• Dana L. Butler

in which I’m {still} learning not to play small {or: thoughts after last night’s counsel

We lit fires in the fireplace, played with cookie sheets full of snow, made snow cream, drank hot chocolate with marshmallows (or rather, Isaac drank it, and Maia mostly splattered hers all over the table while fishing marshmallows out with a spoon).

I let it all happen — mess after mess after mess — and, one by one, we cleaned them up together.

By yesterday evening, I found myself exhausted beyond belief, and staring down a phone appointment with my counselor on my calendar. I wasn’t ready. I didn’t wanna dig up my *stuff.* I was tired.

But. Despite myself, I got on the phone with Mary, and holy cow, did said *stuff* ever come spilling out.

About how I wish I could more proactively plow through damage repair — through seeing and owning and finding healing in all these places where my heart’s been wounded — instead of waiting on life circumstances and relationships to bring my broken places to the surface.

How I wanna grab the reigns and hurry up and fix all these places where my internal default settings have settled into unhealthy patterns — the result of too many years of having shut up and shut down and ignored my gut in order to survive. In order to avoid making people uncomfortable.

{And even as I write this morning, I feel the need to apologize yet again for sharing my heart’s processes while not unveiling practical, situational details. Some of these circumstances aren’t yet far enough in my past that I can write specifically about them here. Thanks for understanding, my friends.}

I rambled on and on to Mary about how insane it is that in those days, I was only really living into maybe a third of who I actually was. How I played small and quiet. How I withheld insight and passion and tried to fake like I was fine. How I even deceived myself a lot of the time.

How I wanted so badly not to make “them” uncomfortable, not to be a threat, and yet no matter how hard I tried not to rock their boat or challenge their version of status quo, I didn’t succeed.

I made them uncomfortable. I made them feel threatened. And that was while playing small(?!).

More recently, I’ve moved into new facets of who I am. I’m learning that, for me, living into the fullness of my true self looks like trying crazy hair colors and funky styles, new ink that is deeply meaningful between me and Jesus, and learning to speak up in humility when I would previously have shut up instead.

It looks like loving both Jesus and people with this less-and-less-inhibited, undignified, expressive, fiery affection. It looks like leading worship loud and re-learning to be spontaneously led by the Spirit in so doing.

And the crazy thing is, in my current life here in Littleton, those who know me — they love this fuller, freer, more expressive version of me. They’re not afraid of my passion, my voice, or even my… mohawk? 🙂

Their love and acceptance has been unbelievably healing.

But I’m still learning not to be afraid of myself.

On the phone with Mary last night, I found myself lamenting: “God, WHY did you make me so loud?” 

I don’t mean loud as in boisterous or obnoxious or attention-seeking. I just mean that the more deeply Jesus grounds my heart in His love, the more fully I settle into my true self-in-Him and learn to live out of that place, the louder (and more “out there”) my life somehow becomes, whether I want it that way or not.

And I may or may not have just cursed a little in my head as I wrote that last sentence, because living at this level of authenticity and exposure scares the you-know-what outa me. It is vulnerable as heck.

Because somehow, it turns out that the more freely I give expression to my deep places (whether via writing or attire or hair or music or ink or fiery love), the more likely I am to be perceived as a threat by those who’re a little on the insecure side. To live under this oppressive sense that I’d better hide bits of who I am so I don’t shake people’s comfort zones too much.

When people feel threatened, they can be incredibly hurtful.

Simultaneously though, it’s been my experience that when the people around me are uninhibitedly, expressively true to who they are and how they’re made, I find myself set a little freer merely by being in their presence.

When you live freely, confidently, out of your core, it gives me permission to be more fully myself.

And this deepening and settling into our truest selves — it’s worship to the Lord. Because y’all, Jesus is worthy of this — of our growing and expanding into the absolute fullness of the freedom He won for us on the cross. Worthy of our being more and more authentically who He made us to be.

Not out of a heart that “flips the bird” to those who’ve previously oppressed us out of their own insecurity, but out of a heart that lives solely before Him, that passionately desires to love Him with the entirety of who we are.

There is nothing more fulfilling, and nothing more glorifying to our Maker.

And that, right there, is what I hope and pray is the impact of my less inhibited, more “out there” life. I so long that the Holy Spirit in me, coming out freely through me, would set hearts free (2 Cor. 3:17).

Ugh. But did I mention that living like this is vulnerable as you-know-what? Because as much as I want my life to provoke others toward freedom, I can’t control whether they respond to me by moving toward a deeper authenticity themselves, or by feeling threatened and insecure.

And my stomach is doing flips as I type because somehow saying this stuff “out loud” to you here makes it feel more real — this commitment I’m making to Jesus and to those I love, that I will refuse to let fear convince me to shrink. To play small.

But the sweet, gut-wrenchingly beautiful thing about this journey of ever-deepening authenticity and groundedness, is that it requires intimacy. Close, close companionship with Him.

The vulnerability of living this way makes me tremble inside, and it forces me into this increasing awareness of my need to live leaning into Him. Lockstep with Him. Moving hand-in-hand, entrusting my vulnerability to Him.

And, when refusing to play small leaves me feeling exposed, learning to let His love be my covering — over, and over, and over again.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. -Marianne Williamson

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