I’ve spent the last several years of my life purging closets and emptying drawers.
Trying to use less water, less energy, less resources.
Produce less garbage, and compost and recycle more.
Just this past weekend, a bookshelf and two full bags of random old things were evicted from my home.
A simpler life.
These are good things.
A more long-standing practice in my life, though, has been learning to reign in my larger-than-life, bombastic feelings and reactions to the world around me.
More managed, more acceptable, more polished.
I resonate with our family’s omnipresent Disney princess, Elsa, on this:
“Conceal don’t feel, put on a show.”
That’s not such a good thing.
I remember my Dad looking me in the eyes when I was twelve and he was beginning a new chapter of life by going to medical school:
“You have to be strong.”
I’ve always been a determined, disciplined person so being told to be “strong” (even as a twelve-year-old) didn’t feel like too great of a burden.
I’m sure I had more than my fair share of outbursts and sulky attitudes as a teenager (in fact, I know I did), but I did try to follow through on my Dad’s instruction. I tried to be strong – both for my family and for my own sense of identity.
I’ve never been a particularly “girly” girl. I opted out of ballet in favor of martial arts. I hated sewing and cross stitch and knitting and all the things requiring being very still and meticulous for long periods of time. I played more with mud and rocks and sticks than I did my dolls – and when I did play with them, my Barbies were going on secret rescue missions to save orphans and lost puppies, instead of going to the mall.
Being “strong” was a way to differentiate myself. Especially in the conservative Christian community I grew up in, where girls – especially as we broached adolescence – were quite concerned with honing their homemaking skills and cultivating “gentle, quiet spirits” so they would make excellent wives one day.
“Gentle and quiet” were illusive, and I possessed none of the typical skills associated with homemaking at the time, so I sought out “strong” instead. In part at my Dad’s request, and in larger part because if I couldn’t conform to the norm, at least I could rock at being an outlier.
Somewhere along the line of trying to either conform to “gentle and quiet” or be the most bad-ass strong, solid woman ever, I found my way to “small.”
Maybe because if I shrank my feelings, my fears and my self it was easier to manage, to bind into a polished and strong exterior.
Maybe because if I shrank my strength, it was less intimidating and brazen. It seemed more “gentle and quiet” if I bound it up and kept it for just my own purposes.
Don’t get me wrong, I can seem as big as I want to be.
I can laugh loud and light up rooms and set more places at bigger tables and fill platters with more food. I hug tight and give obnoxious amounts of high fives. Obnoxious.
When a room is dead, I can be the helium which lifts it up.
But did you know that helium is one of the smallest elements that exists?
Helium floats because it takes up so little space of it’s own.
And I stand with my arms folded tight across my chest.
I sit with my hands tucked beneath or between my legs.
My fists are closed more often than my hands are open.
Even though my words would never betray me, my body – when I’m not conscious of it – screams “smaller, smaller, SMALLER!”
If I truly engage my feelings, then I’m emotional and weak.
If I truly display my strength, then I’m too bold and intimidating (if not downright bitchy).
So I go through life, conscious of every gesture and smile; every glance and expression.
Even when I seem to be over-the-top excited, I know exactly where I am and what I’m doing. Just ask me, at any given moment, and I can give you a detailed rationale as to why.
I don’t think I’m the only person who does this.
I know other people (especially other women) know what this feels like.
To be bound up tightly on the inside as if a corset were holding all of your reactions and feelings and emotions into the figure and form society has deemed acceptable, even though you’re actually crushing yourself to a slow death.
I don’t want to live like that anymore.
I think we’re supposed to take up space.
Which means we’re going to have to be big enough that we can’t be everything to everyone all the time.
I am going to have to big enough to be someone who isn’t always only helium, filling up ever-more balloons for non-stop parties.
I want to live life with arms wide open, instead of scrunched and tight across my chest.
Legs crossed, fists clenched.
Smaller and smaller.
I want to be open and aware and present and completely here in the moments of my life.
One time, a woman was confronted about being caught up in the moment, listening at the feet of Christ, rather than hosting and rushing and serving and being concerned with ALL THE THINGS.
To those upset with her for being there, Jesus said:
“This will not be taken away from her.”
We are given an opportunity to be enchanted and caught up in the movement of Christ at every turn, because we carry the Image of God within us.
Every day is an opportunity to bear witness to the Divine at work.
I’m planting myself here. Taking up my space. Fully engrossed in the whispers and words and subtle movements of God all around me.
And it feels scary to sit here with my arms open and my heart exposed, but if I listen closely I hear the assurance from the One who drew me here in the first place:
“This will not be taken away from you.”
*Image credit: Herb Real via Flickr.