I could feel the familiar catch in my throat, and the sting of tears in my eyes as the noise of the room grew in uncomfortable tension. I was steadfast, optimistic, and overprepared for what the morning meeting would hold – or so I believed. But there were veiled ambushes and pointed statements, and the inability to express how I really felt brought an unwelcome swell of tears to the surface. But don’t mistake my tears, because they do not stem from a place of fragility. They are, instead, a response to the biting sting of injustice and the pressure to do the impossible again and again, that drives me to tears in the most inconvenient places
I grew up in the shadow of the Proverbs 31 Woman. She was, at the time, the very ideal of feminine godliness. At church, I watched with wide blue little girl eyes as the boys and men around me were encouraged to show strength and leadership. At the same time, I was fed an overabundant spoonful of gentleness, meekness, submission, and humility. Those Proverbs 31 attributes are beautiful qualities in and of themselves, things that, to this day, I aspire to on some level. But they are also qualities best achieved by making myself small. So, I became a sweet girl, a people pleaser. I spoke softly and gently, leaving much of myself at the door to gain acceptance into their world. Life became about learning to shrink and to shift, asking for permission to take up space, and apologizing because my God-given dreams and desires won’t fit into a box that is far too small. I grew into womanhood under the burden of being both too much and yet not enough.
Too bold and opinionated, too emotional, too passionate, too hard to please…too much.
Not quiet enough, not soft enough, not submissive or gentle enough…not enough.
I leave gatherings like the one I spoke of that morning, afraid that I took up too much space. I was too outspoken. I shouldn’t have spoken out of turn. I should have been more gentle, softer. What is wrong with me that I cannot seem to contort myself into acceptability? Why can’t I choke down my words and feign sweet content with the status quo?
I work hard to be self-aware, to cultivate truth in my life, and to restrain the things about myself that mustn’t run free. But how am I supposed to grow when I spend so much time intent on shrinking into the limited space, I am told I deserve?
But here’s the thing, I can take up space. I can, as a woman who has been told she is too much of something…presence, toughness, perseverance, and passion that in the opposite gender is seen as positive. I am too much because I never do anything half-way. I am too much because I love too hard; I feel too deeply. I ask too often, I think too much. I am the woman who refuses to give up when her back is against the wall. I am a woman who won’t quiet down my heart. I can’t change the world or the church on a dime. Still, I can be unapologetically, fiercely, and wholeheartedly who I was created to be because I am supposed to be too emotional, too passionate. I am meant to love too much and to feel too deeply. You need my ideas, my vision, my leadership, my voice. You need my deep love for freedom and justice, for the hurting, beauty and diversity, and the work of God in the world. You need the passion and empathy and joy and grace that pours from me for whosoever.
Please do not mistake my tears for frailty. I am not looking for pity; I am looking for justice. I am exhausted by the constant battle in my head to determine how much to say and how to say it. I am not looking for a pat on the knee or a sympathetic tilt of the head. I am merely asking that you imagine what it is like to feel too something. This is empathy. It is the ability and willingness to understand the feelings of others. It is the opposite of the self-servitude or self-interest that often comes with privilege or power. And its absence has the potential to shape religious movements and landscapes in a powerfully negative way.
Acceptance comes when we embrace who we are in the eyes of the Creator. And as I reflect on the events of that morning, I need not have changed a thing. We do not need to keep a vigilant watch over every word and every action to hold steady a rocking ship. We are allowed a voice, a dissenting opinion, and a rogue desire. As human beings, we can feel disempowered at times without having to apologize when unwarranted or ask permission when we don’t need it. Because when we accept that “too much” is precisely enough, we will create a space for all people to speak their truth, their pain, and their power. And in the end, the Kingdom of God will be better for it.