Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too

“Jesus… got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me’… He said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you… Whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.’” ~excerpts from John 13:1-20

“Will you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you? Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.”  These words by Richard Gillard are from one of my favourite* hymns, and have recurrently challenged me in my interactions with others.

The first part of the verse comes naturally to many Mennonites.  From barn raisings to Mennonite Disaster Services, we love to help people; as Jesus was a servant to others, so shall we be.  On the other hand, Mennonites can be stubbornly independent, actively working to not be a bother.  The Protestant work ethic is in our blood.  The second half of the verse is not so easy.  Of course, this is a huge stereotype, but it is often accurate.  It is much easier to serve than to be served.  We may claim humility to explain our “selflessness,” but in fact, it requires much greater humility to accept help for oneself, and pride often stands in our way.

In John 13, Jesus washes his disciples’ feet.  I often find myself like Simon Peter in the above verses, adamantly refusing the assistance of others, believing myself unworthy of their assistance.  However, after Jesus has washed their feet, he commands them to “wash one another’s feet.”  He doesn’t say to only “Wash the feet of those who need help,” or “Wash the feet of the poor.”  Jesus tells them to wash each other’s feet—to serve the others and accept help for themselves as well.  As Mennonites, and as Christians, we strive to live as Jesus did.  To walk in His way requires us to not see ourselves solely as servants, elevating ourselves as self-sufficient, but to have the grace to let others show God’s love to us.  This also applies to our relationship with God, for when stretched too far, our love of action can prevent us from accepting God’s grace and love.

This refusal to accept help often transfers into my relationships with others.  In many friendships, I have emotionally supported the other person, while not opening up myself.  It is relatively easy—to a point—for me to support someone else.  It takes considerably more strength, at first, for me to allow myself to be supported.  I tell myself that people don’t care, that they have enough troubles of their own without my adding to the load.  But the truth is, mutual sharing strengthens a friendship.  My one friend recently commented in dismay, “You never tell me anything anymore!”  I tried to shrug it off, though I knew it to be true.  I was so caught up in helping her and listening to her, that my struggles hardly seemed worthy of attention.  I didn’t want to worsen her pain by adding to it, but instead, I made her feel distanced from my life.

In some cases, fear of judgement prevents me from sharing.  Though I try to remind myself that I would not be judging someone else for the same thing; that if they do judge me, I shouldn’t be investing too much into the relationship anyways; and that I would much rather my friends ask for help, rather than keeping their pain to themselves, I still tend to do just that.  I hold everything in.  I judge myself before they even have a chance to prove me wrong.

Where does this judgement come from?  Throughout my life, I’ve built up a lot of self-hatred, fear, and shame.  So much shame.  These feelings have developed around a variety of factors, including my sexuality, body image, and a plethora of personal circumstances I won’t discuss here.  All of this negativity directed towards myself convinces me that I am a burden to everybody around me.  When people notice that something is off and try to help—”why are you scared of everything?”—”you should seek counselling”—”you don’t need to apologize so much!”—I brush them off and add my latest failure to be “normal” to my list of shame.  Once I see myself as worthless, unloveable, awkward, and narcissistic for not being able to let it go, I am unable to accept the grace and love I feel I don’t deserve.  I force myself into silence by the sheer power of self-doubt.  Asking for help is nearly impossible.

Even when people come forward offering hospitality, I find it difficult to accept.  I recently prayed for a chance to talk  an individual I know, because I was hesitant to approach them directly.  However, even when they explicitly extended an invitation, I panicked and turned them down.  I lived for so many years training myself to be as private a person as possible.  Think Elsa in Frozen: “Don’t let them in; don’t let them see.  Be the good girl you always have to be.  Conceal; don’t feel.  Don’t let them know.”  I love Disney, and cheesy as it may be, that line sums up my relationship with my emotions, sexuality, and other factors that contributed to the shame.  I didn’t even want to let myself know!  My tendency to hide from people continues to  this day.

