14 November 2014

What holds you back from being who you are called to be?

Awakening :: Week 10


I think of Moses as a good example of one who struggled with self-abnegation. In the Torah, Exodus 3–4 outlines this marvelous story. God called Moses to lead the Hebrew people out of slavery, but Moses doubted his abilities and tried to wiggleout of the calling. The Scriptures mention four times that Moses responded to God with “what ifs” and excuses. Self-abnegation is seen clearly in Exodus 4:10-14. Moses understands that in order for the people to be liberated, he will have to speak to the king of Egypt to negotiate their release—a tall order, no doubt. Moses seems afraid and doubtful that this is going to work. By way of struggling with the calling and delaying to step up to the responsibility, Moses says that he is not a good speaker:

Then Moses said to the Holy One, “Please, my God, I am not good with words. I wasn’t yesterday, nor the day before, nor am I now, even after you spoke to me. I speak slowly, and with a wooden tongue.”

YHWH replied, “Who taught people to speak in the first place? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who makes them see, or be blind? Who, if not I, YHWH? Now go! I myself will be with you when you speak. I will teach you what to say.”

But Moses said, “Please, my God, please send someone else. Not me.”

Then God’s anger flashed out against Moses. “If you can’t do it, I knowsomeone who can.”

How many times have we been like Moses—full of self-doubt and reluctant to step into our calling? Self-abnegation and sensuality are intricately connected, but at first it is difficult to recognize the connection. Often, doing what feels good (sensuality) means hiding or avoiding one’s potential. When we are subject to the sin of self-abnegation, we are shirking our responsibilities. Fear is usually a contributor. We fear upsetting the status quo or we fear our abilities or we fear the potential for rejection, criticism and failure—so we hide. Hiding feels safe.

With the support of a number of scholars, feminist theologian Judith Plaskow explains the problematic nature of overemphasizing the sin of pride while neglecting the sin of self-abnegation. Carol Lakey Hess summarizes Plaskow’s point by saying that a description of “sin as self-assertion, self-centeredness, and pride speaks out of and to the experience of powerful men. . . . [W]omen are better indicted for such behaviors as lack of self, self-abnegation, and irresponsibility”— the alternative expression of sin that Niehbur recognized. “When sin as pride is generalized, self-abnegation is deemed a virtue and harmfully reinforced” in the lives of the historically powerless. “A theology that emphasizes self-sacrifice as the human telos functions to further enervate women’s struggle for self-assertion. Such a theology may chasten little boys, but hasten the devastation of girls.”1

In this movement of my soul, I was waking up to the fullness of being created in the image of God—male and female God created them. There was something beautifuland divine to be embraced in my feminine identity. I was confronting the sin of self- abnegation and growing in self-assertion rooted in dependence on God. Sadly, a theology that overemphasized self-sacrifice had served to devastate me. Now awakened, I realized that spiritual growth for me meant owning the responsibility to live into my potential to offer my voice, perspective and influence—at the risk of upsetting the status quo and being criticized and rejected. Once awakened, I couldn’t turn back. Pilgrimage is not a round trip—it doesn’t circle back. The spiritual journey beckoned me further and deeper into the consequences of patriarchal theology and practice.


  • Have you ever heard God’s call and like Moses, felt you couldn’t do what was being asked of you?
  • How did you know it was God? What was the call like? How did it come to you? How did it resonate within you?
  • What held you back? Fear? Self-doubt? Expectations of others?
  • Spend some time reflecting on that experience. Notice the emotions connected with having been reluctant to follow God’s call. Without judgment, be with that experience and cultivate an intention to more readily heed God’s call in the future.
  • If you ended up following God’s call, describe what the experience was like. Notice what was difficult about it, how you grew and what was rewarding. Give thanks to God for inviting you to be a part of God’s work in the world and using you in ways you might not have ever imagined.

1Hess, Caretakers of Our Common House, pp. 34-35.