When Being Vulnerable is Difficult
The story of how the Lord brought me to Himself is one that I have grown pretty comfortable telling. Over and over He has put the words in my mouth to speak through my sweaty palms and shaking hands, and so when that Holy Spirit feeling of you-need-to-tell-it starts washing over me I have learned to trust Him. My past that once seemed like the scariest thing in the world to talk about has become far less intimidating. It has become a connection point for me and other believers and even nonbelievers, a place where like minds and even unlike minds can come together to find some common ground in the reality of all of our shared humanity.
Telling that story, the one of how He brought me to Himself, is how I used to define vulnerability. I thought it meant simply telling the tales from our past lives, and emphasizing the victory that we found at the end of it all through Christ. Vulnerability to me had always been about the stories that had an ending, ones that were nice and wrapped up pretty with bows and gift tags signed with the words “it is finished.” Telling them never cost me anything, never left me feeling truly wide open and exposed because I already knew how the story ended. I was already standing on the other side of all the things that I had walked through. They don’t feel as defining once you know the Lord has conquered them. They don’t seem to have as much power once you are able to look back and see the Lord was making a way for you right though them the entire time. So whenever He put it on my heart to tell of His faithfulness, I knew those stories were not necessarily told for myself. Though it certainly grew me in courage and trust in Him, it always seemed like the hope was that the Lord would reach into the heart of another and begin the work of having a new story emerge and unfold to further reveal His glory.
However, when I inevitably found myself falling back into some sinful ways, bad habits, and wrong choices that took me wandering away from the narrow path, the idea of vulnerability seemed far, far different and tremendously more terrifying than I had originally perceived it to be. Suddenly the Lord was not asking me to speak the story of how He had brought me to Himself, the story that was comfortable and I knew by heart, but rather I felt as though He was asking me to tell those closest to me about the messy struggles that I was facing in the present day, the ones that were filled with fear and shame and doubt. The ones that seemed to be never-ending, unfinished, and surely unable to bring forth any kind of glory to His name.
I had originally thought that I was good at being vulnerable, but I was soon forced to realize that I had actually only ever scratched the surface of what that word meant. In the words of the brilliant Brene Brown, it turns out to be vulnerable means not just showing people a scar, but allowing people to see an actual open wound. This, I quickly found, I am absolutely terrible at. I would much rather tell you a story of victory, then let you see me through the mess leading up to it. I would rather praise the Lord with you in the joyful aftermath, then have you hold my hand and pray for me in the midst of all the questions and doubt and pain that usually comes before. I had never really learned how to let people in when things were actually happening, when the wound is open and wide and bleeding profusely. Turns out, I am someone who doesn’t want to be seen until I have things under control, until I’ve cleaned myself up and deem myself presentable again. Turns out, I build walls and moats and put up barbed wire fences against real vulnerability. I hate. It scares me. I avoided it at all cost, and tired to get by with only giving as little of it as possible, even though the Lord was calling me deeper into that word and the relationships around me.
I wore my “brave face” like a shield, and quickly learned the art of fake vulnerability. When people asked me how I was, I spun them stories of how, sure, not everything was going perfect, but I was doing just fine. It was always just enough to mimic the sound of vulnerability without actually giving anything away. When that Holy Spirit feeling of you-need-to-tell-it would come over me, I would push it down and tell God the same thing. Soon it was not just my friends I refused to be honest with, but God too. I stopped fully expressing my need in my prayers. I started trying to do all the work I thought would clean me up and make be better on my own. I started keeping both people and God at an arms length away. It was exhausting. It was empty. It wasn’t working. All the while my open wound was still bleeding.
One of my absolute favorite things about God is His love, persistence, and patience in teaching stubborn, easily-spooked hearts like mine. Before when He taught me how to tell the story of how He brought me to Himself, He was so obviously laying the groundwork for the lessons on what real vulnerability looks like. Over the past six months, I have been challenged by Him, and those who want to do life with me in full, to stop with the fake vulnerability, tear down the walls, moats, and barbed wire fences I am quick to put up when vulnerability calls, and extend my open wounds to be tended to with love, grace, and Godly council. It has been scary; I won’t lie to you about that. The Sleeping at Last lyric, “I can’t keep my head from spinning out of control, is this what being vulnerable feels like?” comes to mind often. They got it right. That is what vulnerability feels like.
Maybe you’re like me, trying to silently slide away from real vulnerability when the Lord calls us to instead move closer. Maybe the idea of being seen and known past your finished stories makes you want to run for the hills. Maybe you think what is happening now—the messy, present, seemingly far from victory stories—aren’t worth telling until they have had enough time to become nothing more than a scar. But can I tell you something, friends? Something I am learning now in my everyday, and I hope you come to learn more about this summer as well. Real vulnerability is worth it. Not skipping the tough parts is the way to growth and healing. Though you may think that they aren’t worth telling, that they don’t reveal the glory of God, they so, so do. Because no matter what part of a story you are in, in the murky middle or the clarity at the end, there is already victory in Christ. Finished or unfinished, scar or wound, He is there and the cross is ever present before you. All has already been conquered. Nothing has power in the presence of Him. You are defined only by who He is and what has been done for you in great love.
That’s the beauty of the gospel. There is no need to come before the cross all cleaned up and ready to go. We were messy when He found us, and will always be that as we learn to walk though this life with Him. He doesn’t want you to hide that from Him or those that He has placed in your life to love you well. He wants us wide open and exposed for the sake of growing in Him, growing with each other, and going out into the word to bring other equally messy people to Him through our stories.
My challenge for you this summer is to enter into that with me, for you to question how you have been defining vulnerability and seek the Lord on how to move into its deeper meanings. Ask Him to help you tell your honest stories. Allow Him the space to build up your relationship with Him and others through them. Telling our stories of how He brought us to Himself is only the beginning of a lifetime of vulnerability. Maybe that’s where you need to start, with the scar. Or maybe you know there are things you have kept hidden from Him and those around you for too long, an open wound in need of some tender, love, and care. Both matter. Both are worth being told. Both will grow you and teach you and even help heal you. Best of all, both will lead you into yet another word I feel a need to go deeper in—community.
Jacqueline // @jacquelinewinstead