People in authority can make me nervous. I’m always afraid they’ll turn into a tiger, pin me in a corner, and pounce on me for doing something wrong. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. For the most part, the leaders I work with are kind, humble, and vulnerable and would never pounce on me. I’ve also had uncomfortable conversations with superiors that have ended well: I not only survived these dialogues, but I was the better for it. And yet–
I’m still nervous. I want to blame it on the other person and how they don’t handle conflict very well–and that may be true. But I have to own my own stuff: what goes on in me when I hear a certain tone of voice and feel talked down to. This has nothing to do with them.
“So what does go on in you?” my director asked.
“I feel like I’m five years old,” I said and began to weep. “I shut down and don’t hear a word they’re saying. And then they have to tell me again.”
I wept through the whole hour of spiritual direction. By the time it was over, I had a wet mound of tissue on my lap. I grieved that I couldn’t avoid people who trigger this reaction. I bemoaned whatever was done to me in the past that traumatized me. I wept with joy that Jesus would never turn on me; he always makes me feel safe.
“I know I don’t need to be afraid of anyone, but I wish Jesus would convince the little girl in me,” I said.
I listened in the silence for Jesus’ response and realized that he never stops working for my good. He helped me notice what was going on and bring it into the light.
I felt spent by the end of the session, but I also felt comforted. I knew I was not responsible for the trauma I carry in my body or how long it takes to be healed. It will be triggered again, and I will feel anxious and want to shut down. But I could see now that I have more freedom to stay present and more strength to speak up for myself when I need to.
I also knew that God was not going to get rid of the tigers that trigger my shame.
“So how do you want to be with them?” my director asked at the end of our time together.
“How do I want to be with them?” I asked, feeling cheeky. “Wearing a full suit of armour! But, how does Jesus want me to? With an openness and a willingness to feel whatever I feel and trust that God is with me.”
I Can Dance with the Tiger
–Esther Hizsa, 1989
I can dance with the tiger on my journey;
I can read his eyes; I know his steps.
I know every trick he uses to hunt,
How he looms and stalks and threatens and growls.
I can let his roar enter my bones,
Pass me through and leave me whole.
I can smell his breath and taste its steam
And stand within my fear.
I can dance, I can dance, I can dance with a tiger
I can move, I can breathe, I can twirl all around
All the fear in the world cannot silence Your melody
Oh my Lord, in your love, I can dance.
So we meet face to face so close I can reach out
And feel his fur and touch his wound
And with fear lying dead and trampled down
I behold his majesty and might. (Chorus)
Then he leaps high over me on his way
And I turn round to watch him go
But he doesn’t look back to see me wave
or hear me say goodbye. (Chorus)
* * *
Thank you to everyone in British Columbia that got out to vote on Tuesday. Now let’s pray that our leaders engage in some love mischief for our province that includes affordable housing for all–especially my friends in the Wednesday Lunch Club.