Being brave enough to be open
I thought I had it all figured out. And then my pastor threw me a curveball. (As any pastor worth his or her salt should do, I suppose.)
It’s my third go at this word-of-the-year thing (see exhibits A and B), and I’d chosen mine for 2020 well before Jan. 1. It had played itself out before my eyes so many times. I’d seen it in my daughter as she sang her first solo in front of a crowd. In my teenage son, as he participated in a sport he hadn’t played since he was a little boy, unfazed by inexperience. In my youngest son, who unapologetically marches to his own beat, embracing the things he loves even though they may not be popular. In my husband, who left the security of a job he’d excelled in for 14 years for another position that offered him a new, exciting challenge and our family more flexibility.
And in my friend, who smiled daily through pain, sickness, and a months-long wait for a liver transplant that finally came in December.
Bravery was all around me in 2019. I was in awe of it. I am an introverted soul who rarely takes risks, is comfortable with her routine, and loves order in her life. All of these things I witnessed happening to the people I love inspired and encouraged me to be something I often am not.
Boom. Word of the year.
What brave thing was I going to do, exactly? No idea. I had no bucket list item or game-changing act in mind — I simply wanted to push myself to seize the day. Carpe diem. YOLO.
Fast-forward to Jan. 5, 2020. I sat in the pew at First Presbyterian Church with my family prepared to take communion and feeling good about my year and my word. But it turned out there was more than the bread and juice representing the body and blood of Christ at that table.
There was a bowl. Filled with words on paper stars. (Enter curveball.)
Pastor Andrew Bowman encouraged us to take one as we received communion, and consider it to be the word that drives our actions in 2020. What divine intervention it would be if I pulled bravery from that bowl, I thought. This blog post will write itself!
No such luck, of course. Instead, the word “openness” was staring me in the face.
Andrew made a joke about not being able to exchange your word if you didn’t like it, and I laughed, but secretly I was thinking about doing that very thing. My husband, upon seeing my word, smiled and said, “No trouble there!” But this was complicated. Openness was not on my mind at all.
Sigh. What to do? I could just disregard this little exercise, of course — stick to the word I’d already chosen because that was comfortable. But something told me I should pay attention.
So, being the good word nerd I am, I looked it up. There are several definitions — lack of secrecy or concealment (as a former journalist, I am of course a fan); the quality of not being covered with buildings or trees (no idea how this applies to my life); a style of play characterized by action which is spread out over the field (don’t play sports, so indeed, no trouble there).
The first definition, though, that’s the one that caught my attention: Lack of restriction; accessibility; acceptance of or receptiveness to change or new ideas.
Ah, there it is. As you read above, receptiveness to change is not really my jam. I’ll eventually come around, but it sure takes me a while to warm up. I have to inventory all the problems before I can get on board with an idea. These are the ABCs of me.
This aversion to change, the need for order — it stems from a place of fear. I am aware of it. When things don’t go the way I plan, I am afraid of what I’ll have to endure: Inconvenience, discomfort, time spent having to fix what’s been upended. I like being in control. I worry about new ideas not working. I am often afraid of interacting with new people. What if I can’t think of anything to say? What if we have nothing in common? What if they, gulp, don’t like me at all?
I think this is what my husband meant when he said there’d be no problem. I can share my feelings through words pretty darn freely. But letting go of fear, embracing change — regardless of how big or small, is tough.
I don’t know why I have such trouble, because so often, once I finally do embrace change, it feels really good. New relationships are forged; I am inspired; I feel as though I can conquer the world. The most profound way I’ve experienced this is through P&P in the last two years. I’ve done brave things simply because I had to in order to excel. And it’s been a wonderful experience. If I had the luxury of deliberation? I’d probably be paralyzed.
As I write this, I realize bravery is subjective. One person’s fear may be another person’s comfort. And it can mean different things. Sometimes you have to suck it up, be positive and just do the thing. Other times, you can beat that poor dead horse until the opportunity to be brave has passed. And then there are the times when bravery is simply saying, “No.” This decision just isn’t right for you.
Whatever the case, what it takes to overcome the fear that faces you — in my case, openness to change and new ideas — is bravery.
I love it when things come full circle.
It’s ironic, really, because the reason we chose First Presbyterian in the first place is because of how wonderfully open and accepting it is.
I hear the message. Thanks for the exercise, Andrew.