I was sitting in a room full of men. Okay, this isn’t that rare, but I was taken aback at how uneasy I felt in the moment. In between some semi-offensive comments made by one man, and other talk that I couldn’t participate in, I realized that I had shrunk–I began taking up less and less space until I was able to make myself invisible. I wanted to say something to address the offensive comment. But I couldn’t. I wasn’t at home with myself.
Sweat dripping down my face, legs rubbing together at the humidity in the room, heart racing, it was on the elliptical that I had a moment of insight. Not only about the inner voice that told me to take up less space, but also about that same person who now boldly showed up. On an elliptical. With jiggling and chafing thighs. Allowing herself to be whatever she needed, and she was okay with it. She was claiming that something back for herself.
That sweaty moment on the elliptical was perhaps the first moment in my life where what rooted me was not my environment but my choice to show up. To be.
Let me explain what I mean.
They say that our environment, the soil we are rooted in, shapes us. Influences us. Develops us. Nurtures us. Shows us who to be and how to show up in the world. This has been so true for most of my life. It has been, in each season, my environment that has morphed me into whatever I thought was needed and whoever I thought the people around me wanted. I’ve been the go-with-the-flow, adaptable one. I can be fun and energetic if my environment warrants. I can be a mentor, a cheerleader. I can be a leader. I can be an advocate. I can be a helper.
But. I can also be a doormat. I can keep silent. I can be meek. I can be messy and hard-headed. I can make myself small until I take up less and less space–until I am invisible.
I have been rooted in whatever my environment calls me to be. The soil of my life has informed how I show up in the world. Whatever that soil has given me permission to be, that is how I have found who I am.
I know this is important. To be nurtured by community, by experience. But the problem lies in the fact that when those things change, I don’t know what roots me. I don’t know who I am and how to show up in my new world. Like in that room full of men, I didn’t know whether my voice would be welcomed or disregarded. And instead of raising my voice, a value I’ve decided to claim, I allowed my voice to be silenced. Like a fish out of water, I flop around trying to find what I once knew to be home.
The very first class I took in college taught me to ask the question, “Who am I? And how am I called to live in the world?” For so long, I asked that question by taking inventory of my surroundings. Now, I wonder instead what it would look like to begin to seek out the inner voice that answers that question for me. I wonder what it would look like to hear the voice of God that calls me by name, and grants me the freedom to own that name and to live it out with tenacity and boldness.
As women, we have been really good at being whatever the world needs us to be. I have encountered young women who crave the authenticity that comes with being their truest selves. They talk about feeling unseen, feeling misunderstood, but can’t name how they want to be seen or what they want the world to understand about them. I wonder if they have ever been invited to listen to themselves, to return to the root of who God has called them to be and to own, embrace, welcome and become that person.
What if our roots were not found somewhere outside of ourselves?
What if we called ourselves home?
What if we gave ourselves permission to speak up, to take up space, to laugh, to cry, to hold still?
I pray that we would all have a chafing, elliptical moment. I pray we would find a way to become rooted in our truest and most messy selves and give ourselves the grace to dwell there. May we be bold and tenacious and unapologetic about it. May what roots us be timeless and hidden in the truth of who God named us to be.