I wrote this post over a year ago and never published it. It is still 100% true, but It’s time to break the dam, let the river flow where it may, let the water carve out space in the places that give way to it. I’m learning to give in to the softness and simplicity, and I’ve been making an easy thing hard for far too long. I want to say thank you to the people who keep coming back to this page even though content is so scarce. And another Thank You to Jane, and Susannah, and Erin, and Christy, and Sally, and Beth, and Elora and everyone else who has encouraged and taught and witnessed along the way this writing journey.
So I’ll jump right to it.
Earlier this week I came to the simple realisation that the main reason I have been relatively silent about my faithing & doubting for the last 12 months is the big S-Factor.
I was talking to a dear, wise, listening-type friend (if you don’t have one, get one!) and, whilst she couldn’t relate to my particular brand of doubt-based shame, she acknowledged that yes, shame is an insidious beast, one with whom she is also well-acquainted.
We astutely came to the totally original conclusion that shame leads to fear, fear leads to silence, silence leads back to shame, leads to fear, leads to silence, leads to shame leads to fear leads to silence, shame, fear, silence.. and on and on.
Today I was thinking about that cycle, and without getting into the source of the shame or WHY exactly as questioners and doubters we feel shame when it comes to being honest about our faith, I was wondering… how do we break the cycle? Where is the point that I, Bree, can take ownership of my part in this cycle, and divert it down a different track? But more on that in a minute.
At the moment I feel as though I am in this strange in-between space, where professions of doubt lead to shame from the faith-camp, professions of faith lead to shame from the doubt-camp.
I mean – where does one go from here?!
On one hand, I can’t speak about my doubt. On the other hand, I can’t speak about my faith. It’s an incredibly debilitating place to find myself. I am aware that when I say can’t it is actually really more of a won’t and that is because I am so fearful of vulnerability, of intimacy, of the real possibility that someone, somewhere will not be gentle with me in my moments of nakedness.
I have no doubt that you know what I am talking about.
We are terrified of revealing our deep and true selves. We are deeply fearful of being shamed for who we are, or what we’ve done or how we think… so we keep it hidden.
We silence ourselves.
But what would happen if we spoke up? What is that worst that could happen? Like, the ABSOLUTE worst. Think for a moment about what that end-scenario might be (and this is a pep-talk just as much for myself as anyone else)….
Is it really that bad?
For me, speaking up about the dichotomy of my doubt and faith might mean a couple more awkward conversations where I stumble over my words. For me — worst case — is that some people I love might not want to be my friend anymore. That’s going to hurt if it happens. (Edit: It has happened, the Great and Terrifying Unfriending. It stung. I cried. I survived).
Of course this doesn’t mean that we go around telling anyone who will listen our deepest darkest secrets. Obviously we should still use a modicum of discernment, find our safe people and our safety nets. But when we have found those people? Those are the people who don’t run away at the slightest indication that you are a separate, autonomous person.
I’m certain that 97.5% of the shame I feel is internalised – years of fundamentalism and quasi-spirituality based on saying and doing the right things will do that to a person – but I think for the most part, the fear of being shamed is unfounded in reality. For me, actual, intentional, verbal shaming has been incredibly rare. There has been the odd occasion where someone (most often someone I do not know) has resorted to name-calling and accusation when I have revealed something I do or do not believe, but mostly I am able to brush these instances off. Then there are the shamings–which sting a little more–that come disguised as love and concern from (oddly enough) people who do love me and are concerned, but the love and concern never really gets of the ground with the shaming weighing it down.
I’m not sure what the source of this shame is (other than the aforementioned fundy/spiro immersion). Brené Brown has done some brilliant work and research spanning years on the subject of shame, and I am only just beginning to scratch the surface. You should definitely check out her treasure trove of goodies. What I have scrounged out so far from Brené is that shame and vulnerability are connected – Surprise! – and that healthy vulnerability is one way of dismantling shame.
