By Sharon Lee Song
At the end of 2015 as I started discerning and moving forward with a major transition from urban ministry to another ministry called Alive & Well Women, the burning question at the forefront of my mind was, “Lord, how am I supposed to BE in this season of transition?” I had been struggling with feeling disconnected with God and remaining alive and well through it.
I met with a counselor and spiritual director named Fran twice daily during a personal retreat in mid-January for five days. The message from the first day at the retreat house with the Lord was simple and clear: BE YOURSELF. I found myself laughing at the simplicity of this truth, and how absurd it felt for me to realize how far away I had drifted from it.
It’s amazing the kind of clarity you can have when space is opened for it, and there is someone to process it all with. With five days of space with myself, the Lord, and Fran, I realized that I had been feeling pressured to be someone other than myself in this transition. My Myers-Briggs personality type is ESFJ. I have friends that are P’s on the J/P scale, and I admire them very much for their characteristics. P’s on the Myers-Briggs scale are flexible, appreciate circumstances that are open-ended, and prefer to be unstructured in their ways of being. Therefore, P’s actually like and don’t mind living in uncertainty, in fact, they prefer it. They like living with the idea that life is open-ended with a multitude of possibilities.
For you fellow J’s out there, you know that this can drive you bonkers. Over the years, I have become way less rigid, and more flexible and open to living in the gray, the tension of the not yet, because that is part of our reality. But as a J, I prefer closure, structure, and a sense of certainty. Trying to be a P throughout this transition was causing me major stress and anxiety. As I shared with Fran, she simply said things like, “Sharon, your J-ness works for you. You can and need to be a J in this time of transition. Make your lists. Plan your next steps. Keep yourself organized. Make your schedules. These are your strengths and gifts, which is part of why you’re needed in the world and for your calling.” These simple truths gave me so much peace, relief, and release. I could be myself in the midst of uncertainty!
The whole J versus P thing was really the tip of the iceberg. The Lord continued to layer the truth on thick about the need to BE MYSELF, and unveiling the ways that I had gotten lost in trying to be someone else, exposing all of the “shoulds” that I had allowed to infiltrate my mind and cause me to self-doubt and disconnect from myself: I should be more P. I should be more like this as a single person so I can get more dates. I should be this kind of Christian. I should be practicing this spiritual discipline or that spiritual discipline to be a good Christian. Each layer of truth countered the “shoulds.” I asked Fran, “I think I already know the answer to this question, but I can’t get over this. Why do we feel like we should be someone other than ourselves?” Fran said, “Well, it’s easier to conform. It’s easier to be what people expect us to be, it’s safer. It requires risk, courage, vulnerability to really be our true selves.” The great and beautiful irony from all that was gleaned from this amazing retreat is the heart and soul of the ministry of Alive & Well Women, the ministry that I feel called to join by God’s grace! This preparation to be “alive & well” myself as my true self has been His gift for me and this calling.
I would like to share the following list of my reflections compiled from my week-long personal retreat. If any of these things resonate with you, perhaps the Lord is inviting you to make space on a Sabbath day or retreat to consider them more deeply, to hear Him speak truth over you about who you are and your calling. These are not to be seen as another list of “shoulds.”
1. Be myself at all costs. The ultimate tragic cost is losing and compromising myself. The world needs my unique fingerprints. There is no one else in this world that has my specific gifts, and calling that God has given just me.
2. Being disconnected from myself is to be disconnected from God. I felt this quite profoundly, as if the truths were fragments of myself coming together and being made whole. As I re-embraced the various truths about who I am, I felt connected to God’s love and the truth about who He is.
3. Conformity is Pharisaic. If I’m hearing a lot of “shoulds” in my life, I need to inquire about where they are coming from. Fran reminded me about how the Pharisees placed all of these rules on the people of Israel that burdened them instead of giving them freedom in their relationship with God. Jesus had much criticism to Pharisaic ways of being because He came to free me from the burden of “shoulds.”
4. Practice gentleness and compassion with myself. I am very hard on myself and many of my “shoulds” come from that, from being a perfectionist, from culture, from my family of origin. Other “shoulds” come from the expectations of what the world tells me about who I should be, and even what the Church tells me about who I should be.
5. Lastly, a prayer for myself based on Psalm 90:16-17: “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon me, and establish the work of my hands upon me; yes, establish the work of my hands!” The theme of God’s favor in my life has come up several times over the months, and the promise that He will establish the work of my hands leaves me in awe. He has good things for me.
I am in process in my resolution to be myself, as we all are. The most important thing is to embrace this process as each day unfolds in the uncertainty and transition. How very P of me!
Sharon Lee Song lives and works in South Los Angeles with an urban ministry community. Inspired by her own transformation through self-care and soul care, Sharon became a certified fitness trainer and spiritual director. She’s committed to using from what she’s learned from her training and from Alive & Well Women to support others in living healthy, sustainable, urban spiritual lives.