The Universe's Wonders
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
I honestly know very little about Marianne Williamson. I am not sure what background or perspective she was writing from when she penned these words. Yet wisdom from any source is worth paying attention to when it’s consistent with the truths of God. And I think Ms. Williamson is onto something here.
Now I can’t and won’t deny that a sense of inadequacy does plague so many of us—some merely from time to time or at a surface level, some as a more enduring, deep-seated confrontation within the soul. Many of us have succumbed to this tactic of the evil one, meant to paralyze us and prevent us from fully living into God’s desires for our lives. Instead of flourishing in the fullness of who God created us to be, we find ourselves either avoiding or fearfully giving in to our own inadequacy. And, just as intended, it too often paralyzes us. Maybe Williamson is wrong and, for some of us at least, inadequacy is our deepest fear.
Yet haven’t so many of us also felt the terror that comes at the thought that maybe we are powerful beyond measure? Strong, worthwhile, full of beauty, capable of immensely creative thought and expression—in ways that would astound the world if they only knew? And with this sense of power can come an overwhelming fear. What if we can’t find a way to share what we’ve been given? What if it’s not welcomed and accepted, or even recognized? What if others respond by diminishing themselves, or even by acting as if we have purposefully diminished them? What if our powerful nature gets out of our control and things don’t turn out the way we intended? Yes, we fear inadequacy, but we fear a lack of it too. So we hide ourselves by, as Williamson says, “playing small.”
Whatever our deepest fear—and I think there’s probably not one right answer on that matter—Williamson offers us a helpful, gospel-filled perspective on how to respond to it. Though she doesn’t use these words, I read her response as encouragement toward virtues like humility, submission, courage, and differentiation. While those may not all technically be characteristics named in Scripture, they certainly reflect a well-formed, healthy walk with God.
When you distill what Williamson is saying, here’s what you get: whether you are primarily afraid that you are not good enough or primarily afraid that your power and splendor are immeasurable, your response should be to remember that you are a child of God and that the main purpose you serve in this life is to allow God’s glory to shine through you. And that’s true humility—in the words of Joan Chittister, “a proper sense of self in a universe of wonders.”  I am one of the universe’s wonders, a beloved, beautiful child of God, made to shine brightly for all to see. But I don’t do it for my own recognition, for my own glory; rather I do it so that God’s glory can shine through me.
Holding these two truths together frees us from the paralysis of fear, whether that is fear of inadequacy or fear of powerfulness. God created us to shine, and the church and world (not to mention ourselves, our families, our jobs…) need us to shine—for God’s glory. Doing anything less is lamentable and leaves us with a world full of half-alive people. Doing anything more is arrogant to the point of blasphemy. But truly, humbly manifesting the glory of God that is present within us, that is gospel that each of us needs to hear and to live. And when we do, the world will be dazzlingly radiant with the light of God.
 Chittister, Joan. The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century. 2nd ed. New York: Crossroad, 2010, p.62.