I can’t stop talking about vulnerability and authenticity. Over the last few months, I continually keep bringing it up with friends, mulling over the reasons why it is so stinkin’ hard these days to be vulnerable. I go to church and get up on stage with my guitar (before you think I sound too cool here, I’m honestly not even very good) and paint a happy smile on my face and pretend that all is right with the world…
And not that it’s not (I have to say, I lead a pretty blessed life), but I’ve realized that I never allow myself to struggle. At least, not when other people can see. I never spontaneously burst into tears in the middle of worship or go up for prayer at the end of service. I never confess my sins (which, by the way, is a healthy, biblical practice) or ask for accountability. Because I’m supposed to be a “leader” (and leaders never struggle), and struggling is for new believers, anyway. At least, that’s what that little voice inside tells me when I have the urge to step out and be vulnerable. “They’ll judge you.” “They’ll see you’re not strong/capable/perfect/insert-word-here.” Or the real kicker: “If they know the truth, they won’t love you.”
Listen. I know these things aren’t true. I know that I am accepted and loved and that there are so many people in my church who would be there for me if I just asked. (And occasionally, I do. But not nearly often enough, if I’m being honest.) And here’s the other thing: I know I’m not the only one who struggles with being vulnerable. I watch my brothers and sisters, and I see occasional glimpses of hurt or struggle, but I don’t often see the kind of raw authenticity that I think needs to happen a little more in our churches today. It seems like we’re all playing this game together, like if we just pretend to be fine and perfect and always-happy-never-sad, that it will be true. And people will respect us and love us and never leave.
But here’s what I think we often forget (I know I do, anyway). We are not saved by our own strength.
Check out Ephesians 2:1-10 “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Wait, wait, wait. That’s often not how we live. At least, that’s not how I
live. I live like I’m the author of my own fate, like it’s only by my striving that I can be good enough. Like it’s actually possible to be good enough. Like somehow when I became a believer, I stopped being a sinner, stopped feeling pain, and was instantly healed from everything in my life (past present, and future). Or, in short, I stopped needing God’s grace and mercy. Which, basically, is the opposite of the entire Gospel. Don’t you think that, if we could do this on our own, Jesus wouldn’t have had to die? And if Jesus didn’t have to die (because, you know, we can save ourselves), then everything we’re talking and singing about on Sunday is basically pointless. We should just go home and read some self-help books and pray to the Idol of Me and call it a day. Right?
Here’s what I’m wondering: if we needed Christ and the Gospel pre-conversion, what makes us think we suddenly don’t need him after? And if we don’t believe that lie–that we have to be good enough, strong enough, perfect enough–then why do we live in fear that others will judge us? Why are we not open and honest with each other about the areas in which we struggle? Why do we act in church as though we don’t need God but are fine clinging to Him in private? Wouldn’t the Gospel be so much more beautiful and meaningful if we were all living it out loud and open, in community with one another? Isn’t that really how it was intended?
I was talking earlier this week with a friend and mentor of mine, and I confessed my fear of being real with people. I told her, if people knew the real me–the me buried under the facade of strength and capability, the me who is still learning to heal from certain things and honestly still pretty scared of intimacy–they wouldn’t love me. It’s not something I’d spoken out loud to anyone before (and the honest truth is that my stomach is clenching at having just typed it here, but I do so that I can now share what she said to me).
She answered, “That is a fallacy! No one has those expectations of you. The people who love you love you for who you are. The only expectation they have of you is to be honest and real.” What a simultaneously freeing and terrifying thing to hear. On one hand, it was like someone had stripped away the blinders and freed me from the lie I had been buying into. On the other hand, it’s scary to hear that the only thing people really expect of me is to be real. Because that’s the hardest thing to be. And, she said, by not being real, I’m basically sabotaging those relationships. Um… ouch?
I was speaking to another friend a couple days later, and I mentioned that I’d put a couple posts here on private because they were just so personal that I felt I’d shared too much. She looked at me and nodded thoughtfully, then replied. “Yeah, but often it’s the more personal posts that make the biggest impact.”
Again, ouch. That’s a lot of conviction for one week. And it’s a lot to think about. Clearly, it’s something I’m still thinking about. I don’t have the answers to all of our insecurities and struggles. I don’t even fully know how to be vulnerable. But I do know that it’s a necessary, healthy part of relationships. Of course, it needs to be done with wisdom and discretion, but it needs to be done nonetheless.
This is my challenge to you and to myself: Let’s strip away the facades and stop tiring ourselves by trying to be perfect. Let’s take a few risks and open ourselves up… yes, to hurt, but also to joy and fellowship and meaningful interaction. Let’s be authentic. Let’s be real. Let’s be vulnerable.