This is a transcript of a public talk given 2018-03-25
I’d like to begin by admitting that I have a fear of public speaking. So right now there is this little voice in the back of my mind telling me that I’m going to be horrible at this and that I’m going to humiliate myself up here today and I’ll be so bad that I’ll just never be able to come back to this church ever again. And of course that fear is ridiculous, certainly not because I’m a great public speaker or anything, but because I know you guys. I know that even if I’m not any good at this, you’re not going to ridicule me or make fun of me. I know that you’ll have empathy for me. I know that you’ll be here for me, you’ll comfort me and you’ll reassure me. Rationally I know this because I know you guys, and yet this fear I’m feeling remains.
So what can we do about this kind of irrational fear in our lives? How can we help each other begin to live our lives with less fear. For me, I believe that fear remains until we stop hiding from it, until we acknowledge it, until we decide to turn and face into it and walk right through the middle of it. But the problem is, that’s not an easy thing to do, especially when we try to do it alone, and by ourselves. Personally, I’m not that brave. I don’t want to face my fear alone whenever I don’t absolutely have to. And luckily today I don’t have to because you are here with me and with your help I’m not alone. I feel very humble and grateful in this experience and I’d like to talk about that and the role that humility plays in the ways that we help each other.
First I would like to read something about feeling alone in the world. It’s about wanting to make some kind of peace with that experience, to find some purpose in it yet at the same time wanting to learn how to step out of it, move beyond it and genuinely connect with others, and maybe in that connection find the courage to face our fears together. It’s called Sacred Fire;
Read Sacred Fire
I would like to propose that there is healing power for all of us when we embrace the opportunity to share our loneliness, our fears, our failures and our grief with each other. But this can be so difficult because as a society we do tend to treat these things like they are shameful in some way. We are a society that puts tremendous value on rugged independence, self-sufficiency, and the kind of bold, loner, fearlessness that our ancestors used to tame the wild west of our history. We are taught to keep our doubts, our fears and our pain private, and that to do otherwise is to show some kind of weakness. So… much of the time we may be afraid to share these things.
On the surface it might seem that being raised in such a society would create people who are tough and can withstand any hardship. But even if it does do that… maybe we should ask “at what price?” Doesn’t it also greatly damage our ability to share our humanity with each other, because what is more human than fear, failure and grief? When do we need people more than when we are afraid or when we have failed at something or when we have been hurt? And yet we learn to hide, to deny and to internalize all of these things in order to not appear weak. We learn to suffer these things alone and that is very tragic.
Because recent studies have shown that the word alone is used in the social media posts of people with depression more frequently than any other word when they describe themselves and their experiences. While we used to view social isolation as a side effect of depression, newer research is starting to assert that it may also be one of the major contributing causes of depression as well. The number of people who report being alone and feeling lonely in our society is increasing and so is depression.
Unfortunately in our society we tend to stigmatize it and consequently tend not to talk about it especially when it happens to us. Society teaches us that it is the social norm, maybe even our own moral obligation to always be that strong, and independent person. We are made to feel as though nobody wants to hear our problems. We are taught to keep that messiness of our own most painful yet poignant human experiences neatly hidden away from public view. This is one of the most limiting and even destructive things we can do to ourselves. I believe that I can speak for all of us here today when I say that when you feel alone, afraid, hurt, or humiliated in some way, it matters to the rest of us here, it’s important and it’s not something you need to hide or pretend like it isn’t there. If you’re hurting, we will hurt with you, if you are grieving, we will grieve with you. Please do not suffer these things alone.
And maybe this is where we might find humility. Maybe we find it when we see someone who is alone in their suffering, whatever it is, and we feel the desire to help them. Because they don’t need us to be perfect. They don’t need us to be successful or important or powerful. What they need is for us to just show up and sit with them. They need us to listen and to just be there with them as openly, honestly and as authentically as we can be. We only have to show up with our love for them, our humility and our willingness to be of service in helping them. Maybe that is the moment when we finally find the humility to admit to our own failures and fears and admit that some of the time maybe we don’t feel perfect. Maybe we even feel so grievously damaged by the events of our lives that we think that we are irrevocably broken in some ways. Maybe we have each of us failed at so many things in utterly spectacular fashion that we couldn’t even begin to count them all. I know I have. And I’ll gladly stand up here today and flat out admit that I know that I’m broken in some ways. I am. And I grieve the things that I’ve lost, the things I’ve let pass me by and most especially I grieve the harm that I’ve recklessly caused in the world and that I am personally responsible for. But ultimately, we can also be broken open by these experiences in a way that helps us feel compassion for those who are going through the same kind of experiences. When we see someone who is alone in their suffering, we can be absolutely nothing and nobody in the world and it doesn’t matter to them.
In that moment when they need us, in that moment together with them, we can help them and help ourselves experience the most powerful, beautiful and Sacred experience this life has to offer; It is the experience of genuine, honest, vulnerable connection with someone else. That moment… asks that we accept the gift of the humility that we might feel in the presence of such an opportunity and responsibility. It is the visitation of grace and providence in our lives. It is the gift of humility that can make us feel so utterly small yet somehow incomprehensibly vast and alive in the communion of our connection with each other.
This is the gift that you have given to me by being with me and helping me. You didn’t ask me to do anything to earn it or deserve it. I simply arrived and you gave me your compassion and your empathy and in so doing taught me that I am not alone. You are the visitation of grace and providence in my life and because of this, because of you, I feel a deep sense of humility and gratitude.
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