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Why I’m Afraid of Being Vulnerable

Written By Daniel Hamlin, USA

There was a night a number of years ago that still stings a little when I recall it. I had been interested in a girl and finally found the nerve to tell her how I felt. It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done.

It wasn’t so much the idea of expressing my feelings that felt so overwhelming. It was the possibility that those feelings wouldn’t be reciprocated and as a result I’d experience the dreaded, terrifying, and humiliating wound of rejection. But after weeks of hanging out with this girl, it was time I laid it all on the line. So I did.

You know how sometimes the pain we fear (like getting a shot at the doctor) isn’t nearly as bad as we anticipate? Well this wasn’t one of those times. She rejected me and it hurt—it hurt bad. It wasn’t the fact that she didn’t feel the same way that hurt, it was the fact that I had allowed myself to be that vulnerable with someone.

That night was a low point for me. I sat awake, talking to God but not saying much. I didn’t really have words to express myself, just pain and humiliation. But in the midst of my despair that night, I was led to Isaiah 46:4, which says, “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am He, I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and rescue you.”

I felt God reassuring me that no matter what happens in my human relationships, He will always be there when I need Him. He will sustain me in happiness or heartache. As I sat alone with God, I knew rejection was something I needn’t fear from Him.

 

Why we need to be vulnerable

I’m not sure I will ever be comfortable being vulnerable, but I am learning to come to terms with it. I find that when I am vulnerable, I trust in God more; vulnerability has a way of fostering dependency on God. We learn to trust Him in situations that are beyond our control; we learn to trust His strength instead of our own. We also learn to find our validation in Him and not in man.

Vulnerability is often looked down upon in our culture. It seems many people have a difficult time opening up about their feelings, even with their closest family members. We’ve been taught to equate vulnerability with weakness, but to be vulnerable isn’t to be weak. It’s to accept the fact that we’re human—and that we need to lean on God for strength in every area of our lives.

I believe there is wisdom in caution, to be sure. Jesus said not to “cast our pearls before swine.” In other words, it is wise to be cautious about who we open up to, who we trust with important matters, particularly the matters of our heart. But this doesn’t mean we avoid all emotional connection with others, it just means we wisely discern who we choose to open up to. But perhaps many of us have used this caution as an excuse to avoid risk and emotion in life altogether.

The truth is, if we are never vulnerable, then we will never truly know love because love by its nature requires risk—risk of rejection, risk of being hurt. This applies both to romantic love and brotherly love. For love to be love, there has to be vulnerability, there has to be something to lose. Vulnerability comes with risks, but that doesn’t mean the risks aren’t worth taking. Refusing all vulnerability in life will likely do us more harm than good.

 

What to do with our hurts

So what happens when we do get hurt, when we’ve taken the risk and find we’ve been wounded?

Psalm 55 gives us a picture of how David felt after being betrayed by a close friend. David says, “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were rising against me, I could hide. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God, as we walked about among the worshippers” (Psalm 55:12-14).

David felt the sting of betrayal; he felt the bite of having someone he opened up to, someone he was vulnerable with, turn on him. We can feel his pain as he says, “My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen on me” (v 4). Anyone who has been hurt emotionally can relate to what he says. So what was David’s conclusion? To turn to the Lord.

In the midst of betrayal and brokenness, David turned to the Lord, “As for me, I call to God, and the LORD saves me” (v 16). David’s heart had been pierced by one of his friends. Yet in the midst of his heartache, he exhorts us, “Cast your cares on the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken” (v 22). When David felt the pain of betrayal and rejection, he didn’t get bitter and close himself off. Instead he pressed into the Lord where he found comfort and healing.

God has promised that those who trust in Him will not be disappointed. When we look to Him to satisfy our emotional needs, we find He is faithful to do so. And the reward of that is a deeper relationship with God and a greater understanding of who He is as our loving Father. It also frees us from the fear of showing our vulnerabilities in our human relationships because we aren’t seeking satisfaction or validation from man, but rather finding it in Christ.

 

What true vulnerability looks like

Personally, I used to hate being vulnerable (ok, I still do). The thought of being vulnerable still makes me squirm a little because it means I have to relinquish control of how people perceive me. It means I have to admit I’m human.

But I’m beginning to view vulnerability in a different light. True vulnerability is actually surrender to God. It means we are giving control to God and trusting Him instead of ourselves. If we protect ourselves from ever being vulnerable, from any and all risk, then we limit what God is able to do in our lives and we hinder the meaningful relationships He desires us to build with each other. But when we unite faith with vulnerability, it gives us a God-sustained strength capable of taking down the giants in our lives—giants like the fear of man, the need for man’s approval, or the fear of rejection.

