My Soul’s Question

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“The real question is can you love the real me…Not that image you had of me, but who I really am”

-Christine Feehan

This is my soul’s question. It arrests me every moment of every day. I’m asking this question in one way or another with each glance and conversation. I’ve been asking it for decades, and still feel as though I’m waiting for an answer. Truth is, as desperately as I want to know, I’m also terrified of letting people get close enough to tell me. Can I share an even deeper truth? The first person I’m asking this question of, is me.

If you’ve read Coming Back to You, you likely recognize the quote above from the chapter on Enneagram type 3. I was first introduced to the enneagram about three years ago by a friend of mine. He invited our cohort to take the official test as a group bonding exercise, so I took some time and responded to all 144 questions. Having enjoyed the Meyers-Briggs assessment, I was curious about what this new-fangled test would tell me. I answered the final question and tabulated my results, but rather than a sense of relief and intrigue, I felt disappointment.

The results weren’t definitive. They gave me three different types that could be my primary type. It was descriptive to a fault, and wholly unsatisfactory. I wanted the enneagram to explain me, and it left me with more questions than answers. In all honesty, the actual problem is that I wanted to be seen, so that I could see myself. The enneagram didn’t so much as clear away the smoke, but rather tried to show me how much smoke was clouding my view. So naturally I ignored it.

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As with most other things in my life, the more popular it became, the more indifferent I was about it. At least publically. Privately, I read articles, took quizzes, and poured over type descriptions ad naseum still desperate to find myself. Last week I retook the test, revisited Coming Back to You, and discussed my thoughts with those who know me best. In doing so, I’ve learned some truths that extend far deeper than my type or wing.

  1. I feet lost because in my quest for survival, I have learned to become anything to anyone at any moment. While my cameleon skills kept me alive at one point, they are no longer helping me.
  2. I want to be stripped of the insecurities and self-doubt that have made me a people pleaser. Free from the shame and inadequacy that drive me to “save” other people. Liberated from the deep loneliness that makes me seek constant attention.
  3. I worry that once I stop performing, pleasing and saving, no one will love me. I’ve tested every relationship with this in mind and eventually they all fail. What I know now is that every time, I was the one failing, not them. What I was seeing in each of these relationships wasn’t always that they couldn’t love me, but that I couldn’t love myself.

So my work is to see myself as I am. That means naming the false narratives I’m holding, so that I can discover my deepest truth. It means pulling back the curtain and inviting people to know the vulnerable man within. It means seeing myself and receiving the love that has always been available to me.

The journey back to me often feels like a transatlantic flight on spirit airlines, but I don’t regret making the trip. On my best days, I see more of myself and love the man in the mirror. On my worst days, I’m still blind to my true intentions and the narratives that shape them. Regardless of which this is, I know that the answer to the question of my soul is first offered within. That’s where I’ll find myself and from there I can welcome others.

What is your soul’s burning question?

Body in a Box

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As soon as I stepped into the sanctuary I knew you were there. My eyes scanned the mostly empty room and came to rest on the blue box in front of the stage. Though I was standing in the back of the room, I could tell you were in that box. Or so I thought. With each measured step forward, I recognized the figure before me less and less until I was certain it wasn’t you. The moment I laid eyes on that mannequin posing as my father, I knew you weren’t there.

You were in my memories playfully throwing jabs and asking if I wanted to fight. You were speaking with me in whispers about family and life. You were reminding me that my purpose was bigger than I knew. I experienced you in a lot of ways, but none of them involved that blue-chrome, man-sized box that we put into the ground.

Has it already been a year since the funeral? A year since I got that call? A year since my life ended and began within the same breath? This year has brought peaks and valleys the likes of which I’ve never seen.

Words don’t capture the full depth and weight of all I’ve felt since you transitioned. I’ve shed tears, expelled guttural screams, and faced endings I wasn’t expecting only to find that I’m still standing. I’m more balanced and rooted than I was before. The storms I thought might overwhelm me, have served to level my foundations and strengthen my roots. Preparing me for the journey forward.

Photo by Anton Darius | @theSollers on Unsplash

While in one breath I’m greatful, in another I wonder if it was worth it. What If I don’t want to miss you? What if I want to see you hold my child? What if I’m tired of feeling that golf-ball sized lump in my throat that reminds me you are gone? Does that have to be the trade-off for my growth? Was there no other way?

