“I wanted to be big, real. Heard.” — Lucinda J. Miller, Anything But Simple
I don’t know what it is in me that drives me to want to be heard.
Once upon a time, a friend told me that she had detected a repressed desire of mine — repressed because I am a woman, and a Mennonite. You practically shout in your public and private writings, ‘I want to preach!’ she wrote. Makes me want to scream, ‘Yes, you can!’ Preaching oozes from your fingertips.
I had never considered preaching in my life — ridiculous notion! — and I tried to gently dispossess her of it while still honoring her kind intent. I told her that yes, I did want to preach — not from behind a pulpit, but with godly actions and powerful written words.
Still, I think she must have detected some powerful force in me I was not fully aware of at that time: the desire to be heard, to have a voice in the world. To influence.
I take this desire, hold it out in front of me. It’s an odd-looking thing, to me, anyway. No one in my immediate family has this same drive, at least not in the same way. My dad is a preacher, sure, but you can barely drag him out of the four cracked cream walls of our own church building to preach in other places. Some of my siblings are very involved in kids’ ministry, and I know they seek to influence those kids toward truth — but I doubt if they have ever considered or desired to impact the thought community at large. We are all of us the congenial type, people-pleasers. Quick to blend in, to give compliments. Pretty certain to keep negative opinions to ourselves. We are more likely to apologize for the inconvenience of our existence than to proclaim our ideas worthy of attention.
I run my eyes up and down the length of this thing — this desire for influence — to assess it.
Selfishness? I don’t think so. Not more so than any of my other natural desires. Like wanting to be loved. Wanting to learn. Wanting food and clothes and comfort and esteem.
I care about things. I care very deeply. And because I care, and because I am a communicator, it is only natural for me to wish to speak.
Is there ego involved? Maybe. Sometimes. But mostly not. Speaking — and by speaking I mean writing — takes great courage on my part, because I open myself not only to approbation but to criticism. And criticism is so scary and so real, it never fails to drain my body of energy and sap the life out of my day. It takes humility to risk that, to risk making mistakes. To go forward even when you realize you are not the smartest, the wisest or the best.
And there is another scary thing this desire to be heard brings me: responsibility.
Asher Witmer touches on the scariness of responsibility in his blog post: “I don’t believe we should wait until we have arrived before we start saying what is on our hearts,” he writes. “If [Satan] can make sure potential teachers feel they need to have it all together before taking the platform, then those who would dare to say something strictly born of faith and innocent observation will be too afraid to.”
He has more wisdom for influencers in the article — that’s all of us in one way or another, and all of it struck home with me — but right now I want to talk about that scary responsibility part.
Recently my friend asked me, in an email conversation, what I thought about a certain article on a certain news story. And I tried to formulate an answer to a subject I admittedly knew very little about. But I said something. Because she asked.
And it was the wrong thing. “Your response is mean spirited, anti factual, narrow minded, and un-American,” she wrote back. “Such a concept of God is surely grounds to reject him … And thinking in this manner is one reason Christianity has disappeared in Europe and is slowly fading here. It’s cruel. It’s bigoted. It’s limited and constricts humanity.”
So I spent most of the day crying and moping, feeling judged and ill-used and angry at the same time I felt hurt and small and culpable.
I want so badly to be a Christian. The kind of Christian people look at and say, “That person is like Jesus.” I don’t think there is anything in the world that could hurt me more than being told my beliefs are a smear in the face of the concept of a loving God. That I am a speaker who turns people away from Jesus rather than toward him.
Speaking makes one so vulnerable, so very vulnerable, to attack.
And speaking makes one responsible, so very responsible, for the influence one yields.
So what if I formulate an opinion and believe it strongly and promote it? And what if I’m just dead wrong? And I hurt people, or mislead them?
And what if I do not form strong opinions on the the grounds that I might be wrong — and what if a strong stand is exactly what is needed? What if truth and righteousness are weakened and lost because I, among others, have not been willing to speak? What if people die because I did not step forward to warn them of the things that I know?
I do not have any answers in today’s blog post. Just questions.
Maybe you have some insight.
Lucinda Miller writes from rural Rusk County, Wis., and attends Sheldon Mennonite Church, an unaffiliated conservative Mennonite church, down the gravel road from her house. She blogs at Properties of Light, where this post first appeared.