I had such a good run those first few weeks. I started this blog as a way to get my thoughts out, a way to reach out beyond the boundaries of myself, a way to fight the voice inside me that so often tells me to hide, tells me that I’d be safer if I didn’t communicate with others, tells me that nobody is interested in what I have to say, tells me that I really don’t know what I’m talking about, and it’s better for everyone if I just shut down. Think of it this way: There’s a joke that I share with my daughter Zoe, a joke that we have only one rule in our house, and that rule is: “Shut up, kid.” (She never follows that rule, and invoking it is a sure way to make sure she talks even more.) Anyway, perhaps that’s a good approximation of the voice I hear in my head so often, the voice that says to me, “Shut up, kid.”
So where have I been this past week? Apart from a sermon, I haven’t posted in over a week. It wouldn’t be lying to say that it’s been a busy week. It wouldn’t be lying to say that sometimes I just don’t have anything in particular to say. It wouldn’t be lying to say that in the past 24 hours I’ve come down with something of a cold. All those things are true. But I don’t think they’re the main reason I’ve been so quiet here. I think it’s been a case of listening to the voice, the voice that tells me that there’s only one rule in my life, one rule I should really try to keep in mind all the time: “Shut up, kid.” It’s not a joke with the voice and me, the way it is with Zoe. It’s serious.
Because here’s the thing. I have this voice. I don’t know if everybody has a voice like this. I don’t know if it’s a symptom of depression. I don’t know how universal it is, but I have a voice that is profoundly critical of me. A voice that tells me to shut up. A voice that tells me that I’m worthless. A voice that tells me that if anyone cares about me, it’s only because they don’t see who I really am. A voice that tells me that people would be better off if I would just stay away from them. It’s the voice that led me to attempt suicide when I was a teenager. It’s the voice that has led me on more than one occasion to completely delete my Facebook account, which is a sort of social suicide, I suppose. It’s the voice that has stopped me from creating a blog like this for years, and the voice that I know very well will try hard to shut this blog down at some point in the future.
What is this voice? Well, I have usually thought that it’s a part of me. I don’t believe that it’s any sort of demonic thing, or Satan trying to hurt me…at least not in any literal way. I believe that it’s a side of me that is terrified of feeling the pain that sometimes comes through relationships. The pain that sometimes comes from reaching out and sharing. The pain that comes with being vulnerable. It’s a side of me that is much more comfortable with being alone. Much more comfortable with building a wall around me. (It’s no coincidence that Pink Floyd’s The Wall was really important to me in high school.) A side of me that really, really wants to protect me. I have come to believe that the voice’s intentions are good. That it really believes that I can’t handle the pain of conflict and criticism. That I can’t handle the pain of vulnerability. That it really truly wants to protect me from that.
And here’s the other thing about that voice: I cannot outsmart it. “He” has access to all the same memories, all the same intelligence, all the same neurons that I do. I take pride in my ability to use the skills of rhetoric to make points. I can be a pretty able debater. Well, guess what. He has those skills too, and he uses them on me.
He’s telling me not to post this. He’s telling me that this is an excellent entry in my journal, but that it’s not something I should be sharing with other people. He’s reminding me that this blog is read by some of my parishioners. He’s reminding me that this is way too personal, way too vulnerable, for a pastor to share. He’s actually backpedaling on that a bit…sure, a pastor can be willing to share this, but not me as a pastor. My skin is just too thin.
But I’m saying this: The whole point of life is to be in relationships. Throughout scripture, God is calling us to deeper relationship with God, and deeper relationships with one another. Jesus says the greatest commandments are: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s relationship. That’s more important than money, more important than security, more important than pride, more important than reputation, more important than anything. That’s our calling, and sometimes callings are hard! An INFP like me who lives with depression and anxiety finds it hard sometimes to reach out. I think maybe a lot of us do, actually. But the whole point of life is to grow in our relationships with one another, and with God. And sharing this is precisely what I think I’m called to do today.
Where have I been lately? I’ve been fighting with the voice. Arguing, debating with him. Listening to him sometimes.
Where have I been lately? I’ve been hiding inside myself, trying to keep safe, trying to lick my wounds.
Where have I been lately? I’ve been working on this exact post, these exact words. They’ve been stewing in me all week, though I didn’t know it. The toil and trouble of self-examination (and a dollop of self-hatred) is becoming the boil and bubble of these words. And I wonder, I wonder if these words are helpful. I wonder if sharing this is good for me. And I wonder if sharing this might be good for you as well, or some of you anyway.
No, I say to the voice. No. Thank you for trying to protect me. Thank you for trying to keep me safe. But this time I disagree with you, and this time I’m going to do something. I’m going to push that blue “PUBLISH” button over there. I’m not even going to go through and edit or revise this. If there are any ypos or confusing grammars, or places where I seem to have jumped over a step in the ideas…then that’s the blues. But I’m just going to reach out with this today, and deal with the chips where they fall.