I ask but I know the answer, or rather, I know there is no answer. Whether or not things could have gone differently is irrelevant. This is the path I’m on, and this is the year I’ve had.

Within the last twelve months, my spirituality was broken open by a mystical experience. You suddenly passed away. My marriage was deconstructed and regrown. I was diagnosed with clinical depression. I left my church and graduated from seminary. I launched a blog, started a podcast and joined a racial equity consulting organization. I landed a wonderful job, deepened existing relationships, and started new friendships. And to top it all off, I became a father for the first time.

It is no coincidence that your death and my spiritual awakening were just weeks apart or that it was those two events which preceeded everything else. In fact, its actually quite fitting. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you planned it that way.

This is one of my favorite pictures of my pops! It captures his spirit.

Though the pain and grief of your transition are still very real, so too is our connection. I no longer tangibly feel you, but in a deeper sense, I feel more connected to you now than I ever have before.

I sense you in the quiet moments. Your cool, reassuring presence reminds me that I’m not alone. Your strength reverbrates throughout my chest with a rich, steadying warmth that soothes me and slowly brings a smile to my face. It’s these subtle moments of connection for which I’m eternally grateful.

Though we put a body in a box and a box in the ground nearly one year ago, we didn’t bury you. You’re here even now, connected, loving, and gently reminding me of my purpose. Thank you pops. I love you and miss you.

Your “Mighty Man of God“,


Disney Therapy

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I love the Lion King!!! I loved it the moment I heard James Earl Jones cry out “Remember Who You Are.” And my obsession only grew when Beyonce harmonized during “Can You Feel The Love Tonight”. Whether we’re talking the remake or the original, the Lion King is the defining Disney movie of my generation.

The lists of life lessons it offers are virtually endless.

  • Wisdom only comes with age and experience
  • The truth will set you free
  • Skinfolk ain’t always kinfolk
  • Good discipline is grounded in love, not fear

After my counsling session today, I added another lesson to the list. It involves my self-worth. Believe it or not, I struggle with low self-worth. While I try to appear confident, the truth is, there are moments when I feel unwanted, unworthy and unloved

I’d say, about 80% of the time, I’m comfortable and confident in who I am, but the other 20% I’m mired in insecurity. Even the act of naming that I struggle with self-worth makes me feel vulnerable and weak like a little boy. A boy who is uncertain, afraid and uncomfortably alone in a threatening world. A boy who believes he’s on his own, so his only choices are to puff out his chest and hope he can scare off those who wish him harm, or to slink into the shadows in the hopes that he can hide until danger passes.

If you’ve been around me long enough you’ve seen both of these responses manifest as either arrogance or painful shyness. Though seemingly opposite, they’re different reactions to my insecurity.

While I’ve had an idea that this was true for a while, I’ve never known why I get triggered or how to deescalate after its happenned. That is, until my counselor utilized what I’m calling Disney Therapy to help me gain insight. There is a pivotal moment in the Lion King when Simba confronts his shame and misplaced identity.

Nala tells him to return to Pride Rock as the rightful King, but he doesn’t feel worthy. He’s wandering the grassland and runs into Rafiki who tells him his father wants to speak with him. Rafiki takes Simba to a lake and instructs him to look into the water. At first, Simba only sees his own reflection, but (after a quick strike from Rafiki), he looks again and as the ripples dissipate, Mufassa’s image appears.

It is then that Simba recognizes that Mufassa is within him, and embraces the entirety of his identity as King. He returns to Pride Rock and defeats Scar because he internalized who his dad said he was. When Simba couldn’t hear his own voice, Mufassa’s offerred clarity.

Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash

When I feel insecure about who I am, what voice do I hear? What messages am I falling back on? Do I hear Mufassa or Scar? Unlike Simba, when I look in the lake, I see both. When I’m at my best, I’m falling back onto the messages of love, acceptance and confidence that loved ones have instilled in me. At my worst, I’m reminded that I can’t please anyone I’m not enough, and I don’t deserve love.

What determines which message I’ll receive? Sometimes its as simple as having a virtuous friend (or counselor) who can gently hit me on the head and invite me to look again, until I see what I most deeply know to be true. That I am worthy of love and grace. I am beautiful. I am me, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Wrestling with low self-worth means that in certain moments, I forget who I really am, and buy into the embedded messages I’ve picked up along the way, but they don’t have to be the only messages I hear. Once again, the Lion King has proven to be invaluable in my personal growth. I hope I’ve convinced you of its unparralled greatness, but more importantly, I hope you know its okay to have moments when you feel unworthy, invisible or insecure. If you can’t remember who you are, seek out people who will invite you to look again until you do.

