Confronting the Fear of What Others Think of You
Letter from DeAnn Malcolm
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Dear Catholic Sisters,
I’m writing to you as an older sister in Christ. I am the youngest in my family so it’s fun to be the “older sister” for a change. I’m 45, married to an amazing man of God, and we have eight children ranging in age from 5 to 20. Now that two of my daughters are teenagers, I see them developing thought patterns and habits that have plagued me most of my teenage and adult years. I just want to hit the pause button and say, “Stop! You cannot live your life in fear!” I try to do just that sometimes. We have a ritual of soaking our feet in my bathtub and drinking tea when we need to connect, when something’s bothering them or when we just need a break from all of the boys in our family. I cherish that time and I hope and pray that those conversations will bless them and remain with them long after they are out of our house. We talk a lot about what I want to address with you, dear sisters.
Fear. It’s a four-letter word. I have lived most of my life in fear. I had recurring nightmares as a child, always afraid of the dark, afraid of accidents, afraid of making adults upset, afraid of disappointing people, afraid of failure, afraid to make a decision...you get the point. It’s paralyzing, debilitates relationships, keeps you bound and clouds every decision you make if you let it rule you. It dampens the light that was meant to emanate from you as a daughter of the King of the Universe. Even if you are not debilitated by it in outward ways, it can still insidiously work its way into your mind, thoughts, spirit, and actions.
I want to encourage you to, with God’s help, shut down that fear. I have yet to completely conquer this in my life but being further down the road than most of you, I’d like to offer you a little encouragement.
Well into my early 40’s, I had a moment like many others in my life, when I was worrying about what someone was thinking of me. Did I say the wrong thing? Did she take it the wrong way? She thinks I’m an idiot. I paused, thinking to myself “I’m so tired of worrying about what people think. This is a waste of precious energy and time.” Many other thoughts followed: “I’m tired of constantly being paralyzed by insecurity and fear. I’m tired of being afraid that I never have and never will reach that elusive “goal weight,” I’m tired of being afraid that I am not loved, accepted, and understood by my husband, friends, and even by God—never ever enough...pretty enough, smart enough, organized enough, skinny enough, witty enough. I’m tired of constantly trying to diminish myself—my gifts and strengths so that others might feel better about themselves and, heaven forbid think that I’m confident in who I am as a woman because in my mind, I wrongly equated confidence with arrogance.
The next day, my dear friend and neighbor and I were just chatting over a glass of wine and she said,
“Why be insecure? Insecurity is so boring.”
She was saying it in a tongue in cheek kind of way but it really hit me. Yes. Insecurity IS boring and more importantly, it hamstrings women and does not allow them to walk in the beautiful confidence that God desires for them, nor does it allow for relationships to be properly nurtured and grow, because when we focus on our insecurity and act in fear, the focus in on ourselves. We tear ourselves and each other down even if only in our minds. Diminishing ourselves and others is not true humility and it does not allow ourselves or others to shine.
It’s like putting a bucket over a beautiful flower in the field. It becomes weaker and no one is able to appreciate its true beauty.
A few days after that conversation with my friend, I read a quote by Marianne Williamson that included the following: “Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us....And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” That’s what I want for you, sisters. I want you to be free to shine. Free to be who you are sans fear. I want you to walk in this freedom in your 20’s, 30’s 40’s and beyond. I’m not asking you to suddenly become courageous and unafraid of what people think. I don’t think, in this instance, at least, that the answer to fear is to just have courage. In this case, the answer to fear is surrender. It is a surrendering to God and to whom He has created you to be...everything from the shape of your body, to your beautiful laugh to your many strengths and talents that may not be flashy and trendy but are completely perfect and beautiful to your Heavenly Father. I’m done worrying about the extra skin and stretch marks on my stomach. My torso may look like it was mauled by a tiger then melted with a blow torch but the truth is that this beautiful part of my body is the place where eight children were nourished and grew. They literally stretched me and continue to do so and I’m grateful for the physical reminder of this privilege.
Surrender trying to control what people think of you—both their initial thoughts about you as well as their reactions to your words and actions. Surrender trying to live up to everyone’s expectations of you as a woman, daughter, friend, co-worker, wife, mother and Christian.
Ask God what He wants from you, what He expects of you in any given situation and that will be enough.
More often than not, what He wants from you is love. Ignore the fear that creeps into or even invades your mind and soul and you will leave room for the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit leading and guiding you to shine with His light. That is the light that illuminates your freedom and gives it to others. That is what I want for my own daughters, my friends, and for you, my younger sisters. I want you to practice walking in freedom and not fear. This is a daily, sometimes hourly, practice that leads to a habit that culminates in total surrender and a peace and joy that is not just yours to keep but is yours to share.
Many Blessings on your road to freedom!
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Get to know DeAnn
Full name: DeAnn Malcolm
State-in-life: Married, Stay-at-Home Mother
Location: Fredericksburg, Virginia
Educational background: BA from Mary Washington College, M Ed from VA Commonwealth University
Has there been a particular teaching of the Church that has intimately transformed the way you see yourself and others?
Actually, the church’s teaching on contraception changed my view of myself. Just before my husband and I began RCIA, we read readings from Paul VI and JPII on this aspect of the Catholic faith. Through reading excerpts from Theology of the Body, talking to others, and learning about NFP, I began to understand myself as a woman more clearly than ever. Knowing my role as a woman and the unique way I give, receive, create, nurture and love and not trying to change it or cower from it has helped me to walk with the grace needed to be married and to raise these eight beautiful children.
What’s your favorite way to pray?
Divine Office Morning Prayers with a cup of coffee in front of the fireplace before everyone else is awake.
What aspect of your life right now do you find the most beautiful? The most challenging?
I am finding the daily rhythm of our lives so beautiful right now. The challenge relates to that and is twofold. Because we have a constant rhythm to our days, it can get monotonous. I am challenged to be grateful for the steadiness of life right now. Also, because we have one child in college, I know how quickly this time flies. I have a tendency to want everyone and everything to just not move! I don’t want anyone else to leave the nest, yet I want more than anything to see what these amazing children will do for God. Letting them stretch their wings is scary and challenging. I can handle the toddlers phase easily. They are difficult and it’s exhausting but I mostly have control. Having less and less is pretty scary.
Fill in the blank.
My morning routine consists of: coffee with morning prayers, reading, sending husband and high-schoolers off to school, exercise, and then beginning our day of homeschooling.
I’m currently obsessed with: Reading chic-lit. Not glamorous, I know, but I read several long, heavy books in a row and I am so enjoying the break with some fun, innocent books! I’m mostly reading books that take place on Nantucket...another obsession of mine.
I feel most inspired when: I have just walked out of confession and adoration.
My favorite part about my life right now is: Finally sleeping through the night on a regular basis! And really, truly enjoying my older teens. They are so much fun.
The advice I would give to the millennial Catholic woman is: I truly can’t say it any better than St. Therese of Lisieux. “May you trust that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith in yourself and others. May you use the gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content with yourself just the way you are. Let this knowledge settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise, and love. It is there for each and every one of us.”