"[Vulnerability is] the birthplace of everything we're hungry for... Joy, creativity, faith, love" - Dr Brené Brown
It’s said that we all have the innate desire to control some - if not all - aspects of our lives. The same goes for our desire to control how others see us. This is usually some variation of either being the one who's always put together, always calm, well-liked or always has their head screwed on properly. And it's attractive, it's the best version of ourselves, who would want to see anything less?
As you know, we recently had a sisterhood session that was lovely, freeing and all that good stuff I talked about in the last post. But by the time I got home a few hours later I became seriously worried. The possibility that people may have interpreted had been said in a way that made me look like I was struggling or generally just not ‘there’ yet played on my mind. The rational side of me was saying ‘that's besides the point, what's important is that we were free to bring our whole selves to the conversation’, and the not-so-rational side of me was running at 1,000 mph asking 'what if, what if, what if?'. The prospect never being present in a group-setting like that (I’d attend, but not be present) flitted across my mind and the familiar desire to isolate myself crept up.
This feeling was a huge waste of energy, primarily because a) we can rarely control what people think and b) let's be realistic, most people have more important things to do with their time than dissecting my minor contribution to the session. All of this worry came from a desire to portray the perfect image, and being transparent was putting that at risk. Maybe, just maybe it's actually okay to show this not so flawless, more human side of us. We also see this play out in Jesus' life, and if it's good enough for Jesus, it's probably good enough for us too. At arguably the lowest point in his life, on the brink of being sentenced to death as innocent man, he was transparent about the gut-wrenching and traumatic experience he was about to face:
He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.
“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,”
he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”
- Mark 14:33-34 [emphasis added]
Jesus, the one person we’d expect to always have it together and put on a brave face, is completely open, honest and undone. He really didn’t have to do any of this - after all, he was God incarnate - but he did. This speaks volumes about how crucial it is for us to practice this very behaviour in our daily lives. It wasn't a one-off thing for him either; when his close Lazarus friend dies, out in the open, Jesus wept.
A thirty-something year old man living in a deeply patriarchal society, a wise spiritual leader who was known for transforming lives wherever he went, wept.
It doesn’t get much more transparent than that.
A friend loves at all times,
And a brother is born for adversity.
– Proverbs 17:17 [emphasis added]
While being transparent is not only important during times of trouble and immense pain, these times are a good litmus test of how authentic the life that we're living really is. A few years ago I went through a really a really tough time, and I never told anyone while it was happening. Not even my ‘Peter, James and John’s because of the fear that my 'all-together' image would be ruined, not realising that it was crumbling anyway (as we saw last week, keeping things in only makes issues worse). Storming my way through relationships, isolating myself and alienating those who cared about me. When I finally started to talk about everything, the gaps within myself and my friendships began to filled. Better late than never, but to be honest, never late is better. (Yes, I quoted a Drake lyric, can't deny how fitting it is here).
Fortune Favours the Brave
It's all good being vulnerable in safe spaces with people you trust. But we know that life doesn't always run smoothly like that, whatabout when the opposite happens?
Let’s consider the worst case scenario. As usual, the Bible gives us a great example, Joseph. Without going into too much detail, at only 17 years old, Joseph was sold into slavery by his jealous older brothers, after telling them about the dreams he had been having.
It was pretty bad, even when he upgraded from being a slave to the head of domestic staff, he was then falsely imprisoned. It was as if him being open with his brothers was the catalyst for A Series of Unfortunate Events to unfold in his life and The Worst That Could Happen had actually happened. However, the same openness about his dreams which led to him being betrayed by his own family became the exact same thing that led him to being the prime minister of Egypt. A few things we learn from his story are that:
- Living transparently is the only thing that’s within our control. How people react is another story. But whatever happens, assuming we're following the Right Path, somehow some way, it’ll turn out for good.
- If Joseph had been let being burned by his brothers stop him from ever sharing his dreams again he would have never been able to become the leader of Egypt
- As Steven Furtick once said: "I may not know the future but I know the One who holds it". The ability to trust that God is always looking out for us, even if it doesn't feel that way, is what gives us the confidence to be vulnerable and live openly, irrespective how others respond.
Fortune favours the brave; those who are willing to try again. And again.
Stand Still or Step Out
This time last year, the thought of living in such a transparent way - even writing a post like this - would have made me nauseous. But it's through doing this that we get one step closer to living life in its fullness.
Anything worth having comes with risk, and vulnerability is no exception.
In being able to live transparently we accept our own quirks and imperfections and we increase our capacity to do the same for others. The deep in us, meets the deep in others. Doing all of this doesn't come easily and we have the choice stand still as we are or step outside of the safe and familiar.
What will it be for you?
As usual, thanks for reading, has this changed your perspective on what it means to live freely and transparently? Get in touch and let me know, speak to you next week!