"Red Alert! " Ashley declared to the class with her hands cupped around her mouth. "Mandi's nervous!"
Quiet chuckles rippled through the room. My classmates knew very well this was going to be an entertaining several minutes in which I would attempt to complete a “playing test” in band class. During this grueling experience, one must stand up and play a song on their instrument for a grade in front of the entire band.
I felt like I was going to die. I was going to throw up, and then I was going to die. Nevertheless, I raised my trembling cornet and tried to ignore the amused faces looking back at me.
Then it all went black. Or, at least, it mostly went black. I do recall at one point I hit a note so unthinkable that all eyes in the classroom tripled size.
My friends later informed me that I managed to play the entire song from beginning to end with an abnormal amount of vibrato—I guess as a consequence of my shaking.
"It sounded like there was an earthquake and you just played right through it," one friend said, encouragingly.
This was all just standard procedure in my young neurotic life. Any time I had to do anything in front of an audience, some kind of disaster occurred. It had become my trademark in school so much that there was an alert system in place.
If you would have asked me then what I was so afraid of, I might have said it was the judgement and possible rejection by my classmates, or the constant feeling of humiliation from failure. But what I’ve realized since those horrific middle-school days is that what I was really afraid of was myself.
Let me be the first to tell you that if you avoid circumstances where individuals will witness something you refuse to accept about yourself, it will foster a great deal of anxiety. For me, this meant any event through which others would observe my anxiety. By their witness to it, it would confirm the ghastly and unthinkable reality that I often experienced… fear.
So there’s a thing that happens when we refuse to accept something about ourselves, counterintuitive, though, it may seem: Pride.
Pride is the wall we build between ourselves and the unsavory flaws we refuse to acknowledge. It’s a powerful wall indeed—one our current president couldn’t even dream of. And while this wall ensures we will keep out the reality of our flaws, it also ensures that we will keep away the people, life experiences, and truths that go along with it.
The other rather glaring problem with the wall is that it blocks out peace—because as I’ve discovered—one cannot experience peace with the world and in relation to others if they refuse to live in reality along with them.
Peace and truth are irreversibly connected. We can’t truly have one without the other.
True self-acceptance and self-love are evident in a person who has done the dirty and unflattering work of tearing down the wall between themselves and the flaws they detest the most. They have greeted and made peace with the very things they believe are unlovable, unthinkable, and utterly detestable.
This kind of work, however, cannot be done alone. It takes a village—a tribe of dedicated individuals marching around the stubborn walls of Jericho. It takes the power of Jesus himself to break down this pride-wall, brick by unflattering brick.
In her book Restoring the Christian Soul, Leanne Payne wrote, “The humble acceptance of myself as fallen but now justified by Another who is my righteousness is the basis on which I can accept myself, learn to laugh at myself, and be patient with myself. “
In my case, this wall-deconstructing party took decades. But I knew I was reaching the other side when I was willing to go talk to a counselor and psychiatrist, and when I was willing to talk about my anxiety openly. I knew I was finding freedom when I could allow others to witness my fear—because I had finally allowed myself to be a witness to it.
When we hear people talk about self-love, we might be tempted to think self-focus and self-centeredness, and that maybe even pride and overconfidence are what’s driving it. But I believe a healthy self-love is rooted in the humility of self-acceptance.
I’ve sure that even today if was faced with a “playing test” the same feelings of fear and horror would shoot through me. But maybe instead of blacking out in fear, I would join the others in laughing at the shaky, sweaty mess that I would become. Maybe, I would show up with my whole self and battle through with gratitude because I know no greater freedom than to stare my weakness in the face and laugh.
“The act of self-acceptance is the root of all things. I must agree to be the person who I am. Agree to have the qualifications that I have. Agree to live within the limitations set for me. The clarity and courageousness of this acceptance is the foundation of all existence.” — Romano Guardino, Catholic Philosopher-Theologian