When you look at yourself in the mirror, who do you see?

What does it mean for you to remember who you are today?

Who plays the role of Nala or Rafikki in your life?

Clarity Is Always On time

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Life is a journey not a destination.

Raise your hand if you’ve heard this before. Its one of those phrases that we believe to be true, but can’t actually make sense of. The meaning of this aphorism finally kicked in as I was reflecting on something my counselor said about clarity taking its time.

I was trying to unpack what love is and how I experience it. Do I feel a different love for my wife than I do for my family? Do I love my adoptive mom the same way I love my biological mom? Is romantic love different than platonic love? Even a question as simple as what is love, gives me pause. I don’t know if everyone struggles with these questions, but I’m certain my tumultuous childhood did me no favors when it comes to understanding them.

A child’s connection to their parents heavily influences how they process and connect with the rest of the world. Unfortunately for me, that emotional development was repeatedly interrupted by abuse and neglect. As a result, I’m still doing the messy work of deconstructing my emotional foundation twenty years later.

I want answers to these questions and I want them now. How can I be a good husband, friend or son if I don’t know how I understand or experience something as basic as love? Some days it feels as though my entire web of relationships hangs in the balance as I wait for the right epiphany.

Though clarity can’t be rushed, I try doggedly to speed it up. I want simple answers and I want them quickly. Every fiber in my being craves the comfort that certainty brings, and the longer I go without it, the more unsettled I feel.

If clarity evades me long enough, the internal tension lingers and I become convinced I’m doing something wrong. Its as if the discomfort is an indication of trouble rather than a reminder that I’m on the right path.

When I become focused on resolving the tension, I miss what I’m actually supposed to be learning. I miss the journey that takes place between the question and its answer(s) because it is difficult, uncomfortable and a bit nonsensical. In some ways, its not that different than the journey of pregnancy. (Its been on my mind a lot lol).

Photo by Kewei Hu on Unsplash

For 40 weeks a woman’s body is changing in ways that are also difficult, uncomfortable and a bit nonsensical. (I’m certain only pregnancy and marijuana make one perpetually crave frosted flakes and pizza puffs). She takes the stretching, cravings and discomfort in stride and soon begins to marvel at the miracle taking place within her. She learns that her body is capable of so much more than she ever imagined and thus so is she. All of this learning and growth happens before the baby is even born. Pregnancy is the time between the question “what is happening” and the audible cries of new life that are its answer.*

The same is true for us. The time between our questions and answers is both challenging and wondrous if we’re willing to embrace the journey and forgo our demands for comfort. Sometimes it feels like my world is crumbling while I wait on clarity, but the truth is, though I don’t fully understand love, I know I still experience it.

Brooke and I have been through some trying times over the last decade, but somehow we always come out of it having grown as individuals and as a couple. Why? Love. Not the mushy-gooshy love you see in the Notebook (I hate that movie). Its more like the love you see in P.S. I love you. It’s messy, painful at times and hella persistent. It’s a love birthed by the tension and discomfort of the journey.

While I still wish clarity would come a little sooner, I also recognize that I’ve come this far because of the discomfort the journey produces, not in spite of it. Life is a journey and our travel guide is clarity. She cannot be rushed and is always on time.

Truth is in the Shadows

“I don’t trust that people are going to accept all of me.”

“And yet you can’t even accept yourself.”

My counselor’s observation caught me off-guard, but before I could get defensive or wonder what she meant, the truth of her words seeped into my consciousness. I am hidden. There are parts of my identity that have been relegated to the shadows so I can pretend they don’t exist.

One holds all of my shame. He reminds me of the ways I’ve failed and is certain I don’t deserve to be loved. Another carries my overpowering fear. His head is on a swivel; constantly searching for danger and disappointment. Still others hold my rage, anxiety and doubt. These shadow-selves lurk in the backround of my awareness because I refuse to accept them as the real Ben Tapper.

They don’t align with the person I’m trying to be, and yet they are probably the most authentic parts of me. I want to be this bold, outgoing man who has healed from his childhood trauma. I want to wake up with no residue of the pain I’ve experienced. Yet as my eyes open each morning and I take that first conscious breath, I feel the same fragility that plagued me the night before. I’ve assumed this fragility was meant to be overcome, but perhaps it is meant to be embraced.

