(By Elaine Stawinski)
A few weeks ago, I was ready to put my five-year-old son to bed. He then started lamenting about some pain he was experiencing in his foot. He said he stepped on a nail in the morning but forgot to tell me about it.
I'm thinking if I stepped on a nail, I don't think I could keep it to myself - I'd probably shout with agony! I asked him how it happened. He said the nail went through his shoe (a pair of crocs) into his foot. My husband and I looked at his foot and there was a little cut on his foot where something sharp like a nail went in. “Are you sure the nail went through your crocs? Were you barefoot or did you have a pair of socks on?" I asked.
While it was possible that a nail went through the sole of his crocs, I didn't think the probability was that high. He was adamant that he was wearing his crocs when this happened.
We found his crocs, and sure enough, we saw a small hole in the shoe that matched where the nail went into his foot. I wondered how he could've been playing and jumping around all morning and afternoon without saying anything. He insisted that he "forgot" to tell me. We comforted him and found some ointment to put on his foot.
A few minutes later, he burst in tears and sobbed, "I was afraid to tell the truth. I actually didn't forget to tell you. I thought I would get in trouble so I didn't want to say anything but now it hurts.” I was a bit taken aback by my son's response and reflected on why he was afraid to speak up and afraid that he would get in trouble for getting hurt!
We can declare that speaking up is the right thing to do, but sometimes it isn't so easy and straightforward. Speaking up comes with possible repercussions. We might be judged or not believed. We might fear making someone feel awkward or be concerned that speaking up won't make a difference. But possibly, by speaking up we might evoke positive change for ourselves and others.
Speaking up requires courage and confidence as well as the deliberate decision that it is necessary. This quote by Ambrose Redman really resonates with me: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the judgment that something else is more important than fear” (Ambrose Redman).
As Christians, we know that our God is greater than anything we could possibly fear. Even when we feel fear, we don’t need to give in to it or allow it to keep us from speaking what we know God wants us to say. We, the recipients of God’s love and grace, are called to extend His love and grace to others and to “speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15).
We live in fearful times. With this global pandemic, everyone’s lives have changed and the future is uncertain. People are anxious about their health, their finances, their children’s education, etc. Fears about safety and racism are current realities.
In times of such uncertainty and ambiguity, speaking up is so critical. We are all processing things differently, we come with our own assumptions, preferences, experiences, backgrounds as well as biases and blind spots and the path forward may not always be linear.
As I reflected on this moment for what it means to speak up, here are a few of my thoughts:
1. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. This may mean leaning into your vulnerabilities to sharing and tackling tough topics that can create a forum for others to share something important to them with you.
2. When colleagues/family/friends speak up, acknowledge it, and commend them for their courage and confidence in speaking up.
3. Listen with intent, don't assume, seek to understand, and don't jump to conclusions and
solutions; sometimes an active listener is all that is needed.
4. While the onus is on the individual to speak up, the role of the receiving party is just as critical in creating a safe environment for the individual to speak up with courage and confidence. What can I do differently to creating an open, inclusive environment for sharing?
5. I can't expect others to read my mind. If something is bothering or exciting me, I need to speak up directly.
So when we finally settled my son, I had to remind him that we are happy he decided to tell us
the truth. We would never be upset or angry at him for telling the truth - if anything we could've
looked at his boo-boo sooner! We did a pinky promise to solidify our pact to tell the truth and
speak up going forward.
This is a reminder of the wonderful relationship we have entered into as Christians with God who wants the best for us and will accept us in any state we are in. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). It is humbling to think that we can freely come to the throne of grace and speak up to a God that cares and provides.