Thursday, May 16, 2013

Not Letting Myself Be Defined By My Speech Or My Beard

Earlier today I went to a barbershop downtown and had my beard greatly trimmed and received a nice hair cut as well. Part of the reason I had to do this is that I am doing a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at a nearby hospital. This basically means I will be the hospital chaplain's intern for the summer. When I interviewed back in the fall, the chaplain informed me that for health reasons that I would have to cut most of my beard off.

Ever since I was young, I have wanted a beard. I do not know exactly why, but I do remember wanting one as early as middle school. Then when I was 18 I grew my first beard and for a good portion of the last ten years I have had a beard in some form. At times, I have kept it trimmed in a way but for almost the last two years I have just let it grow with very minor trims. I mainly did out of curiosity to see how long it grew. But I did it unconsciously for another reason too.

In therapy, as I have written aboutbefore on my blog, I have been dealing with my self image. For most of my life, I have felt that my speech impediment has been my most defining characteristic. I thought the way I speak is how people remember me the most and it was usually the only quality most people would notice. But some friends told me that this was not case. Once I wrote an email to someone who had met a couple years before at a conference. She had not remember me, so I said that I had red hair and a speech impediment. She emailed back to let me know that she did remember me but she remember me for other qualities than my speech impediment.

I think this was the first time I realized that I should not let myself be defined by my speech impediment. But it is hard not to let it be, especially after a couple decades of telling myself that I am defined by my speech. To be honest, I have to deal with people not being able to understand me everyday and I have to deal with some of those people automatically assuming that I am mentally handicapped in a way most days.

Yet, with a long red beard, I would get noticed before I even opened my mouth. People everywhere complimented me on the beard. I stood out in another way than just having a speech impediment and a

ll the baggage that comes with that. With a long beard I felt defined in another way. It was like my security blanket. I thought maybe people will remember me as the guy with the really rad red beard, instead of the guy with the speech impediment. But, also I did get a lot of snickers and laughs coming at me because I had a ridiculously long red beard. Sometimes, like my speech impediment, I felt embarrassed by having this long beard.

As I thought about this dilemma in therapy, I realized that neither my long red beard or having a speech impediment completely define who I am. I have a lot of other characteristics, much more important aspects of myself. If I let myself be define by either of these two qualities, I am holding back my gifts that I can offer the wider world. Even though I will always be defined negatively by an handful of people (it can be a cruel world out there), I have to remember that I am a child of God and I need to live into that role more fully. In Matthew, Jesus commands in the Sermon on the Mount that, instead of hiding it under a bushel, everyone should let their light shine (Matt 5:15-16).

Yes, I do need to let my light shine brightly and not hold my gifts from the world.  

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this courageous personal testimony, Greg! I really appreciated it.