I can keep pretending, or I can face the discomfort of my invisible truths and invite my shadow-selves into the light. I reconize the shame, anxiety, doubt, rage and fear that are embedded within me. These aren’t defects I need to improve. They’re responses I hope to understand.

Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

Healing isn’t about becoming the ideal version of myself. Healing is about seeing and accepting my truths, so that I might love who I am in this moment. For better or worse, who I am includes shame, insecurity, anger and a host of other emotions I don’t want to acknowledge.

There is something especially terrifying about accepting my whole self. It triggers a miniature identity crisis as my true self comes face-to-face with the partial persona I’ve constructed and put on display. I feel vulnerable and exposed when all I want to do is feel safe and comfortable. However, the journey I’m on demands growth, and growth requires discomfort. So here I am.

I’m not who I want to be, and that is ok. This. Is. Me. Vulnerable and Resilient. Bold and Terrified. Confident and Insecure. I’ve been hiding from myself for years because I wasn’t ready to accept my complexities and shadows. Now I understand that there is no other to get where I’m trying to go. I have to tell the truth. If I don’t accept myself, I won’t ever now when someone else does.

What parts of yourself do you push into the shadows? What version of you are you working to keep others from discovering? Even if you’re not yet ready to take the step into acceptance, at least write down or name these shadow-selves. Once they’re named, they’re much more difficult to forget.

The work of Radical Self-Awareness is not easy by any means, but it is worth it. As much as we like the light, remember that the truth is often in the shadows.

Lessons from Pops

“Love you Ben”

My dad’s voice still rings in my ears as I hold our final conversation with both gratitude and grief. With Father’s Day around the corner, and a child of my own on the way, I’m reflecting on the example my dad left for me to follow. He was a man of many words and infinite love.

“Eat the meat and spit out the bones”

This was a phrase my dad said religiously. It was his way of reminding me to listen to what he said, but decide for myself what was worth holding onto. He didn’t want me to mindlessly take his advice. Even though he was a man of deep convictions, he understood that what was true for him wasnt necessarily true for me.

Everything a parent does from discipline to play, must be in service of sharing wisdom and helping the child understand how to uniquely move through the world. My dad embodied this belief most profoundly during my adolescence. Which meant he offered advice rather than instruction. He listened patiently when I was frustrated and comiserated with me when my heart was broken. During my teenage years, my dad became my friend. While our friendship took a hit once I went to college, I have always appreciated our friendship.

Photo by Humphrey Muleba on Unsplash

Even before we became friends, however, I knew my dad believed everything was about love. This wasn’t something I heard him say, but rather something I watched him live out. He was the most loving person I knew. No matter how many people were added to his family through foster care, adoption or marriage, he loved each person as if they were his own. His love didn’t have an off-switch. He thought about and prayed for each of his children, grandchildren and former foster children. We were always on his heart.

As I anticipate the arrival of baby Jebediah, (don’t worry-Brooke already vetoed that name), I feel even more appreciative of my dad’s committment to being a friend and covering his children with love. I’ll admit that my dad wasn’t perfect. We disagreed on a lot of things, but even still, he gave me a model to follow.

This will be the first Father’s Day in over twenty years that I won’t be able to tell my dad I love him. While my grief has been strong this week, I’m comforted by the love and the lessons he has left with me.

As we celebrate Father’s Day, I encourage you to reflect on the lessons you’re holding from the people who have served as guides for you. They might be fathers, mothers, grandparents, mentors, etc…

Whoever has been there to love and guide you, can be celebrated on Father’s Day. I’ve just decreed it. Now that you have my permission, celebrate whomever is deserving of recognition in your life and take time to appreciate their investment in you.

The Miracle of Life

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“There’s the heartbeat…”

The nurse spoke in a matter-of-fact tone, but for me this was anything but ordinary. I looked at the screen in disbelief. The image turned and twirled with an energy I thought impossible. In that moment, I wasn’t hearing the rapid beating of a heart or the frantic movement of a fetus, I was looking at my child. Suddenly I was a father.

