I’ve been thinking a lot about “the shoulds” lately. There are so many things I feel like I “should” be doing: I should be out protesting injustice everywhere and getting arrested, I should be living in a communal house, I should be educating lots of people about trans* issues, I should be updating this blog more, I should be engaging in more conversations about queer inclusion in the church, I should go out more often with friends, I should read less and be more social, I should show up at community events, I should, I should, I should.
And then when I don’t do these things I feel guilty. Weighed down by feeling like I am not a good enough Christian, not a good enough radical, not a good enough person.
I was telling my friend Brian about all of this and he related something a friend once told him: “When I left the evangelical church I exchanged the guilt about hell and evangelism, etc. into a guilt around activism.” That really resonated with me. When I was in the evangelical church there was a priority placed up “witnessing”. In actuality there was a priority placed upon extroversion. And I never measured up. I was scolded for not being willing to go up to strangers and share my faith. Scolded for having only a couple of close, deep friendships instead of having shallow relationships with everyone around me. It was always a pressure to be and to do more.
And now I am in the liberal/progressive/radical circles and the pressure is back. The pressure to show up to community events, the pressure to protest, the pressure toward communal living. And once again I don’t measure up.
I just finished reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain (link goes to my affiliate page) and it deeply resonated with me. I also recently read Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture by Adam McHugh and while the theology didn’t resonate, the experience of church did. As I get older I am learning to live into my introversion. I am learning what I need to be healthy and happy and whole. The problem is it doesn’t match all of those shoulds. And so even though I know I am doing what’s best for me, I still feel guilty and feel like I should change.
But here’s the thing: If I forced myself to live communally (to pick one example) I would be a total jerk because I would be living without the space and resources I need to be a healthy person. Instead of giving back to the community I would resent my housemates. I would be exhausted and unhappy. What would be the good in that?
I am trying to learn how to be patient with myself. To uncover what it is that I really need to be a healthy and whole person. I am trying to let go of the guilt and “the shoulds”. I think there are times to push myself: There are times when I need to show up at a community event or a protest. But there is also the reality that I am built for different things. I need to live into my own unique giftings and not feel guilty about that.
I prefer to spend my weekends at home, alone, with a good book or three. I work best when I can be alone and uninterrupted. I don’t like a lot of noise in my living space. I love to preach and to do public speaking, but I need several hours to recover afterwards. I can sometimes be a more eloquent activist by writing a letter than I would be if I tried to speak about the issue. There is nothing wrong with any of these things (except the fact that they are rarely valued in the larger culture).
I am also trying to determine the areas in my life where I haven’t been living from my strengths; the places where I speak up even though I am not ready because I feel like I have to, the places where I have been pretending to be an extrovert for too long and so am feeling burnt out, and the places where I have been neglecting the things that make me feel whole (like journaling). I am trying to make sure that more of my life is lived from within the “sweet spot” (to use Cain’s wording) of my introversion.
I believe that we are meant to live into our wholeness. That divinity comes from that sweet spot. That being who we are and embracing who we are is a gift to the world. We need to stop with the shoulds and the guilt.
What are “the shoulds” that are burning you out? What guilt do you need to let go of? Who is it that you are meant to be? What unique calling do you have? Where is your “sweet spot” and how are you going to do more to live into that space this week?