Of course, one can only hold ever-escalating emotions for so long until they turn into spontaneous midnight crying sessions on a bridge with your best friend.  Which isn’t ideal, as you end up dumping years worth of emotions onto your friend, and concerned police officers come over to check in on you.  You just wanted to go on a nice walk, and suddenly in an hour you’ve unloaded fifteen years worth of frustration, anger, and shame on your poor friend.  Yet in reality, you’ve barely scraped the crust, much less the mantle.

Repressing things for that long also means that things take longer to deal with.  Problems with simple fixes have become compounded under not-so-simple problems, and you end up figuring out many things the hard way.  After sifting through years of convoluted crap, you finally acknowledge a detail of yourself that, had it not been hidden and tainted with so much negativity, could have been a relatively benign discovery twelve years ago.  One’s sexuality, for example.  Had I and the people around me been more open to conversations on sexuality; had I not been sneakily exposed to the idea that “homosexuality is wrong;” had society told children they might feel attracted to various genders and sexes, rather than perpetuating heteronormative images and assumptions, I might have figured things out at age eight, rather than age twenty.

I’ve over-apologized for years.  Bump into a person—”sorry.”  Bump into a table—”sorry.”  “Stop apologizing!”—”sorry… Sorry!”  Tonight it was the dishes dance: I’m using the sink to wash something that my housemates all use.  My friend comes in wanting to wash a mug.  “Sorry… sorry,” I sputter, awkwardly trying to move out of the way.  She grabs some soap and heads to the other sink, reminding me not to apologize so much.  “Sorr—”  I was apologizing for being in the way while washing the house’s dishes.  So essentially apologizing for fulfilling basic life tasks that in fact benefit the person I was apologizing to.  Is this where my fear of being open has led me?  To a place where my very existence becomes reason for apology?  These types of apologies are a daily, sometimes hourly, occurrence.

Because of my self-shaming, I tend to doubt others’ sincerity.  “Why would they care?” My mind mocks my emotions, telling me they are no big deal.  Even writing this blog is difficult.  I think it is important that people understand how people who struggle with anxiety experience life.  The irrationality of its hold on our minds can be difficult to understand.  At the same time, I don’t want to burden people with the words of yet another depressed writer.  I recognize that this is ridiculous.  I am not forcing anyone to read my writing, and people who are reading it are likely interested, or they would have stopped reading.  Yet my mind still constantly doubts the legitimacy of this pursuit.

In this process of starting to come to terms with my sexuality, I have suddenly been forced to reach out to people as a tool of survival.  God is using this unravelling of all the negative things I’ve told myself over the years to help me become more open with others, and more open to Him.  My self-sufficiency and shame prevented me from fully forming relationships where I could be my truest self.  Yet even as I learn to trust others as I trust myself, I continue to struggle.  I remain closed off to my friends, though I am working towards openness.  I’m willing to walk alongside them; I pray I can have the strength and grace to let them also walk with me.

*I have many, many favourite hymns—I’m Mennonite after all!—but the words in this one prove especially challenging. You can listen to it here.

Will you let me be your servant,
Let me be as Christ to you.
Pray that I may have the grace
To let me be your servant too.

We are pilgrims on a journey,
We are trav’lers on the road.
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load

I will hold the Christ-light for you
In the night time of your fear.
I will hold my hand out to you,
Speak the peace you long to hear.

I will weep when you are weeping,
When you laugh, I’ll laugh with you.
I will share your joy and sorrow
Till we’ve seen this journey through.

When we sing to God in heaven,
We shall find such harmony,
Born to all we’ve known together
Of Christ’s love and agony

 Will you let me be your servant,
Let me be as Christ to you.
Pray that I might have the grace
To let me be your servant too.

~Richard Gillard, 1977


The Dragon

The Dragon

It crushes down
A dark, deep, menacing force.
Screaming silence.