It’s interesting how sometimes our worst pain can be looked back on and remembered with appreciation, even thankfulness. That night I was rejected, as painful and sorrowful as it was, will always be remembered as a night I experienced God and His comforting hand. The reality is had I not gone through that experience of rejection I would not have the confidence I have today that God will be with me no matter what I go through. That experience provided God the opportunity to prove He is faithful, even in my vulnerability.

I believe being more vulnerable is helping me become more like Christ. It is making me find my confidence in Jesus rather than an image I portray to others, and it has allowed me to finally be comfortable in my own skin. This doesn’t mean I don’t still struggle with insecurities, it just means I’m learning to let them go and derive my identity from Him.

When God became human, He embraced what it means to be human; He showed emotion. Jesus didn’t hide from relationships or betrayal, He didn’t run from being vulnerable. Instead He embraced vulnerability because it meant God’s purpose would be accomplished. And when I am tempted to view my vulnerabilities as weakness, I find it comforting to recall the words Jesus once spoke to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

If you, too, are struggling with vulnerability, I’d like to invite you to entrust your fears into the hands of God—who will always sustain you and carry you, even to your old age. It may be painful at first, but also incredibly freeing.

Has Community Become Our New Idol?

“Thirst was made for water. Inquiry for truth.” – C.S. Lewis

I’ve never been good at socializing, especially at large events such as parties, networking, and happy hours. I talk to many people, yet still walk out of events feeling like I know no one. Friends tell me that they often feel the same way.

Often it seems like over half the conversation is spent on TV shows, stories about other parties we’ve been to, or random stories about a friend’s wild adventures. Occasionally, topics as simple as “how a bike lock works” or “how to make a peanut butter sandwich” can be discussed for over 10 minutes. Is this really what we gathered to talk about? We try so hard to keep the conversation going. Yet in the end, we say so much, but communicate so little.

One of the most popular TV shows of our generation is Friends. Deep down, we all hope to find a group of friends like the original Friends—a community where we laugh at each other’s bad jokes, tolerate each other’s annoying habits, and truly believe that “I’ll be there for you, ‘cause you’re there for me too.” In a way, community has become society’s new idol, sharing the stage with fame and success. In today’s world, a fulfilling life involves more than a successful career. We want to go on unforgettable adventures, engage in meaningful experiences, and build lasting friendships.

Yet why is it that, even though we are all searching for community, and we all know we are searching for community, we still can’t seem to find the community. What is amiss in our current approach to community?

Everything we long for has a natural remedy—for thirst there is water, for hunger there is food. Does our longing for genuine connection and belonging point to a deeper need in our hearts?

Our dissatisfaction with the present state of community is a reflection of our longing for God. From the beginning, God designed us to “not be alone” (Genesis 2:18). We find fulfillment not merely in community with other people, but ultimately in community with God. His great desire for a relationship with us is why Christ gave His life on the cross.

Community isn’t just about me or what I feel. For Christians, community is important because this is where we reconnect with God and each other amidst our disjointed world. When we are a community filled with God’s love, we are able to be a witness to the world. Our redeemed relationships show the world who Christ is and what He did.

But how can we build such a community?

 

Building A Real Community

The Bible has many things to say about community, but I want to focus on one particular concept: Grace.

Grace is the idea of loving someone and accepting them unconditionally. For me, Jesus is the perfect source of grace and exemplifies the ideal community we are all searching for. As the Son of God, Jesus showed us perfect grace when He came to live, drink, laugh, forgive, and even sacrifice Himself for, us even though we did not earn it. In His last command, He outlined the key to ideal community for Christians: “Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

Grace is what makes hard conversations possible; it’s what allows us to be comfortable and genuine in our communities. In her famous TED Talk presentation, “The Power of Vulnerability”, Brené Brown points out that the fear of not being worthy of love or belonging is what keeps us from forming meaningful connections. Therefore, she calls for us to be vulnerable, to be authentic, and to not be afraid of who we are.

However, the fundamental reason we are afraid to be authentic and vulnerable is precisely because we don’t expect to receive grace from our communities. We’re afraid that if we do something outside the “ordinary” or accepted standard, other people in the room will judge us. We are afraid that we won’t be shown grace.

