"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."--Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love
I was invited to church, once. It changed my life. I found myself telling that story, today, one of the few times I’ve really opened up and shared it. It’s difficult, sometimes, to share the deepest parts of yourself, the moments that so changed your life. There’s a sense of protectiveness, a sense of no-this-is-mine. A fear of someone else ruining it, scorning it, abusing it.
I told the story, and my listener said, “That’s such a cute story.” She liked it, thought it was fitting of who I am. I learned something, as a writer and a person: what resonates with me will resonate with others. We are not, in fact, nearly as different as we think.
Like so many things in this world, it started with a girl. I know that’s a cliché thing to say, but most clichés have some grounding in truth. I was young, and idiotic, and worst yet, a hopeless romantic.
“How can I prove it to you?” I said. “I’ll do anything you ask.” This, I’ve realized five years later, was easily one of the dumbest things I’ve ever said. The request was simple, however. Come to church with me. Be a part of this little section of my life. A small price to pay, I thought, for an opportunity to be with her. I enjoyed it, despite myself.
CS Lewis uses an illustration in his writings about his own coming to Christian faith. He describes it for him as being in a suit of armor, paralyzed, and gradually finding himself free to move about. The first few months coming to church, I felt something like that. I heard people talk about this Jesus fellow whom I didn’t really believe in, and something within me stirred. I began to look into it, have discussions with my (at the time) girlfriend about religion and Christianity. I remember it now as a dim haze of impressions and images.
I do, however, remember one conversation somewhat vividly. I can’t now recall when it occurred, if it was before I started coming to church, or after. The simple idea was this: God had something planned for me. My friend told me this, told me she knew, just knew, that God had an intention in my life, had something important that He would not stop until He accomplished. I was bothered, intensely unsettled by this concept. I wept in abject horror, not wanting to understand why. I do understand, though, and I think I did then. The truth is, we don’t want to be noticed. We don’t want to be meaningful or strong. When you open the cellar door, the rats scatter. The reason the rats scatter is because they don’t want their actions, or even their very presence, to be seen in the light. Being seen in the light would be a tragedy, because it would mean their actions were perceived and gained significance. The owner of the cellar would, of course, drive them out. My sentiment was similar. Being noticed brought responsibility, brought fear. Who am I to matter to God, or anyone beside the handful of people around me?
As scary as that was, I kept finding power at my church. My insides lurched in response to the words spoken by my pastor, my youth minister, my Christian friends. It goes against all the intellectual fiber in my being to say this, but I accepted Christ purely from the gut and the heart, from the emotional response that this was doing something to me, was reorganizing me, was filling me.
I was speaking to my Youth Minister yesterday, and I shared with him a little bit of my philosophy, a philosophy I've learned and dealt with for the past five years, at least. It really comes back to the quote at the top of the page, one of my absolute favorites, a sort of existential mantra that I repeat to myself often. We are powerful beyond imagining, and that scares us. That scares us a lot. I believe God pays attention to all of us, all the time, and all of our lives have meaning. I’ve seen too much, done too much, to not believe this. I have seen my best friends grow and develop over the years, influenced by those around them and influenced by what they’ve been taught or what they’ve discovered, and become different, greater people. It has impressed upon me the deep truth that we have power. Our lives work on a ripple effect: our actions disrupt the waters of other people’s lives, whether in massive waves or tiny jets of impact, and those ripples go on to change their actions, which ripple outward themselves, and so on. The way we treat people matters, because it could affect them forever. An encouraging word, a piece of advice, the simple act of listening, could keep people from doing drastic things. Or change the course of their day, leading them to do things that they wouldn’t have done before. Or, in my case, lead to them darkening the door of a church they now call a family.
We can choose to either help people in their struggles, or hinder them. Our smile can bring them one step closer to life; our sneer can bring them one step closer to death. It’s extreme, but I believe it’s entirely true. The people who do rash, and terrible things, do so egged on by the way people respond to them (or, perhaps, don’t). The people who do great and mighty works, who help others and change the very course of their worlds, do so encouraged by those who love them and believe in them.
A friend of mine once started talking to me about an experience of sexual abuse they had gone through. I was, frankly, horrified. I had no idea what to say to them. I count myself as a mature, experienced person, but in that moment I realized what a sheltered, happy life I lead. I have had almost no encounters with issues that big, that complex, that… horrific. I sputtered out a few words of encouragement and support, but mostly I just listened, nodded, a lot of that-must-be-terrible’s and I-see’s. It was over an internet chat client, so they fortunately couldn’t see me as I squirmed and prayed and generally wished to be somewhere else. At the end of the conversation, however (it didn’t feel like much of a conversation to me: I wasn’t contributing much), they thanked me profusely and seemed genuinely better off for the exchange. I believe in that moment, by simply being available, God was able to use me to send positive ripples through their life, to express love and sympathy. To give them a chance to tell their story. That was, really, all that it took.
We have so much power that we know nothing of.