A few weeks back I stepped into a meeting I was scheduled to lead. I don’t particularly like leading meetings and the circumstances of the day didn’t make it any easier.
By the end of that same day my wife and I had to make a major decision about our families living situation that would impact us for the next two to three years.
A few minutes before my meeting was scheduled to begin we received news that my wife’s mother had suddenly been admitted to hospice.
And after my meeting was over I was scheduled to go visit a woman in our church whose husband had less than 2 days to live.
Needless to say, it was a heavy day.
As we sat down to begin our meeting we exchanged pleasantries for a few minutes. Then I began to explain how our meeting would flow and that’s when it hit me. It was the first time I had sat still all day and in some ways felt like the first time I had taken a breath. I paused just long enough for the weight and emotion of the days events to sink in and it took everything in me not to become a puddle on the floor.
In that moment an older woman at the table stepped in and directed us in what to do. We prayed and I was on the receiving end. If your anything like me those moments can be hard to swallow.
We’re often taught to believe that people who are strong (especially men) don’t have moments like this. We’re supposed to keep it together and keep our chin up. We’re supposed to “be strong.”
But is that really strength? To pretend and act as if everything is ok, even when it isn’t? To stuff all our emotion and put on a front? Is that strength or just a defense mechanism to avoid vulnerability?
Vulnerability is scary because it makes you… well… vulnerable. All of a sudden people can begin to see the holes in your armor. They know your weak spots and if left unchecked they have the ability to exploit them. Vulnerability often seems foolish, especially in the moment. There’s a voice that whispers, “No one wants to see this. No one wants to know this. Your supposed to be a leader and have it all together.”
That afternoon as I sat at that meeting table being prayed for with my head buried in my hands I was wishing I would’ve kept it together and those same thoughts were going through my head.
But as I lifted my head at the end of the prayer, wiping the tears from my eyes, the eyes of everyone else at the table seemed to say thank you. Thank you for allowing us in. Thank you for letting us know what’s really going on. Thank you for trusting us with you story and your grief.
Believe it or not, even though we tend to avoid vulnerability, it actually makes us more human.
We were made for relationship. We live out our humanity in connection with others, not in isolation. The deeper you get to know someone and the deeper they get to know you the greater connection you form.
I’m not saying we should all become “over-sharers” and tell awkward intimate details of our lives to colleagues, acquaintances, and strangers on the street, but if we all stopped pretending that we have it all together and allowed others to see us in our weakness, my guess is that our capacity for compassion and empathy would grow. We’d be a little less quick to judge and more apt to listen and understand. We would be prone to create safer spaces where people could be free to unmask their brokenness and possibly even experience healing.
I know it sounds crazy, a little terrifying, and also counter-intuitive, but this is how we grow in strength. Not through projecting power, but through embracing our weakness.
In 2 Cor. 12 Paul reminds us that through our weakness Christ’s strength grows in our life.
I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses. (v9-10)
So next time you want to pretend, don’t. Let your guard down, even if it’s just a little. I bet you’ll find people will see you as courageous and might even be inspired to do the same.