My tears stream silent
With silent gasps of breath the only breeze
Trying to hold in the hurt
The sorrow
The shame.

Sound is a betrayal of emotion I cannot bear
This pain is secret
Held in the pit of my stomach
Twisting knots
Tearing through my vision
Screaming through my mind in unspoken anguish.

No words can contain this sorrow.

I lie there as pools bubble up, stinging my eyes.
But they sting less than my heart.

Rivers run
Salt tinged lips
I bear the pain in silence.

I cannot share this pain
The shame is too much to bear
My self-judgement rains down
And projects itself as the judgement of others.

Besides, that would be admitting weakness
Or so I tell myself.
I want to be strong.
I will be strong.
I don’t want my burden to be a burden to others.

So I hold it in.


Yet the beast claws and tears at my heart
Reminding me that it is ever-present
Though sometimes dormant.


Waiting for the right opportunity to claw its way to the surface
And leave me breathless and broken.
Plotting ways to turn my own conscious in on itself
So it doesn’t have to do the dirty work.

Sometimes after it slinks away
I think that it has gone forever.
I tell myself,

“How silly you were to think that it controlled you.
How could you let it do that?
See, life’s not so bad!
You’re happy now.
You were just tricking yourself before.
The pain was all in your head.”

But it turns out those words are just it speaking
Using my voice in its mockery.
A double-edged sword.
A hidden blow.

It was lying.

Lying by the deepest, darkest pools of my subconscious
The places I don’t like to go because it’s cold and eerie.
Lurking in the shadows of my darkest nights.

Lying about the fact that it was gone
That sunnier days had sent it scurrying
Off to some crack in the earth.

It never left.

It tricked me.

Because it comes back later.

Long after I think it has vanished
After I begin to imagine that maybe it was never there at all.
After my fear has turned to relief
And I think, “Now I’ll live life again!”

It comes back.

So I must battle this creature
This unseen monster which haunts the hallows of my heart.
Because this battle for my heart
Is not between the dragon and a prince—
Like a fairy tale told to children—
But the dragon and myself.

I will fight for my own heart.

The Masquerade

The Masquerade

Shifting colours on display. All the grey hidden away. Masquerade—playing a part. Don’t be afraid to bare your heart. ~My younger self

Will people love me less if they know who I really am?

I hide behind so many facades
This is the masquerade
Do I even know what is truly me
Or is it hidden beneath layers of deception
And created personalities?

The mask falls off.

I try to contain myself but I burst out awkward
Laughter too loud, stories too long.
I feel obnoxious and want to stop—
But I can’t.
My tongue carried away by a train of sound
Brakes failing until the train grinds to a halt
Or crashes in an awkward disarray.

I feel your judgement.

When you whisper, do you whisper about me?
Probably not.
You talk about your weekend, the cute guy you met
But I can’t hear your words
So I project my self-judgement into your whispers
And with every glance and giggle I feel the scorn I cast upon myself.

The mask goes on.

I’m surrounded by a thousand Aphrodites
A thousand Adonises
Turned in my mind’s eye into a pack of wolves
Hungry for my confidence and dignity.

Every glance, word, and gesture analyzed—
Yours and mine
To build up my defenses
Hone my image and

Keep myself behind the mask.

I feel so awkward as I struggle to present myself as perfect.
I feel like an elephant
Like I’ve expanded to fill the entire room.
Every eye must be on me
I feel the stares prickle across my cheeks
A thousand flaming arrows.

Nothing is out of the ordinary to you
But I create a world where I am singled out for inspection.
Every misstep
Every imperfection
Every difference
Paraded by the unseeing eyes that I feel as lasers
Inspecting all my layers
Dissecting every fault.
My heart closes, a hidden vault.

This is not who I really am, but it is who I see.
I imagine myself a monster
Until I believe the lie.

If people saw me as I see myself, would they love me any less?

I do.