On the Paralysis of Insecurity

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

As a kid, I always felt extra self-conscious at the beginning of a new school year, so when Mom dropped me off on the first day, she would always remind me of this: “Everyone’s so busy worrying about themselves they don’t have time to think about you. Just focus on making other people feel good about themselves and friends will follow.” To this day, I return to those words whenever I’m about to meet a bunch of new people or embark on a new journey.

My mom’s advice points to something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently—our insecuritiesI don’t know about you, but when I stop to consider the degree to which my insecurities control my thoughts and actions, it is truly baffling.

I feel insecure about my body, so instead of swimming, I stick my feet in the pool. I feel insecure about my dirty kitchen floor, so I avoid inviting people over. I feel insecure about my decision to put off starting a family, so I make self-depreciating jokes about how I lack motherly instincts. I feel insecure about some of my political positions, so I only start debates I know I can win. I feel insecure about my theological training, so I stick to topics I’ve read a lot about. I feel insecure about my doubts, so I criticize certainty as arrogant or naïve. I feel insecure about Arminianism, so I make Mark Driscoll the voice of Calvinism (making it easier to shoot down). I feel insecure about not going to church, so I spend a lot of time criticizing it. I feel insecure about my character, so I obsess over my career. I feel insecure about my career, so I obsess over my book. I feel insecure about my book, so I obsess over editor’s notes and blog entries and potential sales numbers. I feel insecure about my likability, so I hide behind my intelligence. I feel insecure about myself, so I criticize other people...or I keep them at a distance.

What strikes me about this list of insecurities is how often it holds me back. My insecurities keep me from participating in meaningful relationships, doing things that are out of my comfort zone, and learning from new perspectives. What I find both devastatingly tragic and strangely comforting is the fact that most people are doing the very same thing! Even the folks who come across as confident, even folks who make a good living writing and speaking and doing everything I want to do, even folks who are rich and pretty and smart all at the same time are often deeply insecure, just like me.

One of my favorite paragraphs in Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz is this one:

Everybody wants to be fancy and new. Nobody wants to be themselves. I mean, maybe people want to be themselves, but they want to be different, with different clothes or shorter hair or less fat. It’s a fact. If there was a guy who just liked being himself and didn’t want to be anybody else, that guy would be the most different guy  in the world and everybody would want to be him. (p. 29)

This phenomenon explains why I was so fascinated by these words from Peter Rollins, (which were brought to my attention by my friend Adele on her Existential Punk blog):

What we tend to do is… whenever we are in an argument, I will argue from the place of strength, the strongest part of my argument, and direct is at the weakest part of your argument. And you will in turn take the strongest part of your argument and attack the weakest part of my argument...This is probably less about egotism, and more about the brokenness and insecurity of most people. We protect “our weak” by overemphasizing “our strong.” In doing so, we’re not being entirely honest, are we?

...What I really want to do is to enter into dialogs where I can talk about the weakest part of my argument and you can talk about the weakest part of your argument, and I can accept and celebrate the strongest part of your arguments and visa-versa...This demands a difficult level of vulnerability and transparency. It means you’ll have an opportunity to attack where I’m least “defended."  In turn, you have strengths that may frustrate me, confound me, or directly refute something about my beliefs. But they are strengths, nonetheless. And by ignoring or underestimating them, I don’t just weaken my particular “position” (we must get beyond these adversarial identifiers) but I also underestimate and even undervalue your worth, and the complexity of your experiences that have led you to where you are.

(quoted from the Nick and Josh Podcast)

Adele and Peter Walker (at Emerging Christian blog) will attempt to put Rollins’ words into practice through a cooperative blog series about what it means to argue from weakness. I’d ask to participate myself if I had any idea of how to start!

But I don’t.

I’ve grown so attached to my positions of strength, I’m not sure I know how to let them go. When I am honest with myself, it becomes clear that I’m really not that interested in learning from other people. I’m mostly just interested in validating myself.


So thanks to Adele and Peter for taking this subject on. I’ll definitely be reading!

What are you insecure about? What do you think it means to dialog from a place of weakness?  Do you think that such an approach is supported by Scripture? How have you overcome insecurity in your life?

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