"Annette, you've got to fight them. Get tough. Be strong!"
As I glance down at the sidewalk, all I can think is, "Nope. Don't want to."
My friend is trying to help. I'm being taken advantage of, and he knows it. The trouble is he's asking me to act in a way that doesn't come very easily to me. "Assertive" is one label no one would ever stick to me.
He continues his advice, simply ignoring my silence, with a voice that's adamant, unrelenting, and truly persistent - a perfect example of the attitude I'm expected to simulate.
Eventually, all his determination rallies up some small dose of courage, and the problem is solved in my favor. But afterward, instead of feeling happy about how well everything worked out, a feeling of emptiness rattles inside.
Why had I been so resistant to standing up for myself? What was I afraid of? Hard questions to face. The truth is I don't like disagreements. Staying clear of confrontation is something I've mastered through many years of superficial smiles and agreeing nods. I've earned a great reputation among family and friends with my "nice guy" attitude, but along the way I've taken on responsibility for many problems that weren't mine to fix.
My smile hid a scared and timid person - afraid of judgment or criticism, and especially fearful of finding the right words to say when contradicted. Slipping into constant agreement steered me clear of conflict. Constantly being nice can seem the ultimate expression of goodness on the surface, but it's an ugly mask if I refuse to be good to myself as well.
Moments of soul-searching uncover not only what seems to be lacking - the quality of strength; but also what appears to have sneaked into its place. And I don't like it. I've discovered weakness.
Feeble, frail, pathetic - these words describe weakness. I can do without those qualities in my life. Tougher and more determined are what I desire to be, stronger and persistent. However, I need to remain loving. I can never give up my loving nature. Developing it has been too darn hard.
Trying to picture strong and loving working together is nearly impossible to me. How do these two qualities coexist without one taking something away from the other? They seem contrary. I can't figure it out until I remember: Those two words are exactly how I describe God.
Spiritual study over the years has revealed God as an omnipotent, universal force of good that strengthens creation with the highest sense of love. This strong, unyielding presence provides continual love and affection. Looking at it like this, I finally begin to understand how strength and love do work very well together.
Having a spiritual outlook on life has also proved a powerful truth: What God includes, I include. I was created "in his image and likeness," as the Bible states.
Sometimes that's a hard idea to grasp - that one is like God. But when I doubt it, I remember some powerful words from an inspired author, Mary Baker Eddy. She wrote, "Error would fashion Deity in a manlike mould, while Truth is moulding a Godlike man" ("No and Yes," page 20).
This sentence has always shown how absurd it is to bring our perception of God down to a human level for us to assimilate. Instead, we should raise the concept of ourselves up to a more divine level. In fact, we should see ourselves at that level already, including everything that God does, able to express it all in an effective way.
This reasoning brought me to the point where I could begin to acknowledge that I, too, included this dynamic combination of qualities. I only needed to express them. Admitting this became my starting point to change my "weak" thinking - putting off feeble thoughts - and replacing them with a strong, confident, and love-filled view of myself and my ability to deal with others.
These insights into God's strong/ loving nature, and my inherent ability to reflect it, make my life better. Now, my thoughts include much more strength and confidence. This spiritual assertiveness keeps my gaze up off the ground. My head doesn't droop. Yet, the smile remains. Only now it's backed by a desire for everyone's happiness - including my own.