In the process of being less defensive, I stopped talking.

Around September last year, I started reading a book called “Radical Collaboration“, which deals with self-awareness and defensiveness in teamwork (and just being with people in general). It has several “testers” to gauge your defensiveness and also your “hot buttons”. I was unpleasantly shocked by how defensive I was and how many things I get upset about.

So in a very characteristic Sarah response, I decided that I would be better, I would fix this, and then I could be a more centered (and less defensive) person.

Call it youthful ignorance or hopeless optimism, but I really thought my plan would work. I would focus my passion, be less frustrated, want to punch people less, and hopefully stop being so reactive.

The crazy part is, it did work.

Well, sort of. I stopped being as reactive (vocally at least). I learned what my buttons were, and some helpful breathing techniques when someone pushed them. I felt what it was like to speak from a centered place versus from an I-want-to-kill-you-now place.

But the main effect of this whole campaign was that I stopped talking. When something controversial came up, and I started feeling my face flush and my heart race – I just breathed in and out, and kept quiet. I learned who the safe people to talk about my deep passions were, and they became the only ones who heard of my angst, my frustration, and my incredibly painful convictions and desires for shalom.

I started to tell myself things like, “well, I don’t need to say anything” or “it wouldn’t help right now”.

The other day I was in a circle, praying with some people and at the end of the prayer I looked around and thought – everyone who just prayed was a man. Then I watched and listened in my classes. Who was talking? Who wasn’t?

Professors have asked me why I don’t talk more in class, and I usually respond with “I’m not sure my perspective would help the class” or “I don’t feel the need to say anything” or “do you know what time in the freaking morning that class is?!”

I worry that people can’t handle how liberal I am, how passionate I am, how many feelings I have. I’m doubtful that people will care or be self-aware enough not to fix me, but just to listen. I’m tired of hearing “oh, I’ve been there, and you’ll get through it” or “I know how you feel”.

Frankly, I don’t care about stupid platitudes or about what the Bible says about my situation or how I should (or shouldn’t) be _______ because I’m studying to be a pastor.

So I don’t say anything. 

It’s easier that way. But something dies inside me when I keep quiet. I have far too much passion and energy to only let it out when it’s appropriate or around my close friends who don’t care if I’m a heretic. And I hope this doesn’t sound too self-centered, but I’m coming to believe that the people around me miss out when I stop sharing. They miss out from hearing my perspective as a woman. They don’t get to hear my experiences and thoughts as a young adult. They don’t get to see through my eyes as a passionate liberal. They don’t get to hear my questions, and they don’t get to hear my “answers”, my dreams, and hopes for the future.

I want to continue to be less reactive and defensive, but I have to start talking again. And some people probably aren’t going to like it. I’m sure I’ll offend people, and some will think I’ve lost my faith. I’ll try to be prepared for the pat answers and concerned looks.

But I have things to say, and a perspective that’s valid. I have big questions to ask, and I want to ask them with people – even the ones who drive me crazy.

For others in a similar place, maybe we can pray this together: “Dear God, give me grace – for myself and for others. Help me to speak and not to be afraid. And please help me not to punch people.”



  1. Sarah, I wish I had known we were such kindred spirits when we lived closer together. Your words really move me. Even at a fairly tolerant seminary I learned to keep quiet about my passions because I felt like my sharing was ranting, thanks for the reminder about what is lost when we over-correct.

  2. I definitely keep quiet at times when I feel intellectually inferior or outnumbered, so my reasons, largely, for keeping quiet are more prideful (thanks XY) than your vow of silence. While I feel that restraining my enthusiasm (both negative and positive) is important in conversation and in life in general I think it is as important to let my voice be heard. The reasons are twofold: adding my voice to a conversation helps lay a foundation that every perspective is important; adding my perspective genuinely especially in the face of opposition makes me vulnerable, thus effectuating transparency which is really exactly the core of what I think Shalom is about…

  3. …if someone with an opposing view feels my passion and understands my emotions they’re experiential gestalt has been fucked with, their perspective broadened, for me that’s the seed that Paul is planting or watering and it depends on the Spirit to germinate. This isn’t a polemic against conservatism, it’s a polemic against black and white absolutism. Putting a very real human face on a perspective censored from anger drives listeners to empathy.

  4. Your work is wonderful, Sarah and I totally get this. Your passion and your anger have value and it’s not just for shock. Those of us with big feelings have so much to share but it’s easy to repress these things, like we might be just too much. But the world needs us, friend. Keep speaking. Keep feeling. Keep caring.

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