There are two types of people in this world. The one who is generally comfortable going first when a group leader looks around expectantly, and the one who would rather be caught naked in the street than voluntarily go first.
If you’re the latter, my friend, I just want to say I feel you. I used to be quite shy when I would first meet people. I had an old friend who would often recall the marked difference between when he first met me, a quiet middle schooler who rarely spoke, to someone he affectionately called “screech” once I finally opened up and found my confidence over the years that followed.
And so today, if you’re someone who finds herself recoiling at the idea of going first in a conversation, classroom, or small-group setting, I want you to know I’ve been there. Not only was I like that for a good bit of my life, but I still have days like that from time to time.
The truth is that many of us feel reticent to share vulnerably because we know intimately what wounding in this area feels like. We know what can happen when we open up, and we’ve got scars from past moments of courage to prove it.
But what if I submitted to you that those scars aren’t reasons you should keep your mouth shut; those scars are evidence that you’ve survived the hurt that is always at risk when we lead the way in vulnerability, whether we’re quick to speak or slower.
As your sister championing the blessings that come from living a life steeped in community, I’m quick to cheer you on and say friendship is incredible! And I really believe that, although with that also comes a time for acknowledging the risks that come with vulnerability. But rather than dwell there, I think a more helpful and honest approach is to focus on, not what is at stake here – your pride, your security, or your comfort – but rather why leading the way in vulnerability is worth the inherent risk.
To the girl who is doubtful she could ever do this, I remind you this wasn’t always my nature. I’m not an extrovert or an external processor. Sharing my heartaches, past and present, vulnerably with my trusted people is a practice I choose, not one my personality necessitates. I learned both how to lead the way in vulnerability from trusted mentors and why doing this was worth the risk. I saw the fruit in their lives, so I started trying it.
And I really believe that once you catch the vision for this kind of living, you won’t quit it.
There might come days where it feels harder, days where you shrink back a bit, but when you have a growing sum of evidence that choosing vulnerability produces more abundant fruit in your life than keeping your hurts close does, the urge to react that way to the pain we feel becomes less demanding and easier to reject.
Because let’s call it what it is: the enemy is out to keep you living lonely. In the midst of our heartache, he is quick to tell us that keeping things to ourself, shutting others out, and acting like life is fine is the safest and most comfortable path. I know because I hear this whisper all. the. time.
When your turn comes at small group, I know the feeling that it would just be easier to ask for prayers for your sick relative than open up about your marriage struggles.
When you sit down across the table from your friend in the humming coffee shop, I know the temptation to keep things light and fluffy.
I intimately know the instinctual urge to respond with “good!” when someone asks how life is going, even though it feels like it’s all crashing down and crumbling around you.
I know this whisper well, friend. I hear it every day, too.
And I wonder if that’s the secret the enemy doesn’t want us to realize: we all hear this whisper, all the time.
The difference is, that sticky people, they push through it. Like the way the wind holds up a bird in flight, the strength of Jesus enables sticky people to take a deep breath and say the hard, but truer thing.
See, this isn’t a unique struggle to just some of us. Maybe you think that sticky people just don’t hear this call to keep things to themselves. It just looks so easy for them to share, doesn’t it? But here we’ve stumbled on another lie. I submit that leading the way in vulnerability isn’t easy for anyone, no matter their personality. The difference is just that some have learned it’s worth it to push through that whisper.
It’s worth it because on the other side of this moment, where we decide to push through the urge to stay silent, is opportunity for God to care for our hearts through the mechanism of community. We don’t lead the way in vulnerability simply because it’s “the right thing to do,” and it’s definitely not to make others feel bad for us.
We lead the way in vulnerability because…
1. Speaking something out is a powerful action. We deny the Devil’s lie and replace it with the truth that honest words matter. I find that when lies, hurt, and fear are bouncing around in my brain, they hold a lot more power over me than when I get them out by speaking them out. Suddenly, they’re in the light. They’re not a lurking whisper in a dark corner, they’re exposed and can be examined through the lens of truth with the help of my sisters in Christ.
2. We invite God to care for us through the mechanism of community. Can God care for our hearts without us inviting any other people into our lives? Of course. But in Scripture we see time and time again that God loves to care for his people through other people. For example…
- After Mary became pregnant with Jesus, God sent her to Elizabeth to encourage and care for her at this challenging and important time in her life. (Luke 1)
- After Jesus rose from the grave, he first chose to send Mary Magdalene to the disciples with the news that their grief could turn to joy, rather than appearing first himself. (John 20)
- The work of the prophets in the Old Testament often demonstrates this, as well, like when God used Elisha to provide the widow oil to pay her debts or bring the Shunammite’s son back to life. (2 Kings 4)
Through others, God can care for us by giving the gift of acceptance, external processing, prayer, meeting practical needs, and even something as simple as a hug, which does matter to our brain chemistry and mental health!
3. We invite others to follow in a likewise fashion. We demonstrate we are safe to share vulnerably with when we lead the way in this practice. It’s all well and fine to say that we are a safe space for our friends to share vulnerably, but I think we all know that actions speak louder than words here. We can’t expect our friends to be vulnerable with us if we aren’t willing to be vulnerable with them.
And sometimes, this will take you going first. We’d probably like it if others led the way in this so we could know they’re safe before opening up, but that’s not how it always works. When we go first, leading the way in vulnerability, yes, we risk much, but when we remember why it’s worth it, those first brave words may start to flow a little more naturally, one vulnerable conversation at a time.
Love ya, friend.
Your Sister, Kimber
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