Last week was a tough week. I had an awkward conversation with some friends and said some things that I ruminated over for days afterward. I had to confront a difficult issue with someone who was out-of-control and made them angry. Although I had no regrets over the confrontation, I was troubled by the interaction and couldn’t put it out of my head. While relaxing with my wife later that evening, I perceived her to be distant and distracted; it seemed like she wanted to be anywhere other than with me. But when I called her out on it she gave me that look – the one that says that I have most certainly lost my mind. So I did what any reasonable adult male would do, I got up, left the room and pouted. After only a few minutes I found myself thinking, “Dear God. I’m acting like an 8 year old girl.” But because I wasn’t done pouting yet, that awareness just made me mad… and a little embarrassed. I wanted to work up a good lather of anger and go smash something or shoot something or at least lift something heavy… anything that would make me feel less weak. But the shooting range was closed and there was nothing handy to smash and it was getting late, so I did the dishes instead.
It was just me, the dirty dishes and an inescapable feeling of insecurity. It was embarrassing. I’m 49 years old and I’m a man and I’m a PSYCHOLOGIST and I claim to love Jesus. I don’t think that I should still be this insecure at this point in my life. It’s like I’m back in the 7th Grade again and Leesa Haynes just told me that I have skinny feet and I’m pretty sure that everyone is looking at me and thinking, “Wow. Pipe has skinny feet. That’s really strange.” I feel like a moron and I’m certain that no one likes me; I’ve got nothing to offer the world. When my wife figures out who I am she’s going to leave me and then I’ll be alone for the rest of my life. That’s the way it feels.
This insecurity seeps into my heart like an incoming tide, slowly and irresistibly. It diminishes me, eroding my sense of worth, poisoning my standing with others and draining my passion. I know that it’s irrational. It is embarrassing and its my thorn in the flesh. I hate it, but I can’t block it from invading my world. At the same time, I can’t deny that it’s been a valuable teacher to me. Its presence has shown me facets of myself that I would not have otherwise seen. And when I am willing to let it teach me, it enriches my life.
My insecurity teaches me to remember the past. It reminds me of those times when I’ve felt this way before and with a moment of reflection those periods and events marked by insecurity return to me: the 7th Grade, the 8th Grade, the 9th Grade, my first semester of college, that time I lit my hair on fire, every time I was asked a question I couldn’t answer in grad school, that time I showed up at the office with my fly down, whenever I tried to be funny and it didn’t work, when I sent my 5 year old daughter to school sick, every time I’ve walked into a room full of strangers, every time I’ve walked into a room full of friends, when our water got cut off because I forgot to pay the bill, the hours preceding a presentation, the hours following a presentation and the hours after I post a blog. I remember that I felt this same insecurity all of these times and more. I remember that I came out the other side of these events without losing my friends or my wife or all that much of my dignity. My insecurity reminds that sometimes when I’ve felt the most insecure, I have discovered that I was most deeply valued and loved. I remember that I have felt this way before and that this emotion cannot be fully trusted.
I have learned to lean into my insecurity rather than run from it. I tend to manage my insecurity like a game of “hot and cold”. The closer I get to the situation or person I fear, the stronger the emotional cry, “Warm, hot, hotter, boiling hot!” Historically, I’ve played the game in reverse, actively directing myself away from the heat and toward “colder” ground whenever possible. If I could avoid that roomful of strangers, I would be glad to stay home and watch another episode of Gator Boys. But what a lifetime of battling this insecurity has shown me is that the more I avoid those things I fear, the worse the insecurity gets. The more intense the insecurity, the more clear it is that I need to confront it. Whether its confronting a difficult person, exposing a failure on my part, engaging with a confusing situation or walking into a room full of strangers, the longer I put it off, the worse it gets. However, when I confront that which provokes my insecurity, leaning into the “heat” I’m almost always surprised by how well things go.
My insecurity shows me how desperately I need others. My intuition drives me to isolate – to retreat from the messy people and relationships that provoke my insecurity. And I often fantasize of a secluded mountain home where I can live my remaining years in peace. But my insecurity has taught me that my intuition is wrong. I need people. I cannot manage this on my own. For decades I tried to do my life independently and I simply could not do it. I need trustworthy people around me for whom I can reach when these waves of insecurity wash over me. After I was done pouting the other night, I apologized to my wife and told her I was tired from a hard week. I told her that I was feeling insecure. And, in spite of my bad behavior, she held me and reminded me who I am; she told me that I’m loved and valued. The next day I called my friend Henry and he reminded me who I am. And he told me that if God could use Balaam’s ass then he could surely use me. Then I touched base with a few more friends and, just because they’re willing to hang out with me and listen to me I start to believe that I’m not all that worthless.
Finally, my insecurity teaches me not to anchor too much hope in this life. In this way, my insecurity is a reminder of the truth of this life: I am a broken person living in a fallen world. Groaning is normal; pain is evidence of life (Romans 8:22). My hope cannot be anchored in my ability to reach some level of emotional, personal or spiritual maturity. My hope must be anchored in the promises I’ve found in the Scriptures and in the work of Christ. My hope is that some day I will see Jesus face-to-face and, in so doing, I will experience a love that not only evaporates my insecurity, but rewires my soul and makes me whole. In the meantime, my insecurity is a marker that I’ve misplaced an anchor – set it in temporal, rather than eternal soil. It compels me to loosen my grip on this world a little more and shift my reach toward the next (Hebrews 11:16). It reminds me that only there and only then will I find the freedom and security for which my heart longs.
- Jeff Pipe