I received the most beautiful compliment this last weekend. Some of my dearest friends had me over for lunch. Now, these dear friends and I always end up having the most interesting conversations. We skip the topics of what is happening around us and go straight to what is going on in our hearts.
We talk about feelings, and we analyze why we react the way we do in certain (and uncertain) situations. We talk about shame. And we let all of the “ugly” emotions be okay. In the midst of our conversation, there was a question. “Why do you stick around? Why do you go out of your way to make us your community?” and the answer was extraordinary. “Well, you all are real. You don’t pretend to appear perfect or act as if you are.”
The very next day I was sitting at a table drinking wine with people I am especially fond of, and I thought again of the compliment. I started to feel angry. Why do people pretend just to get kudos? Why is it that, if you live the “right” way (never curse, always have table manners, go to Church, dress well, keep a smile on, & never expose negative feelings, etc) that you somehow earn a special place in society?
I have huge amounts of respect for people who can manage to not let an expletive slip when they stub their toe or those who go to church every week, and I certainly could try to mimic it in my admiration. But something about the idea of living life, with the purpose to appear perfect, hit a nerve.
I gave up trying to be perfect long ago, in fact I made a point of it, with a middle-finger-to-the-universe-if-you-judge me-for-it attitude. But that was out of anger and rebellion. Not out of love and compassion for myself or others. Even though that attitude was just as much of a facade as pretending to be perfect (and it certainly had less perks). I felt attached to that in order to stand out as an individual. That’s where it started, anyway.
It might be part luck, part Divine Intervention, and maybe a tad bit of growing up (with a lot more to do), but I somehow managed to be surrounded by the most amazing people. I realized that I wanted to live in authenticity. I wanted to be real, even if that meant disapproval from some.
I wanted to take responsibility for my actions, create boundaries, and just be who I am and who I always wanted to be. I didn’t want to act and react out of fear. The fear of losing my identity, of being wrong, of being judged, not fitting in….not being enough. The fear of all these things drove me to do things that still make me feel ashamed.
As I sat at the table listening to the response of my friends after I asked them some of these same questions, my anger turned into shame, then sadness which then lead to gratefulness. If I were living my life just to get those kudos, well, then that’s what I would be doing. I am full of mistakes. I really have no right to get angry at people for that. Hence, the shame in my judgement of others. It truly made me sad. Partly for my own selfishness and partly for people who don’t have a community in which it is okay to be who you are and still be loved and accepted. That led me to gratefulness.
So why do you stick around? Why do you stand where you are? What is keeping you there? And most importantly, are you living your life as if you are worthy? I know that I still fall into the trap of fear. At least a few times a day. So I have to do better.
Reacting out of fear and shame is potent. But when you can be you, especially in a community of imperfect people, then you’ll be more than okay.