As a private and reticent person, I constantly struggle with vulnerability. Questions of doubt and fear often run through my head when I attempt to be authentic and share my life with others. What if I share too much? What if I open up and the other people don’t? What if I come across as weak and needy? I didn’t realize how much I was not sharing until a friend pointed out to me, “You know, you would talk a lot, but you really don’t say much.” By failing to be authentic, by giving in to my fear of vulnerability, I’ve distanced myself from my friends and community.

Brené’s talk is among the five most-viewed TED Talks of all time. Many of us realize the importance of vulnerability and its connection to community. Yet, we are still afraid. Brené calls for courage. While courage is admirable, not all of us, including myself, have the courage to be vulnerable. However, we do have the power to share grace. Only by showing grace to others will we find the power to be vulnerable. For “give, and it will be given to you” (Luke 6:38). Before we can receive, we must learn to give.

Sharing grace doesn’t have to be inspirational or dramatic. It can be as simple as initiating conversation with the quiet person in the room or helping your roommate with her dishes because she has a mid-term tomorrow. It can be baking cookies for your office or inviting your friends over for a home-cooked dinner. Many times, it’s the small things that matter.

Furthermore, even if you feel that your grace isn’t reciprocated with grace, show people the grace of understanding and forgiveness. Of course, don’t forget to show yourself grace. Forgive yourself for missing that paper deadline and, sometimes, it’s okay to go to that movie even if your research isn’t working. Because remember, Christ has already shown us the perfect grace. I can always find comfort in the fact that I’m loved and upheld by Him despite my mistakes. The actions of grace can be simple, yet their implications profound.

Sharing grace is what empowers us and the people around us to be vulnerable. Personally, the practice of showing grace has helped me grow closer to my friends. By inviting friends over for dinner and helping others, I’ve slowly gained the courage to trust, to open up, and to engage in deeper conversations. When we trust others in the room to show us grace, we will have the courage to be ourselves, be authentic, and be vulnerable. Grace is how we experience love in our communities. For Christian communities, grace is how we mirror God’s love to the world.

Francis Su, former president of the Mathematical Association of America, once said that you do not need accomplishments to be a worthy human being, and whatever your level of academic success, you are always worth having coffee with. That’s what grace looks like.

So that’s my call to you. Go search for a community with grace and foster grace in your existing communities. Grace is what Christian community should embody. By fostering a community built on grace, we are not only creating meaningful connections among ourselves, but also bearing witness for the cross and embodying the love of God in our broken world. For “no one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:12).

Finally, as the Apostle Peter said, “Above all, love each other deeply. . . . Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4: 8-10)

P.S. I highly recommend listening to Brené Brown and Francis Su’s talks, which heavily inspired this article.

 

This article was originally published on Vox Clara, Vol 7 Issue 1 (Winter 2018) as “Community As the New Idol, And the Sharing of Grace”. This version has been edited by YMI.

Why Is It So Difficult to Make Friends?

It started as a simple plan—“Come meet us at the splashpad with your little ones.” This email from the Children’s Director at our church was a great idea. Moms bringing their toddlers to play on a hot day: a good plan, yes?

Then why was I so terrified to go? Why did the idea of meeting other young moms fill me with such anxiety that Monday morning?

I’m not the only one who struggles with this. Others have told me that making friends as an adult is not easy for them either. I met most of my good friends in high school and college, and the few friends I’ve made since then are typically several life stages ahead of me. For some reason, there is a sort of barrier with forming friendships with people my age.

Often, that barrier is a set of unspoken expectations or fear of comparison. For example, when I’m with other “young moms,” I feel the pressure to fit in with that mold. I wonder what they think of how I’m disciplining my daughter, what they think about whether I work or stay at home, and the list goes on.

I end up so concerned about what they think, and so focused on my own choices, that I am not able to interact with them as a friend. But you know what? Other young moms probably aren’t sitting there worrying about me and my decisions; they’re likely worrying about their own decisions and what people think of them!

It’s a ridiculous cycle. But here’s the deal, I find that when I’m free of this cycle, free of the pretense or expectations, I am free to be myself. Perhaps that is why I am more able to be a friend to people in different life stages, or with people I’ve known for years. There isn’t the same flawed expectations and sense of comparison.

As I’ve struggled with this, God has continued to impress on me several things:

 

1. Don’t be afraid to look outside the box

First, we need to broaden our expectations about friendships. We need to realize that “our people” might not be who we thought they would be. I’m reminded of Mary, mother of Jesus, and her cousin Elizabeth. The Bible tells us that when Mary was pregnant with Jesus, she went to spend several months with Elizabeth, who was many years older than herself (Luke 2). We don’t exactly know why Mary sought the company of someone so much older, but perhaps she felt judged by people her own age, for being unmarried and pregnant? Whatever the reasons, the several months that the women spent together must have been something special.

