We have learned to be the greatest pretenders from the moment we wake till the moment we lay our head down.
On some days I let myself go there.
I unwind all the pretense and crack open the door to fresh air. Crisp thinking that hasn’t been judged by years of experience and well-meaning advice. All the voices along the way who have confirmed to me what I always suspected. What I always dreaded.
It is not safe to be me.
A scene went down when I was fourteen and it replayed through my mind for years. I was on the lawn of my church with another friend who happened to like the same boy I did. Let’s call the boy we liked “Josh” and my friend who liked him too “Amy”. We were outside obeying Josh’s friends who told us to go wait for them because they had something to tell us.
I remember standing there on the grass trying to stomach what I knew was probably coming. In true teenage fashion, some of our friends had taken it upon themselves to mention to Josh’s friends that Amy and I thought Josh was cute.
Now, let me say this. I wasn’t even allowed to date. I just thought the boy was cute. Which was big for me to admit because I was never the girl picked. I stood on the sidelines of my eighth grade dance never – not even once – being asked to dance the whole night. I’d like to submit a motion that we do away with junior high dances altogether.
When our friends mentioned that we both thought Josh was cute and told his friends not to say anything, they didn’t exactly follow instructions. Off they went to spread the word of our attraction to none other than Josh himself. Which can I just say, in hindsight is hilarious because Josh wasn’t really attractive or cool. I prefer to chalk that crush up to groupthink gone wrong.
Next thing we know, Amy and I were outside waiting to meet with Josh’s friends. Awesome.
A crew of boys came bounding down the stairs with smiles on their faces. “We talked to Josh.”, said the ring leader of this motley crew. ” Told him that both of you think he is cute. And guess what? He thinks one of you is cute too. But just one.”
I’m sure you can guess where this is going.
“So, Josh wants to talk to the girl he thinks is pretty.”. Josh’s friend continued, ” …and it’s not YOU!”.
As the words fell out of his mouth, he turned to me and his finger pointed right at my face. It wasn’t me.
Just like that my friend Amy squealed and ran inside to meet Josh. I stayed there on the lawn alone watching the swarm of them rush back up the stairs. I didn’t cry. I just swallowed it. And then – as easy as that – those words became something I carried around in me for a long time after.
It’s not me.
The sentence rattled through my mind over the next decade. Who I am is not enough compared to who they are. It isn’t safe to put myself out there because it will neither be wanted nor valued.
Fast-forward to college. I had a friend who I had been close to for years. Hours of conversations about dreams and hopes had been invested into our friendship.
One evening she sat me down and told me something that shocked me like nothing else had.
She thought I had a mental illness. I had let someone into the inner workings of my mind and instead of seeking to understand, they judged. And I felt betrayed in a way that shattered so many things I once had thought to be stable. I was embarrassed and exposed.
I bawled for days.
It’s not me. I’m not the one with the beautiful ideas or creative mind. I am the girl who sounds crazy – who no one will ever believe in. It isn’t safe to be me.
There are few things which can create such a desperate feeling inside as when being yourself doesn’t feel safe. If your ideas scare people, your motives are misunderstood and your actions continually rejected then you slowly begin to morph into something that feels less painful.
Something other than yourself. It holds the illusion of safety. Like an internal Switzerland.
And so all the walls go up to shut out the haters. We put on masks so the one pointing the finger saying “It’s Not You” can’t find us. We put our best foot forward trying not to mis-step and bring attention the person that actually lives inside of us.
It is in that place of hiding the miraculous happens. God seeks us out. He finds us. He heals us. Our terror is exchanged for a holy confidence. The whispering lie of “It’s Not You” is replaced with a steel reinforced truth. That you are fearfully and wonderfully made. That you have in fact, been chosen.
To all of you, who like me, have learned to wear the disguise and cover up the authentic. Who are afraid that the things inside you are not enough or the way you think is overwhelming.
Those of you who don’t feel like you have an invitation with your name on it… Welcome to the world of doers and dreamers.
It may not be safe out here this side of heaven, but we can’t let the words of people shut us down. The world needs people who are willing to take risks and love even when it hurts. Don’t back down. Light up. Dream harder. Go bigger. You’ve been created by a Maker who has your back. With Him you are always safe.
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