I used to get frustrated with C because, in our last ministry, he would "ride the brake," squelching his creativity and passions in order to fit into a system that couldn't keep up and didn't enjoy the ride. I had known him for almost a decade before, when he was full of ideas and enthusiasm. Even though he knew that most of the ideas wouldn't (and probably shouldn't) see the light of day, he just enjoyed the creative process. And then slowly, one disappointment at a time, he shut down, accepting reality and no longer fighting against it. It was a good survival skill but it made me sad.
As C comes back to life, what's making me sad now is the realization that I do the same thing and have for even longer than he did. Coming out of the safe, affirming cocoon of my childhood home and into the bright, unforgiving daylight of adolescence taught me very fast that I thought too much, cared too much, talked too much (well, actually, that part was true), was "too much." God, how many times did I hear that I was "too intense," that I needed to "be cool," "tone it down." Nowadays, I would be told to "chill." So, I did. Thank God, I stayed warm and relational and interested--but I also seriously disengaged.
College just reinforced the message that it was possible to be too smart, too passionate, too enthusiastic. (It was not, however, possible to be too color-coordinated or too conformist. These were the eighties.) I had a job in college that I LOVED, serving a little rural church as their youth minister. I'm not sure that I have ever in my whole life, before or since, cared as much about a job as I did that one. I poured myself into it without reservation. But on Sunday nights, when I came back to the dorm after my weekend away, when my friends or boyfriend asked me how it went, I smiled and said, "Great!" Because I'd learned to be cool, to tone it down.
I want to unlearn this. I want to be free to give myself completely to a passion (other than my children) without the censor in my head telling me to rein it in, play it cool, not care so much. More recently, the little voice has added new reasons for its admonitions. For one thing, I work more and more often with men and men typically don't like a woman who is too enthusiastic because it borders on that pejorative "too emotional." For another, I've noticed how seriously passionate people have trouble with balance in their lives and with maintaining relationships (see Lance Armstrong or Ken Lay.) I don't want that, so I hold the passion at arm's length. It makes it easier to fit in.
But it also makes it harder to live wide open, harder to feel completely alive, harder to fully engage. I still believe that it puts people off, that they feel overwhelmed by intensity and passion, that a person who is fully engaged is an oddball. I just don't think I care as much anymore.