Chaplain's thought for the week
Revd Tom considers what holds us back from being our best selves
This week I’ve invited Senior School pupils to daydream a bit by imagining their ideal version of themselves. Who do they most want to become? What’s the difference between the person they are now and the person they want to become? What is it that holds them back from being that person?
We considered a story from the Bible in which a woman had been suffering from a haemorrhage for twelve years. The story doesn’t say exactly what her medical condition was, but it can’t have been good: we’re told that she had suffered a lot, with lots of doctors trying to cure her, and she’d spent all her money. But it was even worse than this… in the culture of the time anyone who had a condition like hers would have been considered ritually unclean because of the religious purity laws of the day. That would have made her an outcast. If she came into physical contact with anyone else, they would have been made ritually impure, too. So this woman had probably gone for twelve years without touching anyone.
So what was holding this woman back from being her best self? Her physical health, of course, but more than that: fear. Fear of rejection by others; fear of being isolated and excluded. So she goes up to Jesus hidden among the crowd – she doesn’t even want to speak to him in case he rejects her – thinking, ‘If I just touch his clothes, then I’ll be made well.’ When she touches him, she is healed.
The key thing she had to do was take the first step. She had to get out of her comfort zone and go out of her front door. She had to overcome her fear and touch someone in the hope that she would be healed.
What holds us back from being the people we most want to become? Often for most of us, like that woman, it’s fear: fear of social isolation. This can be particularly tough for teenagers.
They fear laughter of others. (“If I put my hand up in class and say something wrong, then everyone will think I’m stupid.”) They fear that others are better than them. (“What’s the point of trying, when I’ll never be as good as her?”) They fear failure. (“If I try that, I’m bound to fail, so it’s safer just not to bother.”) They fear not fitting in. (“If I take up dance classes/martial arts/play that kind of music/display any geeky tendencies… no-one will like me; I won’t fit in.”)
So often the greatest temptation for us as human beings is to play it safe so no-one laughs at us; to try to be as much like everyone around us as we can so we don’t stand out; to take as few risk as possible so we don’t fail. The easiest thing in the world is to conform and disappear by fitting in. Yet we are the only ones who can live our lives. We are the only ones who can decide who to become. We are the only one who can write the script – we don’t have to let those fears write it for us.
Returning to that woman in the story, her worst fear was realised: ‘Who touched my clothes?’ asked Jesus of the crowd. She was exposed, and he looked all round to see who had done it. Imagine the shame! So this woman came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. But Jesus said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’ Without stepping out of her comfort zone, without facing her fears, without faith, she was held back from being the person she could be.
Don’t let fear hold you back from being the person you can be.