25 Oct VULNERABILITY
Last week, Jenni gave insight into the effects of shame, and the freedom that comes from bringing these dark corners of our lives into the light. The key that unlocks the dark prison of shame is vulnerability.
We naturally like to put the past behind us, make sure “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” and “put our best foot forward.” But that’s a dance that will leave us completely exhausted! Sadly, this self-preserving dance can be especially prevalent in the church. We fear we might lose spiritual credibility if we give too many details about our broken past, and even more so if we’re honest about our current struggles. But where did we get this idea? I don’t see any scripture that gives credence to that kind of secrecy and avoidance. On the contrary, I see countless examples of broken people being used mightily by God, and endless instructions to “walk in the light” (1 John 1:7), “confess” (James 5:16), and “go…tell” (Mark 5:19). Holding back from being fully known is not based on truth, but on shame and fear. We fear what people might think of us if we let them see our imperfections, so we keep our polite distance. But “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)
This self-protecting façade in the American church is one of the biggest triggers I see for the mass exit by Millennials. They’re not fooled. They (we) want to be surrounded by genuine, authentic, relatable people. So if we Christians believe that God’s Word is true, and if we want to reach this generation, vulnerability has got to become a more normal part of the Christian life, as it was always meant to be. “The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him.” (1 John 2:10) It’s confusing for the world to look at Christians and see people who seem to have it all together, with no real struggles or problems to speak of. It becomes a stumbling block, giving the appearance that only “good” people belong in church, so they must not be welcome since they certainly have struggles. My pastor uses the phrase “terminally unique” to describe this phenomenon. Until we hear others opening up about difficult situations, habits that are getting out of hand, and rough patches in relationships, it’s easy to feel terminally unique in our struggles.
So what does vulnerability look like? It’s being willing to say “I’m sorry.” Keeping short accounts. Admitting we got something wrong, or we don’t know it all. Reaching out in a broken relationship. Sharing doubts and fears. Being honest with someone who has hurt you. Listening openly to an opposing opinion or belief. Asking for help. Asking forgiveness. Extending forgiveness. Allowing others in when we’re not at our best. Admitting this part of life is harder than we thought. Identifying specific sin struggles we keep going back to. Asking for accountability to guard against that specific sin in the future. Being willing to go first.
Picture yourself starting these conversations in some relationships in your life. It feels uncomfortable and risky, like the other person could take advantage of you and cause more harm than good. It feels weak. But now, reread the list from the opposite perspective, as if someone was reaching out to you in this vulnerable way. Now, it feels more like compassion, authenticity, and initiation. That’s not what I would call weak. In fact, Brené Brown says that “vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.”
These practices are not only beneficial for living out our faith in a more relatable way, but for our own spiritual, mental, and even physical health. Brown shared some recent research in her book, Daring Greatly: “In a pioneering study, psychologist and University of Texas professor James Pennebaker and his colleagues studied what happened when trauma survivors— specifically rape and incest survivors— kept their experiences secret. The research team found that the act of not discussing a traumatic event or confiding it to another person could be more damaging than the actual event. Conversely, when people shared their stories and experiences, their physical health improved, their doctor’s visits decreased, and they showed significant decreases in their stress hormones.” (p.82) Jesus’ brother James said “confess your sins to each other, and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16) So there’s a revolutionary healing that takes place when we’re bold enough to admit our broken places to God, and to others.
That truth is not just limited to extreme cases, but can be applied in our everyday life. One area that I have found healing through vulnerability is in my thought life. I used to replay events from my day, having imaginary conversations with people where I said what I wish I could say in real life. These thoughts I call “spirals” would keep me up at night, distract me from being present with my kids, invade my prayer life, and would sometimes even have physical effects, making my heart race as I got fired up internally. But God’s Word says to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5) So I asked a friend if I could text her each time my mind went into spiral mode. She agreed, and I was scared. It was mortifying to admit to someone I love and respect that I was such a mess. I dreaded sending those texts. I was full of shame. But I found freedom and acceptance in her responses. She would thank me, encourage me, and remind me who I am in Christ. I cried every time. My heart needed that truth, and my sin needed that exposure. It didn’t take long for those spiraling thoughts to redirect. At first, it was mostly just to avoid sending that awkward text! But then it became a habit to recite a verse instead of replay a conversation. I found peace, I can sleep, I’m more present in the moment, and most excitingly, I can PRAY without interruption. My mind has been trained to abide instead of spiral, and it all started with a vulnerable text.
If you’re not sure exactly where you’re struggling, or how to put it into words, there’s a tool for that! “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) Studying the Bible exposes our darkness, and points us to the Healer. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) We can trust the Healer, Jesus, because He went first. He is the ultimate image of vulnerability, hanging naked on a cross. He reached out to us in our broken relationship with the Father. He asked others for help. He asked tons of questions. He listened. He cried. He begged the Father for a way out of His hard situation, admitting it was excruciatingly painful.
Vulnerability is vital to our faith. We are fulfilling our role as Christ-followers when we have the courage to admit our insufficiencies. “Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17) May we never think we are too healthy to need a Healer. It’s one of the many paradoxical theologies of scripture that we are only made strong when we finally admit our weakness. “He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)