I recently read an entertainment article featuring the beloved and prolific Julia Roberts detailing her process for starting films on set. She mentioned that before she can begin any actual script work, she takes a day or two to walk around and connect with—or befriend—all the people she’ll be working with, from other actors, to assistants, to caterers. A day or two. She reported this was part of a process she needs for her social anxiety, to get her relaxed enough to do the real work. This woman commands millions of viewers and dollars, and has for decades. Could it be this penchant for warmth that earned her reputation as “America’s Sweetheart?”
I imagine that as she wins over her co-workers, she does so with sincerity. But how is she not exhausted? It can be confusing when we send out warmth so others won’t think we are difficult or threatening. If our kindness is perceived to stem less from genuine interest and more from an effort to manage the awkwardness, then we are effectively saying, “I am for you, but only to get out front and preserve myself.”
Julia’s story (I like to think we’d be on a first name basis, because I also trade on my warmth) stopped me. I stayed long enough to ask myself whether I give words and ask questions out of love or a need to get security. Do I watch you only to read and evaluate my impact instead of to learn how you are? Can I only breathe and relax when I’m sure we’re okay? I have to remember to engage this place in me with compassion, for surely the muscle for this grew in the span of years where I needed to take the temperature of a room in order to feel safe.
Still, conviction was not lost on me. I can see how my curiosity gets diminished in favor of an anxious analysis of how I’m coming across, or by listening only enough to prepare an articulate response. We cannot really move toward people in love when we lose openness. But to be open, we have to surrender.
Speaking the truth in love means surrendering the outcome of the conversation, and embracing a willingness to be misunderstood, even accused. It requires letting go of the social identity I’ve created: “I’m easy, thoughtful, warm; don’t be threatened by me.” Surrender, not self-preservation, is a prerequisite for loving. I am certainly not going to hold any legitimate truth or invitation before you if I am primarily concerned with protecting my image.
And surrendering means trusting that God is already at work in the person receiving, doing things I will never be able to do for them. It assumes trust in that part of them that is deeper than their wounds and defenses that wants connection and to be seen. I want openness and new learning of the people I love. Yet I cannot get to openness without a trust in people and God that convinces me to let go in the moment of communicating. In helping conversations, we are safest for others when we trust we are hidden in Him. To be open, we must surrender.
Meredith joined The Barnabas Center staff in January 2009, upon completing her Masters in Counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and her Bachelors in Religion and Psychology from Furman University. She counsels, leads women’s groups and teaches a seminar called “Hope in the Darkness” for those walking with individuals suffering from depression or bipolar disorder.