I wonder how good you are at speaking up for yourself, I know I am not particularly good at it, I want to please, so will easily agree to stuff that then begins to play on my mind, I shouldn’t have said yes, I should have asked for time to think about it, then I may have given myself the space to say no, but no, I jump in, being agreeable.
The trouble with being agreeable is that it comes back to bite you, the yes that was so easy to say becomes a dark cloud looming over you and you start to feel resentful, which is very unfair to those who had simply asked you to do something, and took your agreement for genuine agreement, which strangely it probably was at the time. The problem is that that yes should probably have been a no.
Recently I have backed out of an event because the closer it got the more difficult actually attending it became, I finally got up the courage to advocate for myself, and explained my reasons and fears and was met with understanding and acceptance. I was met with understanding and acceptance where I had feared judgement and misunderstanding. My fears were unfounded.
As I step back and take a long look at all of this, I am aware that being agreeable has its roots in my childhood, where appearances were all important. I had taken this into other areas of life, finding the knee jerk reaction of saying yes to everything has landed me in the midst of all sorts of unhelpful situations. It has caused mis-understandings, it’s broken relationships, and it has led to frustrations on both sides. It also has recent roots in a series of very difficult meetings, meetings that made me feel unsafe for a variety of reasons.
So, I have decided to adopt a new strategy, a strategy that gives me space for reflection before making a decision when asked to do something, and that is to put in a let me think about it break, and if my attendance at something is simply required, I am going to ask for the opportunity to withdraw if it feels too much for me. Looking after ourselves can be such a difficult thing to do, especially when it comes with loaded expectations, and when the easier course , at least at first is to simply do the expected.
Doing the expected, at deep personal cost, is however neither sustainable nor honest to speak up may seem costly, but in the long run it will pay off, it is about not only knowing yourself, but loving yourself enough to name your needs. It requires both vulnerability and humility, I wonder how is it that we can learn love ourselves so that we might extend that love to others? Because I think that we have been taught to hate and despise ourselves, to put ourselves down to set ourselves aside, and dare I say that this is particularly true for women, and for any who identify as LGBTQI+, for neuro-diverse people, for people of colour…. well come on let me just say it, for any who aren’t straight white men.
Loving yourself when you have been taught that love need to be earned is tough, when you are expected to be or appear a certain way and you can’t live into the expectation brings in shame, shame begets shame and wants to be hidden, and so slips in the mask of agreeability. The yes person, who is a non-person because they have lost touch with themselves. I do realise that this can affect everybody, including straight white men, so I am not man bashing, just speaking from my own perspective where some of the privileges afforded to some aren’t mine. To take off the mask means encountering shame, which can be powerful, for usually it shouts loudly but has shallow roots, or it can be dealt with by an honest encounter with grace and self-forgiveness.
Perfect love casts out fear, so we are told, but it takes guts at times to put yourself in the way of perfect love, because imperfect love has too often been an imposter in our lives. It’s hard to love yourself when you follow people who degrade your humanity and teach you to hate yourself and to fear other people. It’s hard to love yourself when you’re being used by powerful people to carry out an agenda that buttresses their power but disempowers you. To be told that because of your gender you shouldn’t lead or preach something that still prevails in some corners of the church, or that because of your colour you are of lesser wort, something that still prevails in some corners of society, or that because of your sexuality you are an abomination; as before the list goes on.
All that said, the message of the gospel is one of perfect love, a perfect love that shines through the life of Jesus as he accepts the unacceptable and blesses the outcast, a love that challenges the systems political and religious, a love that can and longs to set us free. The Samaritan woman found that love when she encountered Jesus at a well in the middle of the day, neither of them should have been there, mid-day was not a good time for drawing water, and good Jewish men don’t hang around wells in Samaria! But, there they were, and as their conversation went on he revealed that he knew all about her, and offered her a new life, living water welling up from within, her true self set free to flow with a freshness that had long been stoppered up by fear and shame. Something must have utterly transformed her, because when she returned to the village where she had previously been shunned, the villagers receive her message with joy and flock out to see Jesus for themselves.
I need that transformation, I know that, and while I often preach , that, that love is possible, I fail to receive it because I am hiding behind my agreeable mask. The surprise is, that when I took that mask off, and stated my need, which required both vulnerability and humility, then I was met by love and grace, it was worth the risk.