Strong and Loud and Gentle and Quiet
Have you ever felt so uncomfortable in your own skin that you wished you could take it off?Branch Rickey once told a story about his friend and former player Charlie Thomas, the sole black and fearsome first baseman for Ohio Wesleyan University in the early 1900s. On a trip to play Notre Dame, a hotel manager refused Charlie admittance because of his skin color. Rickey coaxed the manager into changing his mind by promising Charlie would sleep on a cot in his room the way slaves used to. That night, Rickey found Charlie sitting on his cot weeping, rubbing his hands as if trying to rub off the color saying, “Black skin! Black skin!…”If I could only make them white.”
Now, I’m not a black man in pre-civil rights America, so I have little room to say this, but I get how Charlie feels. I am a strong female leader in the heart of a southern conservative Christian culture, and sometimes I wish I could take off who I am…
In my most insecure moments, I wish God would redesign me into someone smaller. I’d be 5’2” and petite. I’d be pretty and syrupy sweet and have a perpetual "inside voice". I’d have a “nice smile”, a relatively good mind, and would be somewhat confident in who I am. I’d blend in. I wouldn’t be intimidating. I wouldn’t make waves, wouldn’t stand on a stage. Because I think life would be easier that way and I would be easier to accept. And for most of my life, that’s the picture of who I thought I should be—a girl with a gentle and quiet spirit as Peter describes in 1 Peter 3. And as much as I wanted to be that girl I began to think I never could be—because I was hopelessly me.
See, hard as I may try, people don’t describe me as gentle. I’m strong, passionate, competitive and driven. As a kid the games my friends and I played were games like Rain Forest, where we swung from a large oak tree in our backyard and ran wild on our mission to save the world. Still today, I’d rather have dirt under my nails and fire in my eyes than a pleated skirt with a lovely cup of tea. I’m not gentle and I’m not quiet. I’m loud in person and personality. My friends tell me I wasn’t born with a volume governor. In middle school, when everybody else’s construction paper apple was tacked for mobility to the “conduct tree”, whose leaves to roots spanned the behavior spectrum, mine was stapled to the roots designating me as in a permanent state of “needs improvement”. It’s not that I was obstinate—it‘s just that my whisper carried.
So, you can see why Peter’s words seem to evade me. But now I know Peter wasn’t talking about volume and he wasn’t talking about touch. He was talking about a spirit at peace. A woman so confident in God, so governed by the Spirit that her heart is seated even in the midst of turmoil, who could faithfully seek the good of others, even the tumultuous ones, because she knew that’s what Jesus did and she followed in his steps. In a world of chaos and cruelty, Peter says, that is beautiful. It is the high complement Achilles gave to Briseis in Troy, “You have brought me peace in a lifetime of war”.
The Proverbs 31 woman was that way. I don’t know that she was soft-spoken or dainty, either. (Not that those are bad, as you will see.) She was a business owner, saleswoman, and philanthropist. She burned the midnight oil, and twice she is commended for her strength. She worked hard to seek peace for her household and those under her care. And she was so confident in God that she could laugh at the days she could not see. She didn’t blend in, she stood out. And because of that not only did her kids and husband rise up and call her blessed but so did her community.
And the truth is, that kind of beauty has little to do with personality and everything to do with the power and purpose at work behind the person. See, like you and like P31, I’m sure, who I am is a tangled result of my experiences, my baggage and my wiring. And how beautiful that is to the world depends upon whether or not God is working through me, redeeming brokenness into beauty. My strength can be a veritable fortress born of woundedness when I act out of fear. But when I remember I’ve no need for fear because God fights for me, I see him use my strength for great beauty.
My Myers-Briggs profile is ENFP, a temperament type once termed “the Champion.” If you could see me now as I write, you’d see I am beaming. They call ENFP’s champions not because they love to win—although we do—but because we are champions for something, or better still someone. I don’t know that there is anything that makes me feel more alive than being a champion for someone. My passion is to think, lead, and inspire people to become all they were created to be. It seems I have an insatiable belief in the capability of humanity to redeem and to be redeemed. I love seeing the light go on, the fire ignite, people begin to understand who they were made to be, and courageously walk forward into their God-given destiny.
And my strength, my passion, my volume, my drivenness, my personality are all tools God uses to do that. And if I were smaller, the beauty I offered would be too. See, the truth is, I love who I am. I love the way God made me. I don’t want to be redesigned, I want to be me! And I don’t think Charlie wanted to be white. I think he wanted to be free—free to be who he was created to be. A great ball player, and a black one at that. Because God could do something really beautiful in this cruel and broken world through someone like that.