In an instant it all became real to me. It’s one thing to know you’re going to have a child. It is another thing entirely to see that child and hear its heartbeat. I was filled with a sense of childlike wonder as I looked at the ultrasound. I’d gone into the appointment expecting to see a small blob on the screen, but I watched in amazement as the nurse highlighted a mouth, fingers, and eyes all beginning to form, and I saw this for what it was…

…A Miracle

This is a miracle, not because we’d been trying to have a child for over two years, but because nothing changes your life quite like becoming a parent. Just as Brooke’s body is expanding to make room for the new life within, our relationship and individual perspectives are doing the same. Previous boundaries and walls are bending and stretching as space is created withing both of us to protect, nurture and hold this new life.

This new space is already shedding light on my secret motivations. I used to selfishly want a child in order to prove that I’d broken the cycle of poverty and abuse. I needed to prove that I wasn’t going to repeat the mistakes of my step-dad. In my mind, being being the father he wasn’t would complete my story arc. I’ve secretely measured myself against him for such a long time. I’ve spent a lot of energy trying to prove to myself that I’m different from him, and in doing so have allowed him to define me. He won’t define my child’s life.

As the full weight of our miracle sinks in, it has already ushered in deeper release and healing for me. The shadow of my step-dad lingers in the background, but its chill is being replaced by the gentle warmth of hope and the winds of resilience. I have nothing to prove to myself or anyone else. My only work is to create enough space and safety for this child to explore who they are and move into their own identity.

The space within me is filled with abject terror, indominable joy and every emotion in between. There is so much to consider, and so much I don’t know. As I think through the myriad of decisions that are to come, the gentle voice of the Spirit whispers “do the next right thing in love.” This reminder pulls my gaze from the distant future to the most immediate step right here, right now. I may not know how I’ll do all of the things, but I’m confident I can do the next thing.

Stinky diapers, sleepless nights and incessant crying are on the horizon, but so too are baby snuggles, first steps, and ecstatic giggles. As we prepare for all that is changing, I return to the first rapid beats of our child’s heart and am reminded that everything from here on out is indeed a miracle.

Patience Is The Best Coach

“You have to keep chipping away at it.”

The words registered, but I didn’t like what I was hearing. My counselor was imploring me to be patient as I uncovered deeper truths about my past traumas. She used the metaphor of chipping away at a large slab of stone to reveal what is underneath. You chip away piece by piece over time. It is a painstaking work that requires patience.

This may have been sage wisdom, but to my ears it was like nails on a chalkboard. When you feel the flood of anxiety, the flames of anger or the cloak of depression day in and day out, patience feels like a luxury you don’t have. I wanted the internal struggle I’d been living with for years to end. I wanted resolution, peace and freedom, yet the more I uncovered in counseling, the less I understood about myself. I finally exclaimed:

“I just don’t know what I’m supposed to do!”

To which she instructed me to keep chippin away slowly. For a split second I considered challening her. I couldn’t afford to wait. I needed answers for my marriage, my friendships and most importantly for myself. I couldn’t keep doing things exactly as they’d always been done. Patiently chipping away at the mountain of my emotional baggage just wasn’t an option. Yet even as the challenege was forming in my mind, the wisdom of her words sank in and a fundamental strategy for healing revealed itself.

Patience is the best coach
Two years ago I started running again, and since I hadn’t run in nearly a decade, I created a plan and gradually built up my mileage so I would avoid injury. I’m kidding, I jumped right in because I’m Ben Tapper and that’s what I do.

Fun fact: Your body is not the same at 28 as it is at 18. I discoered this ground breaking news when I abruptly awoke one morning with left knee pain. The soreness lingered for a few days, then a few weeks and soon I had been sidelined for a few months. The diagnosis was a simple one: runners knee. One of the most common running injuries. The treatment was also simple: rest, strengthen muscle imbalance, and ease back into the activity.

Why was I sidelined for months? I was impatient. As soon as I started to feel better, I’d hit the trails as if I’d never been injured. I had no desire to do the workouts I’d gotten from the trainer. I wanted to run, so I did and every time I was reinjured. I didn’t start healing until I accepted that my body wasn’t 18, started doing exercises to strengthen muscle imbalances and took plenty of time to rest.

The same strategies hold true with emotional healing. We need to do accept ourselves as we are, do the slow work of strengthening weakened and damaged areas of ourselves and take our rest seriously allowing patience to be our coach.

