There’s this thing that happens, right before we speak a certain type of words.
I don’t mean words of passing interest, or casual conversation, or combative debate, or false bravado.
I mean the words that we are desperately afraid of speaking. Words that aren’t nebulous or theoretical, describing some hypothetical situation divorced from reality. Words that are deeply, terrifyingly real and all too human.
Words that say:
Words that cut through red tape and point the spotlight on our true selves.
In that moment, when we sit in front of another human being, and speak with trembling uncertainty that we are hurt, or angry, or lonely, that we need them, we want them, we love them, as these words are taking shape in our mind, in our throats, and as they make their way up into our mouths, behind our lips, on the edge of our tongue…
Like someone who is about to jump off a ledge into the deep water. We run to the ledge, full intention of jumping, arms thrown out, and plunge into the splashing waves. But then something happens and we stop. We suddenly become very aware of the pounding of our hearts against the ribcage, and a gut-wrenching feeling of dread forms in the pit of our stomach. We look down out our shaking hands and our knees feel as though they will give out from under us, and all that certainty disappears. We dangle one foot over the edge and immediately pull it back, and then we take a step away from the ledge.
So often our words hang at the end of our tongue, we dangle it out like a foot over the edge, as if testing our courage with feeble “umm”’s, “maybe”’s, half-thoughts, and unfinished sentences. We begin each sentence with the intention of plunging into the words we actually want to say, and then we retreat back. These words long to be spoken, but the fear is just so so strong.
The fear of being seen, being known, being vulnerable is, indeed, a powerful fear.
There’s good reason to fear. Those words open us up to so much exposure, so much rejection, so much hurt, so much heartache. Those are the not-impossible outcome. Words are a conduit to our very being, and it’s a scary thing, offering that up to another human being.
No certainty lives on the other side of that ledge.
So it’s easy to walk away, turn around and be safe; be certain; be sure, with feet on solid ground. We walk away from the ledge, and it’s not until we are far away from it that we realize the fear has been replaced by regret.
And there are few things so lasting in life as regret, few things will keep you up, tossing and turning, like the words you did not speak but wanted too. And as short a time as those words were on your tongue, poised to be spoken, and however long that drop is, regret lasts that much longer.
So, sometimes we walk away from the ledge. And, truly, there is no shame in that. Some words aren’t ready to be spoken. For some of us, even getting to the ledge is a huge deal and we will return again another day. Sometimes our hearts are still just a bit too broken, too weak, too fragile, and trusting it to be exposed to another human is something we may not be strong enough to handle. That’s okay.
But when we do choose to do it, when we return to that ledge, and stop, once again filled with that familiar fear, and panic, and doubt, and unspeakable courage, we breathe in that fear. We do not run from or deny it, but we lean into it and, before we know it, we’ve jumped.
We say those words.
I love you
Don’t leave me
I need you
I want you
You hurt me
And for all the fear and doubt, there is freedom. No matter the reaction, no matter the acceptance or rejection. And there is still hurt there, neither side of the ledge is safe, but on that side, there is freedom, beautiful, liberating, life-giving freedom that comes with being known. You found your voice and spoke your words and they were your words.
There is a deep life-altering paradigm shift that occurs when you face that; when you accept that your words matter, they are important, that no one else can occupy the same place in space and time that you do in this moment, so you can uniquely speak into it in a way that no one else can.
I’m there with you, toes over the edge, trembling and quaking and choking down fear, learning how to give life with my words, learning how to use my words to make this world more like God wants it to be. I’m learning to speak.
I’m learning to be brave.