I hate the word quiet. Hate it. Someday we can go out for coffee and you can ask me about it and I’ll spend two hours ripping apart the word like it's responsible for world hunger or something. It is simultaneously the word I would vote off the island of the English language and the word I’m willing to bet is used to describe me most often.
“The quiet blonde in the back of class.”
“Your one quiet friend.”
“She’s so quiet.”
I’ve heard it all before. And I don’t blame anyone for using the word to describe me. It’s a perfectly fair adjective to pin on me in the context of any situation I feel levels of discomfort in. Quiet is my safe place. It’s the place I've learned to run away to when I feel the threat of being seen or known closing in on me.
Here’s why I hate it: I don’t remember signing up for quiet. I don’t remember getting a say and choosing confidently that in my heart of hearts quiet is the word that embodies my soul and desires and hopes. On the contrary, quiet has held me back from my soul and desires and hopes for far too long. And what I know about quiet is that it came as a response to a command: Be Less!
Somewhere along the way, a fear approached me and was quite persuasive in convincing me that I was way too much. My story was too much. My failures were too much. My dreams were too much. This fear settled like dust in every corner of my soul. Consequently, the command to be less drilled its way deep into my heart. It has hovered above me, pointing fingers and making sure I stay dressed up in my correct role, reciting only the lines written in the script, no improv. I was convinced I would overwhelm people if I let them experience me to the fullest--if I let myself be known in all the mess and joy and hardship that stitches together my soul—so I made myself as small as possible.
Don’t be seen, don’t be heard, don’t let them know that you’re too much.
I have found the best hiding spots in relationships and classrooms and small groups and lived there so that no one would have a chance to confirm my fear, so no one would look me dead in the eyes and tell me I was no longer welcome because I no longer fit into a pretty, manageable box. In becoming so small, in letting my voice be sucked out of me Ariel-style, I swung violently between “I’m too much” and “I’m not enough”, constantly letting these two untruths manifest in insecurity and never being known.
But I’ve learned some things about myself along the way. There is a rebel in me that has been working overtime to break free from the chains of quiet. If you know me, you know I have an uncontrollably loud laugh. It is maybe the only thing about me that can be reasonably labeled as loud. I used to be horrified when anyone would point this out. Oh my God, did you actually see me? Did you actually notice me? In a lot of ways it felt like a small act of rebellion. It felt like swimming upstream of what was expected of me. I was the quiet girl and I was not to color outside those lines. Then, sometime during high school, I started writing songs and singing in front of people. I was beginning to pick up my cardboard signs and protest. Every bit of laughter not withheld and song sung and story posted to a blog has felt like a battle cry—me challenging quiet to a fight and hoping victory would finally be mine. But something happens once the dust and gunpowder settles and the last shot rings out: shame comes. Shame whispers very convincingly in my ear:
You left your box.
You let yourself be seen.
You were too much.
Be less. Be less. Be less.
And if I let it, shame becomes the fuel to the fire of staying quiet. Shame loses no sleep at night from making me believe that the world would be a better place if I just kept my mouth shut and didn’t try to leave my hiding spot. But I have spent a year fighting and swimming upstream for my voice and the most important thing I’ve learned about it is, it matters. Dreams matter, opinions matter, stories matter and nobody is ever just quiet. Or nice. Or pretty. People are full of depth and soul and heartache and what a loss the world faces when we tuck those things away and hide out because somewhere along the way we were told, and believed, we were too much.
Quiet has cost me a lot. It has cost me community and being known and participating in discussions about topics I really care about. The word quiet has always been synonymous to the word “voiceless” to me, and there is such a bigger, and grander, story about us than the one voiceless tells. We carry within us so much life and passion that the world needs. And we have a God who intentionally equipped us with all the tools we need to color outside the lines and dream risky dreams and raise our voices for the things that deeply move us. Quiet is such an uncomfortable box to try to fit inside of because we were never meant to live there. We were never meant to hide ourselves in an effort to be more convenient to everyone around us. Your voice matters. Your dreams matter. Your story matters. And you and I are so much more than just quiet.