The moment I began incorporating these strategies, my anxiety loosened and hope began to fill the spaces it had vacated. I can now recognize the progress I’ve made, and it reminds me to continue to chip away. Some days I still feel frustrated and exhausted from the work of self-awareness, but I know it is worthwhile.

What mountain do you need to continue chipping away at today?

Your Purpose Is Present

Photo by Danica Tanjutco on Unsplash

The first time I sensed death, I watched my younger sister gasp for air, her small hands clutching at my step-father’s fingers trying desperately to pull them from her throat. I stood maybe 5 feet away in complete and total shock. My mind screamed at me to do something to stop him, but every muscle in my body remained frozen. I screamed, yet no sound came. I was so overcome by horror that I couldn’t move or speak. Time stood still as the moments stretched into eternity. After what seemed like years, but was only a few seconds my mom intervened and saved my sister’s life.

Death passed us by, but it’s grandchild, terror, did not. I still feel the intensity of that fear in my muscles. My vocal chords instinctively tighten as those frantic seconds play again and again in my mind. Just as my feet were frozen to the floor, that moment is forever frozen into my being. I can barely fathom how my sister carries that trauma within her. While most children my age were imagining what they wanted to be when they grew up, I only hoped to keep my siblings and I alive.

I knew nothing of shooting for the moon or landing among the stars. The notion of a greater purpose wasn’t even a dream for me. It was nonexistant. In its place stood the need to survive. Traumatic moments have a way of stickign with us because trauma is embodied so that even if our memories fade, our bodies never forget what we’ve gone through. I’ve coped with this living trauma by disconnecting from my emotions and as well as body.

In some ways, this disconnection was my way of trying to outrun the pain, doubt and lingering fear. Sadly I’ve only managed to outrun myself, and my purpose. When I say purpose, I don’t mean a future goal or an Avengers-esque drama. Google describes it as (I’m a Millennial, of course I googled it) “the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists”, and I trust Google.

I can’t possibly live into my reason for being until I more deeply live into myself. Which means that my purpose is present. The reason I exist is not found next year, but rather within my next breath. It is found within me, right here and right now.

Photo by Fares Hamouche on Unsplash

Purpose is found within the truths I don’t want to admit to myself or anyone else. Truths like, I often don’t feel good enough. I relish the attention I receive from people who find me charming, charismatic or attractive because it validates a part of me that I struggle to name as worthy. Worse still, I somehow move through life feeling both confident and completely inadequate. How can that be? I’m not sure, but I think we all hold dissonant truths within ourselves.

Something about facing these uncomfortable, embarrassing or even shameful truths decongests our intuitive centers and allows us to feel, know and sense more deeply. When I name my truths, I feel as though I’m peeling back a layer of my false self and inching towards the truest essence of who I actually am. I’m removing the face paint one layer at a time, so that I can see and be seen in the most genuine way possible. As I do so, I feel the release occur. It is terrifying as it is happenning, but I never regret facing the truth. It really can set us free if we are open to hearing it.

Trauma blinds us to the truth, limits our ability to dream and conceals our most authentic purpose. However, purpose is both present and persistent, always waiting for us right here and right now. We can only access it by remaining present and facing the messy truths we desperately want to ignore.

What internal truth stands between you and your present purpose this week?

P.S. Last week I ended my blog post by referencing someone who called me out for saying things that didn’t align with my feminism. This week, another friend of mine informed me that though I appear confident, fear and insecurity still affect me to the point that they even hinder my writing. As a result, I’ve tried to be mindful of the moments in which I most notice my insecurity and fear take charge.

Run the Run You Can…

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You’re wasting your time. Push yourself! You’re suppossed to be uncomfortable!

The voice is so subtle, I almost forget its there, but steadily it pushes me harder, further and faster. Not to be confused with “higher, further, faster” from Captain Marvel. The voice echoes in my mind like a drill sergeant telling me to ignore my body, focus and push past my limits. While that push is useful from time to time, it isn’t meant to ring out during each and every run. Yet for me, it does.

Moreover, the drill sergeant doesn’t just ask that I try harder. When I come up short, and I often do, he is there to berate me as well. Criticism my effort, dedication and intention. This is the voice I contend with on a daily basis

The self-criticism isn’t limited to my workouts either. I hear the judgment in my relationships, at work and even when I’m relaxing. In fact, sometimes I feel guilty for relaxing because I imagine everything I could be doing instead. If I’m not careful, the constant judgment allows shame to seep into my consciousness, coating every thought and infecting every emotion as I’m left wondering:

What is wrong with me?

