My friend spotted me from across the coffee shop and exclaimed: “Hey! What are you doing here?!”
“Oh, I’m taking a little PTO this morning to write,” I replied.
“Cool, yeah, I saw you’d started a blog.”
“Uh huh, I’m having fun with it! You should check out my site and let me know what you think.”
“Mmm, that’s not really my thing.”
“Food policy? I know it can be dense, but everyone who eats should care about food policy.”
“Oh, no, I’m really interested in food policy.”
Ouch ouch ouch. I tried to keep the knife in my gut from twisting as I changed the subject: “Oh, well, what are you doing here?”
I mentally replayed our conversation many times and eventually stopped writing. Not only because of my friend’s hurtful comment—I got a new, less flexible job, then had a baby—but I look back on that moment as a turning point in how I felt about my work.
I knew from my painstaking research that the site would likely have a slow start, but I loved the idea of marrying food and food policy. It would be the best of both worlds: I’d draw in readers with recipes, photographs, and my love of cooking, then add bits of food policy in each post. I’d push myself to learn, create, and educate; I’d help others eat more mindfully, maybe waste less food. Perhaps my work would become widely circulated. I both laughed and took myself seriously as my imagination ran wild: a cookbook deal would be first, of course, then speaking tours. I’d meet my food policy idols and become their peer, revered for my ability to make obtuse guidelines and regulations accessible to the masses. We’d review each other’s work; I’d be invited to guest lecture at top institutions. Eventually I’d have no choice but to earn a doctorate and establish a school of food policy at my alma mater. Why not me?
So, I carefully prepared for success and poured myself into producing quality content. I learned—kind of!—how to use a DSLR camera, made small investments in professional-grade hosting and graphic design, and soaked up as much food policy as I could, wading through countless articles and documents to reach a deeper understanding of our complex food system. I was thorough. I was consistent. Nothing could stop me.
Until that day in the coffee shop, when my friend’s careless remark slapped me in the face and settled deep into my soul, taking root, giving life to self-doubt: reinforcing fear of failure, and of rejection. I was busier, yes, but I also started to believe no one cared about my work, this project I’d devoted time, money, and energy to.
Why hasn’t she followed my social media accounts?
Maybe she likes food blogs, just not mine.
Why doesn’t he like any of my posts?
Maybe he’s into food policy, just not what I think.
Why didn’t anyone comment?
Maybe if my closest friends aren’t responsive, I shouldn’t be doing this.
I told myself it didn’t matter: I would create for the sake of creating. Get real, Katie.
The thing is, I wasn’t writing about social justice for the sole purpose—we rarely have a sole purpose, right?—of expressing myself artistically. I wanted to have a conversation, pose a question, encourage a movement. I did care about being like-able; I wanted a response. And when I didn’t get it, I told myself it’s because you were interested, but not in me. Ah, the shame of sharing.
I’m in this women’s Bible study on emotional health, led by my pastor’s wife, Bianca, and we’ve talked at length about shame—how it’s connected to our fears and defense mechanisms. Bianca has illustrated shame with a story about potty-training one of her sons: when he had to go to the bathroom, he’d run in and call out “Mommy, come in here! I don’t want to be alone.” She’d come in and he’d say “No, Mommy! Go outside. I don’t want you to see me.”
I don’t want you to see me.
We are fundamentally broken creatures who yearn for intimacy: we want to be known, but fear being seen. This is the human condition, feeling the tension of good and evil in our souls.
Our shame is painfully evident on social media, isn’t it? Like most everything we consume in this life, it’s nearly impossible to have a healthy relationship with social media. We keep a close eye on our follower-to-following ratio, we erratically bounce between crafting our ideal selves and “being real,” and we apologize for posting too much or too little. We are above social media, or addicted. We want to pretend what we put out there doesn’t matter to us; we say things like “Oh, this is all superficial” and “People don’t have authentic interactions this way.” We alternately praise and decry its effects on society. We hit refresh one more time. We care, but are afraid.
I know some people who embrace vulnerability, others who seem to reject it. Honestly, I think both of those tendencies live within me. Vulnerability has always been a strength of mine: in speech, but especially in writing (I bet my mom still has a thousand of my apology letters). I envy those who manage to be private and mysterious, as I compulsively blurt out any self-insight which may prove helpful. I also recognize that letting you know me gives you power: if I don’t share myself with you, you have to guess at how to hurt me. Sometimes I withdraw because of past wounds, but sometimes I delight in withholding. You have to work to get intimacy with me, I’m not going to easily love you or let you love me. I’m special, valuable, rare: not for public consumption. Get a grip, Katie.
The trouble is, I don’t hide well from others. So, I’m learning to be okay with being of two minds: feeling both pure and tainted motives. I grew up a legalist: suffering the inner turmoil of never being good enough, struggling to not feel the evil. Now, in recovery, I know I can’t save myself. Jesus already did. I am special, valuable and rare, but not because of how mysterious I am, or how little you know about my inner dialogue. I am created in the image of the living God, which means I don’t have to strive anymore: I rest and receive grace. That’s not to say I ignore my sin—if sin die out, let it die out in me—but it’s a gentle reminder that I am not God and the work of separating the good and bad in me is his, not mine. If I rest and receive, I can be vulnerable. I can checkmate my defense mechanisms. I can be of two minds and still hit publish.
I can let you see me.