In my own life, I have also found unexpected friends. At school, for instance, people might expect me to fall into the group of “young teachers” on staff at my school. And while there are many young people on staff that I love dearly, in actuality my dearest friend on staff at school is twice my age.

Sandy and I meet for breakfast regularly, and we laugh and giggle and pray and cry together. With Sandy, I find wisdom, experience and perspective, instead of competition and comparison. It would seem to the outside world that we are an unlikely pair, but with her, I’m free to be myself. I don’t have to struggle to fit into the mold that is expected of “young teachers today.” I don’t need to worry about being “cool” enough or “liked” enough. Through my friendship with Sandy, I realize that we should not be afraid to look outside the box when it comes to friends.

 

2. Focus on who God says you are

Secondly, while we surround ourselves with diverse friends, what do we do with our peers? Do we just give up on making friends who are in the same stage of life?

I think we can be reluctant to reach out to our peers, because we worry we are falling short of a certain set of expectations. But where do these expectations come from? My ideas of what it means to be a good wife, a good mother, a good teacher—are these expectations something I created and imposed on myself?

There is no doubt that social media has exacerbated this issue of competition and comparison. We see the best and the brightest on Instagram, and we aim to align ourselves with that image. If we fall short, we feel as if we’ve failed. When I can’t meal plan as efficiently or cook meals as delicious as all those other Pinterest users, I feel like I’m not as good a wife as they are. No wonder I’m worried what other young moms think!

But here’s the problem—though social media intensifies this type of competition and comparison, ultimately it isn’t social media’s fault, but mine. I am the one allowing these voices to shape my thinking about who I am. I let these voices get louder than the One Voice that matters, and as a result, I am insecure and self-centered.

But when I allow God’s voice to shape my thinking, I am no longer captive to thinking about myself when I stand in front of another person. I already know who I am. I know to whom I belong. I am free to be selfless, to love, and to encourage the person in front of me, because I am no longer preoccupied with getting myself affirmed or patted on the back. I am free to be a friend.

So, I need to steep myself in the Truth of God more than the “reality” of social media. This means asking some hard questions of myself: What do I turn to when I first wake up? What do I prioritize in my day? What gets my attention?

We have the ability to choose whose voice we listen to. Will we step forward confidently in our friendships because we already know who we are? Or will we meander, anxious and ineffective, constantly looking for affirmation and trying to be good enough, but never quite getting there?

 

3. Welcome others

Jesus told us to come to Him like little children. He does not set flawed expectations. He does not want pretense. He does not mind doubts. There are no restrictions on who I have to be, no meaningless standards I have to live up to. I am welcomed because I’m loved. If I can just stop thinking about myself, then I can look closely at those in front of me. Who are they? What do they love? What do they need? How can I be a friend to them?

C. S. Lewis, in his book The Four Loves, says that if what you want out of friendship is a friend, then your purpose is misaligned. I’m beginning to see how selflessness is key to being a friend. Instead of friendship being about us getting something (a friend), it is more about enjoying and delighting in a common bond or shared experience together. What do you enjoy? Who do you have something in common with? Begin there. Begin by sharing and enjoying each other’s company, not in trying to get something out of it.

A few years ago, at the first meeting of a small group with our church, we played an icebreaker where everyone talked about the toys they loved and played with as a kid. It was amazing to see walls and barriers come down and people being able to bond over their love of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Polly Pocket. A common experience to enjoy or reminisce on can do wonders for friendship-making.

 

4. View friendship as a process

In friendship, we will never be able to say “I’ve arrived.” Friendship is not an end result, but a process—the winding road of ups and downs, of grieving at a friend’s dad’s cancer diagnosis, of rejoicing in a positive on a pregnancy test, bringing meals during a sickness, or having a dance party when you need to let off some steam. True fellowship is about living life with people all along the way, enjoying them as God’s blessing to us, not about “getting a friend.”

So, I went to the splashpad that morning. It wasn’t life-changing or altering. I tried to be kind and smile. I spoke to a few girls I recognized from small group. One lady I didn’t know introduced herself to me, which was kind and gracious.

It was nothing huge or momentous, but it was a small step toward vulnerability, toward selflessness, toward making friends and building relationships with the other young moms at church. I’m taking it one step at a time, trusting His voice about me, thinking of others before myself, trying to enjoy life and each other as gracious gifts from our good God.