My entire life, people have told me how to be me. I suspect this is a very common experience — humanity strives for uniformity, fearing and suffocating diversity.
For me, these messages came via “how to be a good Christian female.”
In the circles I’ve found myself in for the past 35 years, I’ve been told that Christian girls are to be quiet, unassertive, not too serious but not too silly, thoughtful but not intellectual. We should strive to blend rather than pop, support without question.
But this isn’t who I am.
God made me assertive, serious, and questioning.
God gave me a mind that likes to dive deep and examine widely.
God put this streak of “I’ve got a question and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one, so I’m going to ask it on behalf of myself and everyone else since no-one else is willing to speak up” in me that 35 years of suffocating and outside pressure hasn’t killed.
And yet… I write like I know these things for sure, but really? I don’t.
I don’t know who God made me to be, yet, and I don’t know how to get there.
Last week’s trip to Bolivia cracked me open and exposed some of what I’ve stuffed for a long time.
It was like opening the lid of a pressure cooker and seeing what the contents did on their own terms.
I found courage there. I found curiosity. I found freedom to be, to let go of the order I’d clung to, to look around and think. To just be me.
But it is a dizzying freedom. Disorienting.
I realized that I’ve relied on the external stability of allowing someone else to impose their ready-made structure on me. I don’t do well constructing my own structure. Maybe I just lack experience – I’ve never really done it before.
It feels like I’m an astronaut whose tether to the space shuttle has been cut.
I’m a caterpillar struggling to emerge from its cocoon, feeling the breeze on… what are those? Wings? I have wings? I’m a different color! What do I do with these things? Oh they are so beautiful! But the wind keeps grabbing them and pulling me off this stem… oh… oh… this is freaky… am I supposed to let go? Could I actually fly? Can I get to that flower over there?
And then, self-consciousness. I’m different. Everyone knew me as a caterpillar. The questions and doubts begin to flood. Can we coexist, celebrate who we each are, without trying to force one another to be something we’re not? Maybe they are in the midst of their own metamorphosis. What if they don’t like butterflies? What if some of us turn out to be moths? What if they are afraid of me? What if they are jealous of my wings? Or threatened by them? What if they try to crunch me back into the cocoon again? Will they be afraid I suddenly don’t like caterpillars?
Panic. I try to claw my way back into the cocoon. Pretend nothing happened. But my new wings won’t fold back up.
There’s only one direction to go. Out and up. And pray God’s grace for caterpillars and butterflies alike.