Learning to Trust Myself: Eyes Open

Brice Laughrey
7 min readMar 22, 2024

Original photo by Amine M’siouri

Learning to Trust Myself is a series of posts I started months ago. This is the third post in that series, and I wrote and re-wrote it over the course of five months, and then I let it sit for nine more months. The first two were easier and helpful for me to write, but this one has seemed impossible. I think I finally understand why, and I want to share with you what I’ve discovered.

Previous Posts

Learning to Trust Myself: Asking the Question
Learning to Trust Myself: Distrust to Mistrust

The Perfect Substrate

At the end of the second post, I mentioned a community that became the perfect substrate for my personal growth. It was there at the right time and place, I was welcomed into it, and my life was forever changed. It was a group of guys with similar, religious upbringings who were asking similar questions as myself and looking for similar kinds of communities.

Hospitality

In that group, I had what may have been my first experience of anything resembling hospitality among my peers. I remember being confused by how inviting and welcoming they were at every opportunity. They didn’t know me or anything about me, except that I was a Bible major and lived in the same dorm as some of them during freshman year. Yet, there always seemed to be an open invitation to be there, wherever “there” was. No questions asked.

I had a best friend in high school with whom I shared that kind of relationship, but I rarely felt that hospitality from any of my other friends, let alone from an entire group of friends or a community. I realized it was something I’d been missing but didn’t know how to express. It was something my mind hadn’t fully conceived because I’d never seen it before.

Creativity

They were also very creative. Musicians, painters, graphic designers, cooks, writers… They went places and did things. They took road trips and traveled, shared stories, played games and sports, and got excited about food, and, more importantly, invited me to share in their enthusiasm and passion. By inviting me to participate without expectations, they challenged my obsession with rightness. They showed me that creativity doesn’t have a threshold; no matter one’s skill level, creativity is creativity.

For people who may have grown up without the pressure of rightness, it may seem obvious that creativity is something to be nurtured. It’s not an innate talent, something you simply have or don’t have; it can be practiced, and it can grow. Even something as basic as paying attention to what’s happening — observing and attending to the present moment — can nurture creativity through exposure. Add to that actual participation and practice, and I couldn’t help but think differently about myself.

Validation

They were validating in that they didn’t ask me to justify my feelings or my beliefs. They listened to my thoughts and asked sincere questions. We explored and questioned our traditions together.

Part of the struggle with trusting myself was being uncertain if my thoughts and beliefs were valid. When that worry was removed, it was freeing.

Self-compassion and Empathy

Being shown that I was worthy of being present challenged me to accept myself as worthy, which was a practice of self-compassion and self-love. There were many dissonant beliefs that made this painful and slow, and over time, that helped me grow in my understanding of God and conservative Christian traditions.

Becoming more aware of my own struggles and my own journey helped increase my capacity for empathy. I think I developed a deeper sense of connectedness with certain kinds of struggles, which has continued to produce intellectual and emotional change in me.

The Writing Block

I cherish these friendships, and the community that has formed around them and through them has been an undeniable blessing to me, so why has this post been so difficult to write? The simple answer: because people are human, and sometimes I forget that.

Around the time I started trying to write this post, some opportunities arose to be more vulnerable within this group. From my perspective, many of those conversations didn’t go well. In fact, they went so unexpectedly poorly that I experienced some intense dissonance about my friends. I realized that the post I had been trying to write was being threatened by a new, nagging question: was this community what I thought it was. I had to answer that question honestly before I could finish writing.

Here’s what I’ve concluded: relationships and their significance and function in one’s life are allowed to change.

The irony is that these friends, these brothers, have been instrumental in my journey toward self-trust, and it’s that very self-trust that has helped me see how great the divide between us is, at times. The more I learn to trust myself, the more I accept the limitations of their humanity and mine. I think, for a time, I had forgotten that they’re human, too. I think, for a time, I had made heroes of them.

There’s a popular saying: never meet your heroes. Seeing humanity in people you’ve elevated for so long is a jarring experience, and the more I trust myself to see in people what I once ignored, the less heroic they become.

There’s a common trope: loved ones unexpectedly doing terrible things; we never saw it coming. We like to think we don’t elevate others, but the proof is in our reactions to their humanity. If we never imagined people to be more perfect than they are, why would we be so surprised or disturbed when they show us that they’re like the rest of us.

What Happened?

The same thing that happens in any relationship. The more we grow, the more we see each others’ shortcomings, like children who grow up and realize their parents are a little bit racist or that they did abusive things.

As I’ve learned to see pain and injustice in the world, I’ve also started seeing those previously unrealized signs amongst my friends. Racist microaggressions, lingering fundamentalist ideologies, suggestions of predatory behavior, defensiveness, denial, elitism, shame and fear — normal, human baggage from trauma and lingering toxic masculinity. Of course it exists, because we bonded over shared rejection of our fundamentalist upbringings. Of course they suffered the same abuses I did, as well as others, and of course those experiences left scars.

It was my own shame that kept me believing they were somehow more healed than me. It was their friendship that helped me see past my shame. It was that help that allowed me to see their trauma, and so we outgrow the superficial friendships.

This isn’t to say they aren’t my friends; of course they are, because we’re moving beyond superficial friendships. Our relationships have long since become choices rather than circumstance. It’s in our midlives that we’re clarifying how safe we can or can’t be for each other. This, too, is a practice of trusting myself — a practice of saying, “It’s ok to draw this line in the sand, and it’s ok if someone you love isn’t allowed to cross it.” Part of trusting ourselves is getting to decide what kind of person we want to be, regardless of others.

Recognizing Humanity

There’s a bittersweetness to seeing the humanity of our heroes. I’ve written about the disservice we do to others when we turn them into heroes — how doing so dehumanizes them, in a way. It’s bad enough when we do it to those who have died, the way we boil their lives down to just this or that, but doing it to those who are alive puts an undue burden on them. It ties our expectations around them and makes forced saviors out of men.

Recognizing the full humanity of others frees both them and us from that sort of burden. How can we empathize with gods and saviors? But humans — they are us, and we are them, and the freedom of lifted burdens is a breath of fresh air and a joy. Understanding the human boundaries and limitations of our loved ones is healthy and makes for better relationships.

On the other hand, I realize, now, what was interfering with my writing. It was grief. I told my wife, “There are very few contexts where I feel safe enough to be truly vulnerable, and now, one of those is gone.” Trusting myself enough to finally see the humanity of my friends — their fear and shame — was a crashing shift, and it blindsided me. I was, and am, mourning the loss of something important.

But, that’s the things about trusting ourselves; it’s about healing from the lies and the shame. It’s about being able to look at ourselves and see all that we are and embrace it. It’s not their fault that I can’t see all of who they are, and it’s not their fault that they can’t see themselves, and it’s not their fault that they can’t see all of me. It’s not brokenness to be human, and we’re not broken just because we have limited capacities to make space and to be safe for others. We are in need of healing, but being human isn’t our sickness.

They were, for a time, the perfect substrate. I may never know whether we grew apart or were always more different than I realized, and it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t change that they were, for a time, in its time, a nurturing, hospitable place for my own growth. I hope I’ve been part of that journey for them, as well.

If you’re enjoying the content on Breaking Bread Theology or find it helpful, please consider supporting this work. I would love to make this a full-time effort and continue to expand the available content, but that will only be possible with enough support from readers like yourself. I hope that together we can continue to create safe spaces for people to explore faith and theology.

Originally published at http://breakingbreadtheology.com on March 22, 2024.

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Brice Laughrey

Owner of Breaking Bread Theology and co-founder of 1310 Ministries. Currently living and worshiping in Las Vegas, NV.