“She believed she could, so she did.”
These seven words are at the cornerstone of our “Empowerment Industrial Complex,” whose message is that we, alone, transform ourselves.
But for Sue Monk Kidd, that’s only half the equation.
The Book of Longings, Kidd’s latest novel, reflects on women’s longing and silencing and awakening, through the story of Ana, the fictional wife of Jesus, and a first century chronicler of women’s stories.
The novel explores the scaffolding of support we need to harness our power in the face of fear and self-doubt. Primal to Ana’s journey of living into her largeness is her Aunt Yaltha. Through their relationship, Ana discovers her potency and finds the courage to express it. Part mentor, part muse, Aunt Yaltha ultimately tells Ana, “my largeness is to bless yours.”
Ana and Yaltha’s sacred alliance illuminates what it means to accompany each other. I bear witness to your suffering and to your light, and you do the same for me. Inside the relationship, we reach the promise of our shared humanity.
Taken alone, both empowerment and accompaniment are powerful. But held together in balance, these twin forces get activated, drawing us closer together while spurring us even deeper within, to the heart of truth and goodness inside us.
Sue is intimately familiar with the interplay between self-development and robust mutuality. Both were essential in her own awakening.
In her memoir, The Dance of The Dissident Daughter, Kidd describes the harrowing sexism she faced raising her daughter, Ann. These experiences propelled her to question everything she knew as a traditional Southern Baptist wife and mother, and to begin a life-changing journey to seek out the divine feminine.
Exposing what she refers to as the “holy misogyny” inside Christianity was controversial, even dangerous. But calling out the systemic silencing of women and erasure of the feminine spirit of God by our patriarchal faith traditions forced Sue to become, as she says, “braver and feistier.” Ultimately, she learned to create, and to live, with more wisdom, passion, and power.
But she’s quick to point out that she didn’t evolve on her own. Sisterhood remains at the heart of blessing her largeness. “My girlfriends are not only my Aunt Yaltha’s,” she laughs during our conversation, “they are my mental health insurance policy.”
Still, holding these forces in balance can be challenging.
Americans put the “self” in self-improvement. As hyper-individualistic culture, we might be granted the support of a therapist or coach, but fundamentally, we’re taught that cultivating personal resilience is an inside job.
The abiding tension in my life is grappling the shame of needing external validation, and trusting that authentic encouragement is essential to showing up bravely to do my work.
As a creative person, putting my work out into the world feels like playing with fire.
“Will they like it?” quickly spirals into “will they like me?”
Sussing out if I’m honoring my voice or chasing validation takes constant vigilance and close monitoring of my ego, motives, and intention.
Somewhere along the way, in guarding against the slippery slope of seeking approval, I told myself that needing support, outside encouragement, really any version of accompaniment, was a weakness.
It meant there was something wrong with me.
Living our largeness requires mining the deepest parts of ourselves. Descending into the fertile bottom of things, where they all connect.
Turning ourselves inside out is the most wildly vulnerable journey imaginable.
Yet I was trying to do that alone?
Oh hell no.
What violence. What sickness.
Thankfully, Sue has a better idea:
“Look for your Aunt Yaltha.
Find someone who can bless your largeness.
But be prepared to bless yourself.”
At the beginning of our conversation, Kidd urges us not to squander this global time out. Our salvation, she says, is in our imagination. As we grapple with the viruses of racism and COVID-19, we’ve run out of time to tinker around the edges.
There is no individual salvation. We are responsible for each other’s transformation. Healing is relational, always and forever.
Blessing our largeness—alone and together—will set our souls on fire.