“Am I willing to be misunderstood?” I saw the title of a recent substack article from my friend, singer songwriter, and poet Zach Winters and it mediately cut to my heart. I thought about you here at this site. What a question!
I can so easily fail to step out in faith and ever say anything of substance because I am afraid that others will misunderstand me. I want to share things and ask questions here that I haven’t. I have been misunderstood before and it can be debilitating. I’ve attempted to share things on this very site that others have misunderstood and walked away from the conversation after months of an exhausting back and forth which leaves me wishing I hadn’t even tried to express what I was thinking and feeling in the first place.
This has to be a tactic of the enemy.
I think about many of you that have written to me or called about the possibility of becoming a part of a simple church. Many of you have stared down the possibility of friends and loved ones thinking or saying things about you like, “They think they have got it all figured out!” or “They are walking away from their faith.” Despite the possibility of being misunderstood, you trusted and obeyed anyway! You resisted the fear of being misunderstood.
Recently at our simple church retreat someone shared intimate details of life with the group. Weekly many of you open up and attempt to communicate what God is teaching you. All of this happens at the risk of being misunderstood; yet, you trust and share! I’m so grateful for your courage!
Certainly there is wisdom and discernment in what and when and how we share ideas. It’s certainly not a badge of honor to be misunderstood in some cases. Yet how many of us remain frozen or silent because we are paralyzed by this fear?
Is something burning in your heart that you feel you need to share with someone but have not because of fear they will not understand?
I asked Zach if I could share his thoughts here. Below is his post that inspired me to write to you today. If you are encouraged by it, let him know. I suggest following him at substack and checking out his music. It’s rich with thought-provoking perspectives on faith, life, and love.
Last week I received a pre-print copy of my book of poetry and as exciting as that was—seeing the 150 pages laid out just as they’ll be for anyone who picks it up—there is a sober reality to bringing a body of work to a close.
Did I say all I wanted to say?
Did I leave things out that should have been said?
I tell songwriters sometimes, “This won’t be the last thing you write.” I think it’s sound advice (which I try to remind myself of sometimes), but the truth is, it has always been a fearful thing to bring creative work into the light.
Why a fearful thing?
There are a number of reasons—internal and external—but the one that nags me most is, after I have given a work my best attention I am capable of in that moment…
Am I willing to be misunderstood?
I have a few comforts that help me move past the paralysis of being misunderstood.
-Other people’s perceptions are outside of my control: I will never be able to control for how people connect or don’t connect with what I write (or who I am). I tend to operate with Robert Frost’s advice in mind: “No tears for the writer, no tears for the reader.” In other words, if it resonates deeply with me, then I have to trust that the work will go out into the world and find others with whom it will also resonate. How many beautiful albums have I missed out on because I wasn’t in the right mood? Wasn’t the right season, etc.? So I simply try and write things I mean.
-Communication is organic, not static: whatever I make, write, sing or say is incomplete. It’s not the final word. So why should I expect that this new thing is a crystallized, perfected utterance? That is a product mentality, not a gardener’s mentality. And even if I get something wrong, I can get up, dust myself off, and try to learn how to make it right, or if not right, then better.
–Jesus was willing to be misunderstood: as the Gospels read, Jesus was misunderstood time and again, both by people who were against him and also by his family and closest friends. To the very end, from His Last Supper of the Passover meal to praying in the olive grove to the cross and even after… and when he taught people in stories and parables, I can’t help but think how much confusion he could have avoided by just doing an extensive, year-long Q&A. Perhaps doctrinal clarity wasn’t what He was after. Maybe He was willing to be misunderstood because his sense of why He was here compelled Him beyond tending to and maintaining an image. I’m beguiled and filled with wonder at the implications of how He lived and what it means about the character of God.
This is just meant as a small meditation on struggling with the fear of being misunderstood. Certainly more to explore along this theme…
Q: how do you move past/overcome the fear of being misunderstood?