I was recently at my ordination group’s annual conference (the governing body who let me be a reverend), so there was a lot of really nice people there… minus me. It’s not that I don’t want to be nice; it’s just my automatic thoughts can be… less than nice. Part of this less than niceness lead to me asking the question: Am I guarded or think I’m superior? Guardedness comes from feeling vulnerable and weak in some way. It means we subconsciously feel at risk of being attacked and assume we aren’t strong enough to handle it. Thinking I’m superior… I’m sure you’re smart enough to figure that out; I believe in you because I don’t think I’m superior.
When I arrived at the conference, I was definitely guarded. I didn’t feel like I had imposter syndrome, but I did feel like an outsider. The event only happens once a year and it’s terrible at connecting people, which means even though this was my sixth year attending every conference is an awkward ‘I recognize you but know nothing about you’ moment with some people and ‘I don’t know if you’re new or I should know you’ moment with others. This was the thing I worked hard to prevent from happening in my youth group, but for some reason leaders in general often assume adults can magically become instantly comfortable with each other. The problem is human nature is human nature no matter how old we are. For most people of all ages, meeting new people and reconnecting with others we haven’t seen in a year is difficult.
Walking into the conference, after a couple awkward greetings I sat down and this is when the question came to mind: Do I feel guarded or superior? The obvious answer so far is guarded, but then I read in the program that the speaker at the event was a young guy; he wasn’t even thirty… wow that makes me sound old. When I saw his age and background my immediate response was “Why’s this guy our speaker?” I then saw there was a very old gentleman at a table with a bunch of the same book. My first thought here was I bet he thinks he’s so great: “Look at me; I have books to sell. I think I’m so cool.” You know, the way a ten year old might respond. I said I wasn’t nice, so this makes sense. A few minutes into the first session this guy was introduced and when he spoke he was this incredibly gentle and kind, English accented man who was giving his book to anyone who wanted it. Thus, proving I was being a jerk without reason, which is the worst time to be a jerk. And the young guy… lived up to my expectation with his talk, and when I tried speaking to him later that day he had an “I’m superior” vibe. This could’ve been a cover for guardedness, but it didn’t help my opinion of him.
On the drive home I was reflecting on all this and I concluded my natural response is to be guarded; even the way I responded to the guy with the book where I sounded ‘superior’ was me expressing guardedness because it connected to my biggest trigger: feeling rejection. For some reason when I’m not asked to help or someone else seems to get special treatment over me I feel rejection. This connects to the issue I’ve had for the last fifteen years where I’ve often questioned God: “Why not me? Why do You choose these other people to be church leaders and speakers and not me? Am I not good enough? Am I not ready? Am I doing or not doing something that is preventing me from getting these opportunities? Why’d You choose priests who are pedophiles or leaders who are ridiculously arrogant?” I know my conclusion will upset many Christian elites, but I believe God is less involved in who gets into leadership than we want to think, which is why there are so many bad leaders. In the story of Moses God tells the Israelites the Promised Land will be theirs, but ten of the twelve scouts (aka leaders) who checked it out said there was no way and the Israelites got punished to wander the desert for forty years. If these scouts went against God why do we assume God picks church leaders who always follow His plan? God can guide, but ultimately church leaders are chosen through human eyes, which are full of biases and ignorance, and God has to work with that. Thus, God not choosing me isn’t necessarily Him rejecting me as it is human choice and circumstance, and no matter what good will come out of it.
Regardless of my trigger, from a practical standpoint I need to do something to help my guardedness and how not being asked to speak or do something at this event isn’t the rejection I initially felt. As usual, the best thing I can do to help this is to consider ‘what is the good that I wasn’t the speaker’ because seeing the good allows us to let things go. Here are a couple things:
- It saved me the work and stress of speaking
- Maybe they didn’t ask because they didn’t want to be a burden
- Maybe I haven’t clearly communicated I’d be open to speaking, which means this is miscommunication on my part and not rejection
- I get to practice being humble and biting my tongue
This week may you consider whether your go-to is guardedness or thinking you’re superior and start to work on it like I need to.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people