Showing posts with label Belonging. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Belonging. Show all posts

Confessions of an "Intimidating" Woman at Church

Do you ever get so bombarded with the events and responsibilities of your own life, a really important experience slips through the cracks of your attention? You may not even realize the impact it's having on you until after the dust settles from everything else first. Then you see it, plain as day. That thing a person said or did that remains unmoved, a monument to the hurt in the whirlwind.

For me, it was a conversation I had with a woman from church who invited me to lunch with her. She had recently entered a leadership position, and I assumed I was on her radar because I've chosen to reduce my church attendance. I was upfront with her about this, expressing to her honestly how many responsibilities I had in my life at that time. I was so overwhelmed, I told her I was completely emotionally unavailable. I didn't want assignments. I didn't want callings. I needed time and space to exist in church without anyone wanting or needing anything from me. I made the choice to trust her with that admission of truth, thinking it would save her (and myself) a lot of time with pretenses.

I'm a big believer in honesty, situational awareness, and open communication. Leaders cannot address problems they don't know about. I had too much respect for this woman, her calling, and her responsibilities to lie to her, or string her along by pretending to be something I'm not. So, I told her the truth that was in my heart: that I don't feel like I have a place in the Church anymore. Not one I can comfortably occupy once a week, anyway. I wasn't feeling like an equal there, like my contributions had no value. And if being heard and valued was going to be this much of a struggle, I confessed, I would rather just stay home. It was a relationship of diminishing returns, and I didn't know how to fix it. Part of why I even told her about it was the misplaced hope she would have some ideas.

Instead, I was given a new label I still struggle to affix to myself. "Intimidating." That's what she told me I was. The way I participate in classes. The comments I make. How well-read and well-versed I am in church history and scripture. People have told her that I intimidate them.

You could've knocked me over with a feather in that moment. Me, intimidating? My 5'2" body frame and high-pitched, Minnie Mouse voice? You'll forgive me for being confused, but I still don't see how anyone who has seen me in person could possibly be intimidated by me.

I know I'm not the only one walking around with this label on me, so I thought I would deconstruct it for a while. Doing so will help me, and I hope it will be helpful to others who also find themselves wearing it. Maybe even those who give it to others, not realizing fully what it means.

The "Intimidation" is YoursNot Mine

Intimidation takes two forms: first, when a person causes fear through force, threats, or manipulation. Second, the state of being afraid or overawed because of someone else's abilities and accomplishments. At the foundation of both is fear; either because someone is making you afraid, or because you are choosing to be afraid of them. So, when you call someone intimidating there are only two ways to play it: as an accusation or a confession. Either that person is an aggressive bully who uses their resources to torment and traumatize people, or you're admitting you're afraid of them.

Sharing the experiences I've had as a convert to the Church is not a threat. Drawing upon my knowledge to fully participate in a lesson or conversation about the Church is nothing to be scared of. What I have to offer isn't some mythical power. They're perspectives and talents I've gained through hard work and study I've done over many years. They are the fruits of conscious choices to engage with and listen to all kinds of people. My scriptural literacy, my abilities to distill what I think into clear speech and polished writingI've dedicated my life to those pursuits. Those skills were paramount during my conversion, and have carried me through every subsequent trial I've had since then. I have only done what any person would do if their faith in God and their survival depended on it.

I am unique only in that I am insatiably curious. It is the curiosity of a child who never grew tired of trying to understand the world around me. I care enough to seek, to read, to listen, and to learn. That's it. That's my secret. Anyone who can read and wants to learn can achieve their own version and vision of what I have. I'm not any more special than a person who learns woodcarving, home repair, or gardening. Why should the reaction to the God-given talents I've chosen to cultivate be fear and intimidation?

Why do I have to do less of what I loveto be less of who I ambefore others will see me as a person? Why am I being held responsible for other people's feelings? For their fear?

I just want to be myself. I refuse to be less of who I am because other people choose to be afraid of me for no good reason. The solution here is not for me to hide my talents under a bushel to make others feel better. What is required is for those who pass judgment like this to reflect on their choices. Why do you choose to be afraid of people you don't even know? Is there a better choice you could be making?

If there's harmful manipulation at play here, it's in this: when accomplished, educated, or outspoken women are only acceptable when they are silent, passive, and submissive. When love and acceptance are conditional upon false pretenses, and all friendship and associations turn away from them when they refuse to comply. That is manipulation. That is intimidation.

I am submissive to no one but God. In all my relationships, my associations are absolutely conditional. I am only interested in maintaining relationships that are based in love, tolerance, and respect. I expect to be treated like an equal because that's how I strive to treat others. I expect to receive in return the time and consideration I give. I want relationships that are based in honesty and openness. This is who I am because a lifetime of struggle has taught me this is what I value.

If I can't have those kinds of relationships with people in my ward without them calling me "intimidating," what does that say about the quality of the relationships to be had there? Why are we surprised that people who are treated like this leave us? Why are we confused when they struggle to come back to church, even when they desperately want to?

Overcoming Intimidation

So much of our culture encourages us to invest in others before ourselves. No matter how strong we are, that pattern of total self-sacrifice is unsustainable. We will all make the startling realization that while God is perfect, we are not. His wells never run dry, but ours do. Endless giving without being restored means we all come up empty eventually, having nothing else to give. Emptiness, the sense of internal lacking, produces many emotional responses. In some, the longing for renewed connection and belonging. In others, fear and rejection of the new and unfamiliar.

If you find yourself burdened by feelings of inadequacy and intimidation from others, that is not going to change by expecting them to change for you. They are not the reason your feel that way. No change they will ever make will help you feel more content within yourself. Only recognizing your value, your strengths, and the power of your contributions can do that.

If your association with someone else has made you aware of a lack within your own abilities, why blame that on them? They are giving you the opportunity to fill that emptiness with the perspective they've offered you. So fill your own emptiness! Drink from the well they have chosen to share with you. If you need more, ask them for more. Why are we so afraid of not being perfect, of being vulnerable in our weakness and accepting others who are different, we're willing to let ourselves and other perish from thirst instead?

You wanted a confession from an "intimidating" woman at church, and here it is: I don't want to be feared. I want to belong. I want to be loved, heard, and appreciated just like anyone else. I am a person with needs and feelings, and being labeled inaccurately and unkindly isn't one of them.

So if I may, let me suggest a replacement. Instead of calling me (and others like me) "intimidating," how about embracing me for the intensity of love and devotion I feel for God and those around me? I can appreciate if what I have to offer is too strong or intense for some people. But being recognized for what I have to offer, even if it's not for you, is drastically different from being openly criticized for what I lack.

The consequence of coexisting with every living member of our species on the same planet, all at the same time, means inevitably bumping into ideas that will contradict and challenge how we think and live. This is no threat. It's an opportunity to learn. And imagine how much more we would learn in the Church if we thanked God for our differences, instead of asking him to remove them so we all can be the same. Let's stop giving up that opportunity to the temptation to engage in small-minded behavior like name-calling. Surely as the restored church of Jesus Christ, we have more to offer this world than that.

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