I don’t just mean physically; I mean emotionally, spiritually, intellectually. I don’t want to be afraid of bright colors, or new sounds, or big love, or risky decisions, or strange experiences, or weird endeavors, or sudden changes, even failure. —Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic
I have this friend, B., whose approach to life is always full-tilt. He’s an artist, a musician, a bad-ass trickster on both his bikes and his skateboard. I often cringe at the ways he pushes himself physically, at the photos of scrapes and casts that show up on Facebook. But I usually can’t help being distracted from these sights by the huge goofy grin on his face.
Like the rest of us, B. has fears – I just don’t know what they are.
Whatever gifts he is exploring, whatever he is creating, B. doesn’t hold back – all of it is put out into the world, shared with others. We’ve never discussed whether he gets sweaty palms before he uploads his work to a music-sharing app, or if he stays awake at night fretting over how his family or friends might react to his lyrics, his latest artwork – or if his fear of physical pain ever gives him pause before attempting a new jump or trick on his bike. The key point is that, whatever fears he may experience, they don’t stop him.
Unlike B., many of us hold back, keeping all that beauty and energy locked up inside. For some, that holding back has been instinctual and strong – they’ve never broken through it to let their gifts and talents out into the world. For others, the holding back is a retreat: they’ve stepped out there and been roundly criticized, belittled, “put back in their place”.
Maybe you, like me, have experienced both.
When I took the photo, above, I remember feeling judgmental toward whomever had fenced in that glorious riot of color, assuming that it was about keeping the “riffraff” out. But as I’ve been thinking about it, I realize that it could as easily be an image of keeping something in, rather than of keeping something out. It could easily be an image of what it looks like to hold back our giftedness – an image of what the world needs but isn’t able to experience because of our fears.
“Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need,” says Frederick Buechner, writer and theologian. Is our holding back the very thing that prevents us from discovering our own deep gladness? Our vocations? And how have we beggared the world by refusing to meet it’s deep need with the gift of ourselves?
I ask you, what “big magic” (to borrow the words of Elizabeth Gilbert) would happen if we opened the gates and freely shared that beauty with the world? If we took down our psychic “no trespassing” signs and just shared ourselves – our humor, our talents, our love – with someone, anyone or everyone, besides ourselves? True, we might experience pain or brokenness. But we might notice it less because of the huge, goofy grins on our faces!