the party of deep and wide: nurturing an atmosphere of growth

My friends, here’s what I’ve learned over the last month or so:

The key to overcoming a fear of public speaking is to do it early in the morning, before you’re lucid enough to know you shouldn’t be standing in front of a bunch of people. Inhibitions are pretty low when you’re semi-conscious.

the party of deep and wide: nurturing an atmosphere of growth

It seems to be working. When I first heard about this class, I was torn between two gut urges.

One: God has been nudging me about speaking for the last couple of years, and this is an amazing opportunity to pursue it.

But also, two: Speaking in front of people and getting up early are equally miserable endeavors, akin to eating octopus while listening to terrible 80s music. Why would I put myself through that?

I almost didn’t. Too much work, too many things already going on, way the heck too early. I wasn’t sure I could operate a blinker that early in the morning, much less speak coherently in front of people.

But I knew I needed to. And when I argued with God about waiting until next year when the class was (maybe) offered again, He shot back, Hey Love, do you want to wait until next year for breakthrough, too? Oh yes, He did. So I stopped whining about it and signed up.

It’s something He’s told me to grow in. And growth is what we’re called to.

It’s a crazy vulnerable thing, though, standing in front of people, giving them your voice and your content, offering your perspective. It’s similar to writing here, but different in its aloud-ness – our very presence, standing in front of others, hoping they will be kind and gentle as we try not to make an idiot of ourselves.

But it’s a safe place. The people in there with me are old friends and new friends, and we all need encouragement, feedback, and grace. We’re not competing; we all want to do this better. Because none of us wants to look like an idiot when the time comes to be vulnerable.

We do the same thing with our social media, our relationship with people, our attendance in church, our efforts toward some Big Thing, or our approach to Jesus:

We clean up a little first. Not everything, of course, but just enough to look better than we are at the moment when inspiration strikes.

I should post that picture on Instagram…but I’ll straighten up the couch first.

I should go to church next Sunday…but I should try to stop swearing by Friday, first.

I want to invite those people over to dinner…but first, I need to rearrange the living room.

I want to write a book, but first I should brush up on grammar and spelling.

I’d love to reach out to that group…but they are more fill-in-the-blank (spiritual, educated, attractive, funny, gifted, whatever) than I am, so I want to be a little more fill-in-the-blank, too, first.

So I can fit in. So I don’t disappoint. So I’m good enough.

The internet is currently loaded with trendy articles about how ridiculous our culture is, haranguing the insincerity of a superficial society that merely puts up a good front. And to some degree, they’re right. Some of it is ridiculous.

But, you know what else? It’s normal. And…it’s also moderately healthy.

Record scratch. Yep, I heard it, too.

Hear me out. It’s not the insecurity or the desire to inflate our ego that is healthy. It’s the desire to grow, to be better than we currently are, to always pursue improvement. If our efforts are sincere and genuine, and not simply a façade to impress others, we are on the right track.

Do we only clean our house for our Instagram photos, or are we genuinely trying to be a better homekeeper, and this is part of our efforts?

Do we recognize we should behave better on a day-to-day basis, or are we just putting on a show around certain people?

Are we trying to prepare for a big new step, or are we just putting it off?

Are we inspired by others, or just trying to impress them?

Are we compelled to greater things by our friends, or are we just competing with them?

The articles and media try to fit us into one of two opposing camps: the unpretentious hot messes versus the polished, have-it-all-together types. But none of us are that black and white – we all excel in certain areas while faltering in others. We are pushing through challenges and learning.

I propose we draw a new party line.

We are the party of deep and wide: Growing. Leaning further in our giftings, and stretching into unfamiliar territory. Looking at ourselves with a holy discontent, grateful for our progress but not satisfied with the status quo. Humble, genuine, imperfect, and refining daily.

This is the camp most of us actually fit in. The culture can try to pit us in factions against each other, but we don’t have to step into the ring. We’re too aware of our own growth to point fingers at the lady who has spit up on her pants – or to raise our eyebrows at the lady who ironed perfect creases into hers.

We’ve heard that Jesus loves us as we are, but He’s not content to leave us there. Our own desire to do more, be more, know more, grow more, is something we’ve inherited from Him. It’s what He wants for us, too.

So we fumble our way through, hoping those who see us will be kind and gentle as we try not to make an idiot of ourselves. There is so much to learn.

The real human division is this: the luminous and the shady. To diminish the number of the shady, to augment the number of the luminous – that is the object. That is why we cry: Education! Science! To teach reading, means to light the fire; every syllable spelled out sparkles.

– Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

Let’s be the people who cheer the efforts of others instead of projecting our insecurities onto them. Show us the amazing meal you cooked, and tell us how it took you four times before you managed to get the cornstarch to thicken correctly. Tell us how great your kids are, and also the ridiculous way you had to remind them not to suck their underwear up the vacuum hose. Give us your church notes with messy handwriting, your gorgeous living room with imperfect furniture, your efforts at reading classic lit and your struggle to follow the intricate plot.

Show me your artwork, your craftsmanship, the amazing new technique you’ve been trying to perfect. No shame, no apologies to the peanut gallery. No internet lectures for showing off because you’re more gifted in this one area than most of us.

I want to see that project you nailed, and how you killed it at your last performance. I want to see your victories because they kindle more of mine.

It’s only our insecurity blending with resentment and jealousy – expressing itself in the disdain of judgement – that keeps us from cheering others on, just as it inhibits us from growing more in our own deep and wide.

On a bad day when my own struggle boils to the top, frustrated beyond sanity at fighting special needs behaviors and broken pasts, I admit that I probably won’t want to see your child’s perfect certificate of achievement when one of mine spent the morning feigning confusion between the letters L and J (and he is confused, but not about the letters). I promise the madness will pass and I’ll be in my right mind again shortly, soon enough to praise your victory. Because when we’re not in competition with each other, it’s my victory, too.

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

– Ephesians 4:15-16, ESV

We can be genuine while still inspiring each other to press on and be greater as grow through this together.

So post your mess-in-progress. Don’t apologize for where you’ve pulled it together. Show us where you’re still stumbling, trying and fumbling, stretching out in your deep and your wide. We’re called to growth, and this is your party.

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