A large reason why I haven’t been writing here as much as I have wanted to is because everything is so real and raw for me. I didn’t have any idea about what healthy vulnerability meant. I felt like vulnerability meant baring it all. So when my choices were all or nothing, I chose nothing (TBH I’m kinda glad I didn’t choose ‘bare it all!) My whole reason for writing here was to share my thoughts and my heart and bring the few of you who related along for the ride, and for those who don’t relate – to bring you a little bit into the world of the wild wanderer (FYI not all who wander are lost…) so that you can better understand those in your life. I knew that writing was a way for me to concretely process, to get out of my head, but that doing so privately was a one-way ticket to a blank journal and a reeling, cluttered consciousness. I need the whole ‘blog’ thing as a form of accountability. Obviously, given my meagre display of a scrupulous three blog posts over last twelve months, I’m kind of failing at that! I wanted to write about finding grace in the journey, about having the courage to admit life is not all straight A’s and rainbows, about it being okay to change your mind, and change it again, and change it again, and to work things out in conversation, rather than in silence.
But the reason I haven’t done that over the last year is that I’ve been too afraid to be real; too afraid to admit the times where the universe in its vastness and infinity feels close and smothering and full of unknown dangers; too afraid to share the joy of those moments when light broke through and I saw beyond the diaphanous veil for a fleeting second…. saw the simplicity and the goodness and the grandness and the so-much-more-ness of what we dryly and uncreatively call ‘God’ (Sorry – tune out now if you love that word. I don’t use it anymore – can’t. It just doesn’t describe what I need it to describe).
But I need to change that. I need to break that cycle, divert the process down a different track. And today I realised the point at which I have the control in the shame-fear-silence cycle is the SILENCE.
If I am going to break out of the shame I feel for thinking and seeing differently to the way I was always told to think and see, then I need to speak about it.
I need to speak about the shame and see what happens.
Maybe nothing will happen, and that would be great. Maybe something will happen. Maybe someone will disagree with me. Maybe someone will tell me I just need to get back to church or I just need to read the bible or I just need to give up on faith or I just need to go with the flow. Whatever happens, I have to decide that I am not going to let those things draw me back into silence. The point is that none of those things matter. What matters is that I speak. That YOU speak about that which you are ashamed of – to someone (not everything needs to be aired in public!)
Maybe someone will relate. Maybe someone will thank me for saying what they wanted to say. Maybe someone will tell me they have no idea what I am talking about, but that they want to understand. These are the moments when vulnerability is worth it, because these are the ‘me too’ or the ‘I see you’ moments that kill shame dead.
“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” – Brené Brown.
Back to that weird in-between space where I often feel smothered in shame…
I’m ashamed to admit that I still struggle with church. One of the reasons is that I don’t have a reason why I can’t do ‘church’ any more. I feel like admitting to struggles is opening myself up to the requirement of explaining them, and I can’t. Not now anyway. On top of that, I don’t want my friends who enjoy church and who find solace and encouragement and meaning there to feel like I am shaming them for not jiving with something they love. So there it is: the truth. I don’t enjoy church anymore (or maybe just at the moment), it kind of makes me feel anxious and sweaty and like a rabbit in front of a fox. I’m sure there are reasons, and I know I will deal with them in my own time and way.
I’m also ashamed to admit that I still hold onto faith, sometimes. Because there’s another thing I can’t explain. By rights I should probably be an atheist by now. I’m sure some think I am already – one can only question the Genesis creation accounts, the inerrancy of the Bible, the nature of heaven and hell, and the legitimacy of ‘end times prophecy’ for so long before people start calling bullshit on your claim to Christianity. And yet, I still find myself holding on to a sliver of hope that Jesus is who he said – that the person revealed in those yellowed old pages of scripture somehow, someway, points toward a future that is here now, but not yet – not fully. So there it is: the truth. I’m a Jesus freak. (They didn’t have anything a little less Jesus-y… I asked). Not in a ‘turn or burn, Jesus-is-my-boyfriend’ kind of way… just in a way that admits I heard the call to follow, so I’m doing that despite everything screaming from that sidelines that it’s a bit weird.
So what do I do now? I’m not so sure. All I know is that I am attempting to break this cycle, and hopefully that counts for something. Hopefully my decision to be vulnerable instead of kow-towing to fear of shame is a small step toward courage.
Maybe I just sit back and wait? Maybe I will still have to decide, tomorrow, to be vulnerable, to be authentically me, to be courageous in the face of my own imperfections. Maybe I have to keep choosing to be honest. Maybe I have to stop letting others’ judgments about my honesty have any bearing on my truth?
Because the truth is that I am still afraid, but I am hopefully no longer silent.