, but I love her for it.) Another friend’s version of being there is to send me stuff in a text that makes me laugh. Another's version of being there is sending me flowers. Another's is to take me to lunch or coffee. None of these are right and none of these are wrong. These are reflections of who they are and how they want to show me how much I mean to them. They are just being the friend they know how to be for someone who needs them.
There is fear that what you have to offer (your version of being there) and this is the fear that it just might not be enough.
The fear of being found lacking is profound. I think this is particularly true for men. The book, The Silence of Adam, has led me to this conclusion. A book that instead of depicting Eve as being deceived and then subsequently deceiving Adam, the book describes that Adam was there the whole time, yet said and did nothing. The author traces the problem with men to the silence with which Adam became complicit in the first fall from God's grace. Adam failed to trust in God's word and example, and modern men do the same when, instead of following God's example in dealing with uncertainties, they retreat into self-righteousness and toughness that mask anger and fear.
We fail each other. We’re human. We love, we hate. We get angry, we retreat. We say things we regret, we do things we regret.
But if we become too careful about this, we risk something bigger than we can imagine.
“[I] wonder if the time we spend trying to become somebody people will love isn't wasted because the most powerful, more attractive person we can be is who we already are, an ever-changing being that is becoming and will never arrive.” (pgs. 148-149)
We’re all still learning to love.