The answer seems obvious: I’m not enough. Not strong enough, disciplined enough, tough enough, etc…My inadequacies continue to play in my mind on shuffle. Every time I make a mistake, real or perceived, the aforementioned question rings out and unleashes as a flash flood of guilt which cascades into the deepest, most vulnerable parts of my being.

For example: I was speaking with someone close to me about my own struggles with the parts of myself that demand perfection and restraint and the parts that demand freedom and enjoyment. Seemingly out of nowhere they offerred up this nugget of truth.

“I think there has to be a balance. For instance, you go too far sometimes in your quest for freedom. In fact, you even sound like a pig on occassion. I don’t think people want to tell you that, so no one brings it up, but I’ve seen it. You can be pigish (objectifying or demeaning to women).”

I sat there dumbfounded and embarrassed. My first reaction was defensive. Then confused because it felt off-topic, but I slowly realized that I trust this person, so if they’re telling me this, its likely true. As this dawned on me, my inner dialogue turned negative. “I’m such a hypocrite. Can I even call myself a feminist anymore? I bet a lot of people think I’m two-faced. I talk about feminism and mansplain, but when it comes down to it, I’m no better than anyone else.”

I was definitely shaken. For better or worse, the opinions of people, particularly those close to me still matter a lot. So as I imagined all of the people who might also think I act pigish, I felt deeply ashamed.

If that conversation had occurred a year ago, I would’ve been imprisoned by my own self-talk. My mind would have continued to highlight every failure as evidence that I’m broken, flawed and not good enough.

Fortunately that conversation didn’t happen a year ago. It happenned this week. Even more fortunate for me is the fact that two days beforehand, I heard another voice that challenged the drill sergeant.

Photo by MI PHAM on Unsplash

I was five minutes into my run on Monday when I started to become concerned with my pace. I pushed myself to move faster as my lungs heaved to keep up with the demand I was placing on them. Just as the drill sergeant was starting to demand even more from me, another voice broke through the noise and offerred a soothing admonition.

“Run the run you can.”

The words settled on me like an aloe vera salve for the soul and I soon settled into a rhythm that felt more comfortable. In doing so, I not only reconnected with my body, but I accepted what it was telling me. Rather than the rush of shame and frustration, I felt a gentle peace wash over me. I was hearing the voice of my inner coach.

In fact, the first time I heard the phrase ‘run the run you can’ was from Coach Bennett on the Nike Run Club App. He often starts runs with this gentle admonition. It is a reminder to let go of expectations, pay attention to your body and accept how you’re feeling. While this is great advice for athletes, it is also great advice for life.

That simple phrase is my invitation to be gentle with myself and receive the grace I so readily offer everyone else. In an ideal world, I’d be a perfect feminist ally who never said or did anything offensive. Unfortunately this isn’t a perfect world, so I can fixate on all I should have done or acknowledge my mistake and move forward with what I can do.

So when I was told that I sometimes come off as pigish, I accepted that truth, then offered myself grace. I didn’t spend the evening trying to remember everything I’ve ever said that could have been offensive. I didn’t berate myself or question my feminist credentials. I accepted my mistake, took a few breaths, and let go with the intention to be more aware so that I don’t repeat the same harmful errors.

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

As you contemplate the places in your life where you most often hear the inner critic, where do you need to accept and let go? These questions may be helpful for you to reflect upon.

What expectations do you need to let go of for yourself, your situation or your relationships? Discontentment is often the result of our refusal to let go of the expectations we hold. You have permission to discard harmful or toxic expectations, so be honest about what needs to fall away.

When was the last time you paid attention to your body? Remember that attention=intention+time.

Which feelings are you unwilling to accept? Our emotions have a lot to teach us, but we can’t learn if we silence them.

If you’ve ever felt the rush of shame from your inner critic, you’re familiar with the voice that works diligently to magnify your inadequacies and highlight your shortcomings. Remember that another voice is also present, inviting you to give yourself grace.

We can’t always run the run we want to, but we most definitely have everything we need to run the run we can. Let that guide you as you journey this week.

P.S. To the person who called me out this week, thank you. One of the most underrated verses in all of scripture is Provers 27:6. I use the NIV translation because it is the first I learned. “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but the enemy multiplies kisses.” True friends call you out in love.