At the beginning of Lent, I shared in a “Coffeeshop Conversations” worship with some friends about our Lent journeys. At the end, I was lamenting that I didn’t know what to give up, because the thought of trying to track an addition or subtraction from my daily life would likely add to my personal anxiety. That was when I decided I would give up my anxiety for Lent – a tall order, I recognize, but an honest attempt would be made. My friend, Naomi, challenged me: giving up anxiety would leave space in my life for something – what could it be? I answered that I knew the right answer was courage, but I also knew how very difficult it would be for me to put that into actual practice during Lent.
Now, it’s Holy Week. Our Lent journey is coming to a close. Did I leave my anxiety behind and find new courage? No. At least, not completely. I did have moments when I was reminded of my Lenten decision, and thought about what it would be like to choose courage. Sometimes I did. But what I mostly got out of Lent this year was a self-awareness. In those moments of anxiety, I paid better attention to what was triggering those feelings, and why I was having that reaction.
I have got to have the fastest voice of self-doubt in all of humanity. I was in shock at how quickly a sharp voice in my brain could tell me, “Not you.” I would watch a lovely, empowering TikTok video of someone saying, “You are worth it!” And as I smiled at the thought of ‘being worth’ whatever ‘it’ is, that voice simultaneously said, “Not you.” Or a message of body positivity that a friend would share on Facebook, saying that, “You are beautiful as you are.” For a second, my heart would sing, “Am I beautiful?” Then just as quickly, that voice would say, “They’re talking about someone else. Not you.” Or whenever my son tells me that I should find a boy or girl to date, because he wants to make sure there’s someone who loves me so that I’m not lonely when he’s not home. I know, he’s the sweetest. While I struggle to say out loud, “Thank you, baby. I’ll do that when I’m ready,” that voice in my head is saying, “There’s too much to ‘fix’ before someone can love you. There’s too much to ‘fix’ before you can be happy. The ‘you’ you are now is not acceptable. Not you.”
I have spent more than 10 years preaching about the equal worth of all persons before a loving God. I have spent more than 10 years proclaiming that part of the instructions to love your neighbor as yourself has to start with loving yourself. I have spent more than 10 years teaching girls and women to love and accept themselves as they are. I have spent more than 10 years encouraging people to be authentically themselves because they are beautifully and wonderfully made in the image of their Creator!
And never did I once think that included me.
As my self-awareness during Lent grew, I realized two things:
1. I don’t know how to turn that voice off.
2. I want to be happy now.
Yes, I have moments of joy and glee during my daily life. I’ve got two amazing kids, and there’s a lot of humor in our home. We have fun together. I love to laugh and giggle. I am happy sometimes. But being happy with myself is different. Being comfortable with who I am is not something I have ever accomplished. It has always been, “I’ll be happy when…” and, of course, those things never happened. Or when they did happen, they didn’t make me any happier with myself. Even when there were times that I felt like I was acting fully myself, in the moment, expressing my thoughts uninhibited, momentarily unaware of my anxieties about social awkwardness or about my physical body… that tends to come crashing down around me when I say something wrong, or snort too loud, or knock over my cup. And I always interpreted those moments as ‘great forces of the universe’ putting me into check; a system of balances, as it were. I can never fully be myself, because then the pendulum would swing the other way and I would create chaos or disruption for others, or bring negative attention to myself.
As I’ve noticed these troubling things about myself, and knowing Lent is coming to an end, I wonder what is to become of me after Easter. Do I welcome my anxiety back? Do I continue to listen to that stupidly quick voice in my head? Do I continue to hold myself back from being myself? Lent is a season of transformation; it is a cocoon time. If I just go back to the way I’ve always been, what was the point of Lent? Christ welcomes us at the tomb on Easter morning, and instructs us to go out into the world a new person.
I have to find a way to leave my insecurities in that tomb. I have to find a way to silence that voice. I have to find a way to be happy with who I am now. Easter is not the day we all go back to normal. Easter is the day we move forward, a new beginning. Christ didn’t leave the tomb and tell his disciples, “Let’s get back to Galilee.” Christ died and came back new, leaving the wrappings of his death in the tomb. So what will be different for you on Easter? What do you need to leave in the tomb?
I know that voice is gonna be with me for awhile longer, and I know my anxieties will never leave me completely. But that doesn’t mean I’m not gonna keep working on it. It’ll never get better if I keep on as I have been, so I’m gonna try something new. I’m gonna try to find ways to tell myself that I am worthy, and loved, and acceptable just as I am. And I’m gonna get myself a pretty dress that looks like I love my body (even though I don’t feel it yet). I’m not gonna keep hiding myself from the world because of my anxiety. I’ve got to keep choosing courage.