Embrace Cringe

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It’s a bit of a shame that Bath didn’t get there first, but Taylor Swift was awarded an honorary doctorate from NYU yesterday. She said that she suspected that she was only given the award because of her appropriately titled song, ’22’ but she made the most of the occasion with some well-grounded advice.

Taylor Swift said ‘Learn to live alongside cringe. No matter how hard you try to avoid being cringe, you will look back on your life and cringe retrospectively’. She went on, ‘Cringe is unavoidable over a lifetime’.

I think that she is on to something. It makes sense artistically and also as a description of maturity. As Swift says, it is impossible not to have moments of shame or regret or cringe in life, but what we do with them might be significant. If by ‘cringe’, she means low-level social embarrassment, these feelings might be doing us a favour. Moments that make us feel awkward or uncomfortable might be worth noticing; either because something important or hidden is happening or to teach us something about ourselves or others.

I was struck this week by Psalm 131, part of which reads:

My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quietened myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.

In my prayer, I wondered about the description of the child as ‘weaned’. This image isn’t of an infant, but of a child who can, no doubt, talk and walk and isn’t as reliant on its mother for every need, as it had been before. In this picture, the child chooses to sit at its mother’s breast and is comforted by the relationship and contented by the mother’s love and the memory that this person has given them everything that they need. This is where they find peace.

The antidote to be overwhelmed by inevitable cringe may be this kind of comfort; remembering that we are loved, that we are more than the sum of our inevitable mis-steps, and that in the loving lap of God there will always be a safe space and a welcome. From this place, we are able to look at the world together, from God’s viewpoint, where cringe can’t damage all who we are created to be.

Karen Turner


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