Rebellion and Showing Up As Your Whole Self

Rebellion and Showing Up As Your Whole Self

It’s an act of rebellion to show up as your whole self—especially with the parts that are complex, unfinished, and vulnerable. – Courtney Martin

I heard this line from Courtney Martin in an interview with her and Parker Palmer on the On Being podcast. It’s one of those statements that has been working on me for a while. So I did what I often do when I need a good starting point for clarity and looked to the dictionary:

– an act of violent or open resistance to an established government or ruler
– the action or process of resisting authority, control, or convention

The second definition really struck me as I put it into the context of Courtney’s statement. How is it that showing up as your whole self is a process of resisting? What is being resisted? I pondered.

If showing up as your whole self is an act of rebellion, then it must be an act of conformity and compliancy to show up as part of your self. So what does that conformity and partial-self living look like?

your partial self

I believe we live out of our partial self when we:

  • say we’re fine when we’re actually suffering inside
  • don’t speak the questions that burn like embers on the inside
  • neglect to reflect on and examine life
  • don’t put our gifts and ideas into the world
  • don’t listen to our lives when they speak

This is partial living because when we do the above we are burying aspects of ourselves in order to live the way we feel we are expected to live. Lets look at this list again and reflect on what sort of conformity is happening with each action:

when we say we’re fine when we’re actually suffering inside…

Conformity: We’re conforming to the notion that everyone is supposed to be “good” and that hardship and struggle are somehow abnormal, a burden, or the result of our own failures or lack of effort.

Rebellion: When we rebel and live out of our whole self we are able to speak frankly and honestly about our lives—not to the extreme to where we wear our hearts on our sleeve and do actually become a burden to others—but where we might ask a friend if we can talk to them about something going on in our lives. Or where we recognize the value in seeing a counselor, therapist, or spiritual director—not because we are broken and need help—but because they empower us to live well. When we live out of our whole self we resist the temptation to bury our pain in order to protect the discomfort of those who love and care for us. We recognize that suffering is part of life and part of what it means to be human. There’s no shame in it and we don’t have to hide it any more.

when we don’t speak the questions that burn like embers on the inside…

Conformity: By not asking questions, we conform to the idea that the path that has been worn is the best path and it’s best to not mess it up. We conform to the idea that our questions are stupid questions and the very fact that we have them indicate that we are not as smart as those who appear to have all the answers. Questions turn impenetrable and compacted land into rich tillage. When the land has been walked upon over and over again with the same feet walking the same path, it becomes very difficult to work the soil and nearly impossible to plant or grow anything.

Rebellion: When we rebel and live out of our whole self we recognize that sometimes asking good questions is better than grooming perfect answers. We are able to embrace the grey areas and realize that good questions sometimes open up a third way that was previously buried in “this or that” rhetoric. We discover that our questions actually indicate a deep hunger to learn and explore. We embrace question-asking as a vulnerable but life-giving posture.

when we neglect to reflect on and examine life…

Conformity: When we live without reflection and examination we are conforming to the lie that we don’t have anything original worth contributing to the world, so we instead just float through life, hoping to have decent job, hoping to make decent money, go on some good vacations, and watch some good movies and television shows. The “experts” have figured out all the good stuff, everyone else seems to be more talented and gifted than us, and we ultimately surrender to fate and chance.

Rebellion: When we rebel against this lack of examination we are finally able to step far enough back from our own ego to see our own faults and give ourselves grace. This is the beginning of wisdom and growth. Naming reality is half of the battle. Once we know what we are dealing with we can use good discernment tools to figure out how to navigate well. If we aren’t even aware of the ocean we are journeying through, we’re a shipwreck waiting to happen. When we rebel against this lack of reflection and examination, we realize that transformation does not lie in yelling louder than the other person who disagrees with us, but in being the very change we want to see—and in genuinely listening to understand those who are different from us. We rebel against a passive life of consumptive leisure and become creators, innovators, and dreamers.

when we don’t put our gifts and ideas into the world…

Conformity: It is a gift to be oneself. Very few great and wonderful things have been achieved by merely following in someone else’s footsteps or by trying to follow some model of life that someone else has given us. When we don’t put our gifts and ideas into the world, we conform to the idea that things should be left to “experts”, specialists, people in the field, etc. We find ourselves saying things like, “I want to do ________ but I’m not ______. If only I was better educated, had this training, made a better choice 10 years ago, etc.”

Rebellion: When we show up as our whole self we can step out into the world with confidence and find the freedom to be ourselves. Labels and categories mean less than they did before. We find the humble courage to let our lives speak and follow our gifts and ideas wherever they lead. We receive with gratefulness the gifts that have been planted in our lives and allow their vines to stretch out into all sorts of wonderful areas. We realize these things can start now regardless of our past because it is what gives us life—these are the things that make us US.

when We don’t listen to our life when it speaks…

Conformity: We might take the first step by merely noticing what stirs the pot of longing in our lives, but when we don’t listen to and act upon these longings we become mere commentators on what our lives could be. I’m certainly guilty of saying things like, “My dream is to _______.” Or, “What I really want is to                   .” And then after saying such things, not making any real sort of effort toward achieving them.

Rebellion: When we show up as our whole selves we say Yes! to life’s invitations. We recognize that while we may not be able to achieve that big thing tomorrow—we can begin initiating it in small steps. We do our best to do the next best thing. We try to manifest that bigger thing in small ways today. The temptation is to simply toss that longing and desire out the window concluding, “…but that’s not really going to happen.” When we show up as our whole self, we keep pressing in. If you want to start a church, start with a small group. If you want to start a business, start with a book on business planning. If you want to start a garden, plant one seed. This isn’t a “follow your dreams” pitch. This is about following through on the inner callings of your life. Conformity is sitting around talking about what we really want to do or feel called to, then going home and watching Netflix. There’s nothing wrong with entertainment in moderation, but when we hear that still small voice and then ignore it, we’re failing to show up as our whole self.

Your whole self

So be rebellious and show up as your whole self. It’s not shameful to be vulnerable—it is rebellious. It’s not weak to ask questions—it is rebellious. It’s not foolish to put your ideas out there—it is rebellious. Lets not be hokey pokey about life—putting one arm or leg into the stream of life at a time. Put the whole self in. THAT is what it’s all about!

Photo by Lance Baker


  • Tim Hurley

    May 21, 2016 at 8:40 am Reply

    It’s interesting being led to read this at 4:30AM during a night whee insomnia is winning the battle. Having just embarked down a new path instigated by a new therapist stressing the importance of “being real,” your writing resonated in this soul now battling to drop the bullshit. Being Real in an unreal society is the most open form of violent rebellion I can think of. Thanks

  • Jenny Meyers

    May 21, 2016 at 1:49 pm Reply

    I love your thoughts on showing up as your whole self , finding them , not only true but encouraging as well. One word of caution, if you decide to really put this ideal into practice, be prepared for rejection , misunderstanding , dislike and possibly even the experience of the mean side of people. This is because you are transitioning from a sparrow to a hawk. What I mean by that is that there is a reason sparrows are all the same color and markings- you can’ t tell one from another. A person might want to start this essential and valuable practice in a supportive group or under the direction of a spiritual director. I believe this showing up as your whole self, is a necessary part of Christian growth as a disciple of Jesus ( but note where it led him) and enlightened human growth in general. It just might be useful to have the whole picture of where the decision will lead if you decide to try it.

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