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When We're Afraid of Vulnerability

When the kids were younger, we spent one summer using a tent for our weekend camping excursions. This means, by the time you’ve packed your three kids, the tent, the tarps, sleeping bags, campstove, fuel and clothes - oh, and food - there wasn’t room for anything else. It’s possible I forgot to put the cooler out while my husband was packing, and everything had to come out to restart the tetris game unfolding in our backseat.

I remember looking inside our vehicle with a huge sigh, “how could we possibly need this much stuff?!”

We tucked ourselves tightly inside, barely clipping in our seatbelts and drove away still wondering if all this stuff is really necessary, because it felt more like a burden.

As we unpacked and set up camp, I realised everything had a purpose. The kids needed the extra socks because they got themselves soaking wet. The rain came overnight and I was grateful to have a tarp over the picnic table. And, yes, we did need our own pillows, because sharing headspace is harder than bodyspace in a tent.

What felt like a cumbersome burden were really the tools we needed.

Sitting with patients in the hospital or in counselling who are struggling with difficult circumstances, a negative thought-life, anxiety or depression, I ask about their relationships and who is supporting them. There’s many times I hear a quiet response, “I haven’t told them. I don’t want to be a burden.”

While we prefer to frame it as if we don’t want to put them out by telling them our struggles, we also need to face the reality of our own fears in sharing them - when patterns are rooted in sin, the apprehension is even greater. We don’t want people to know about our problems, nor our sin, and we feel afraid to say the words out loud; we’re scared of rejection, gossip and shame.

But, what if these burdens-what we perceive as neediness or weaknesses- are really the tools we need to grow in our faith?

What if, instead of lamenting the troubles we feel crowding us, we could share them within trusted relationships to find healing and restoration through prayer, the Word, and the body of Christ?

In order to face our fears, it can help us to first understand them.

The Fear of Shame - Defining Needy

When we felt called to go overseas to join a church planting team, we had to raise money. Mennonite by heritage, my husband and I grew up in a culture which reflects a strong work ethic and (perhaps overly) values the independence of providing for our own needs.

Asking others for money was hard.

It felt embarrassing and so needy… we definitely didn’t enjoy feeling needy. We wrestled with this deeply, until one of our mentors reminded us how our need allowed the opportunity for others, who felt called to give, to act in obedience. This shifted our perspective, supplying us with grace to grow in humility.

As we experienced trauma overseas, again we were the ones in need, in need of finances and prayer. Again, as we returned home and our 8 month old daughter became critically ill, admitted to ICU in the children’s hospital 2 hours away from our home, again we were in much need - of care, support and prayer.

We’d wonder if there would ever come a time when we wouldn’t be the needy ones.

Shame would have us feel less-than, or unworthy of the care, support and love of others. It’s the feeling of embarrassment when we believe we’re not measuring up to a standard. Maybe we feel ashamed because we’re struggling again with symptoms of depression, or that same sin keeps rearing it’s head in our life despite our best attempts - we aren’t sure we can bear to tell another soul.

Jesus went to the garden with his disciples to pray. He knew what was coming. With vulnerability he told them, “my soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me” (Matt 26:38). Facing the most excruciating battle of surrender to the Father’s will, he confided in them and asked them to be with him.

Scripture reminds us that in our weakness, the Father is strong and his gift of grace is enough for us no matter what we face (2 Cor 12:9). When we feel overcome with shame, we’re invited to remember once again, our salvation wasn’t dependent on us in the first place. God’s grace saves us and sanctifies us and this is his promise for us today, tomorrow and eternity.

The Fear of Exposing Secrets - We don’t talk about Bruno

Talking about the outcast brother Bruno of the family Madrigal in Disney’s Encanto wasn’t allowed. While the song is so catchy, you can’t not talk about him now. But if you pay attention in your own families, churches or friend groups, you may notice the unwritten rules defining what’s okay to talk about, and what’s not.

Perhaps it’s issues about mental health or substance use. It’s also our struggles against sin, the lust, pride and gossip we battle against. Even within our church culture we shy away from the honest truth that sin is present in our lives. Our salvation in Christ hasn’t vanquished the presence of sin, that is reserved for the day he returns to restore all things and his glory will reign completely.

So why are our sins kept a secret?

We don’t share them because we feel like no one else experiences the same temptation and weakness as we do, or we’re misled to believe that by not sharing and confessing them we can keep them a secret. But, “would God not discover this? For he knows the secrets of our heart” (Ps 44:21) and he will also “judge the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” (Rom 2:16).

A gangrenous toe can be covered up with a sock, you won’t know it’s there, and you may be able to carry one with normal life, for a while. But sooner or later (usually sooner) that infection is going to spread and affect the entire body. Ignoring our sin may work for a while, causing the church to appear pristine, clean-cut looking, when actually it’s a whitewashed tomb, death covered up marked for avoidance.

Instead, scripture calls us to confess our sins to God (1 John 1:9) and to each other (Jam 5:16), because when we’re honest with ourselves and with God, we know his total and complete forgiveness. If this becomes a daily habit in our prayer, we are preaching the gospel to ourselves every single day, remembering all that Christ has done for us. Not surprisingly, this practice frees us to be vulnerable with others, because we’ve found our hope in Him alone.

Obviously, not every context is appropriate for sharing. An extended family gathering may not be the time to disclose your raw emotions. Yet, we can prayerfully consider how -and with whom- we can begin opening up ourselves for prayer and accountability.

The Fear of People - We don’t know who to trust

We all know what it’s like to share your struggle honestly with someone, only to feel utter disappointment at the end. Like water flowing out of a garden hose to fill your kiddie pool, only to realise there was a hole in the pool, and all the water escaped onto the lawn instead.

Here’s an opportunity to be curious about your expectations. If you’re sharing with a friend, what do you want them to do in response? If it's your spouse, what are you hoping they will do with this new information?

Rest assured, they will fail you if you don’t know what you want from them.

Our disappointment in others stems out of not getting what we wanted in the first place-and it may not always be a good thing. So if you’ve felt hurt from others when you’ve shared with them in the past, consider what it is you were hoping for. If vulnerability is difficult, before sharing your burdens with another, sit with them in prayer.

Understand that if you’re approaching your brother or sister in Christ-or church leader- you’re coming with a posture of humility, open to receiving prayer, correction and encouragement.

Remember that others cannot solve your problems for you, but together you can prayerfully discern choices to move forward and apply wisdom to each situation, building each other up on the foundation of Christ.

No Fear in Love

No one enjoys struggling. Particularly when our trials play on repeat. And truly, our battle against the world, the flesh and the devil won’t subside during our earthly journey. But the tools we’re given, through prayer and the Word, the relationships we develop and persist in through our local communities, will train us in godliness that we may fight the good fight.

When it comes to our fears of vulnerability, scripture tells us, “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:18). People may fail you, but Christ never will. May we endeavour to build up our local communities on the foundation of the gospel, receiving and giving as those who have been saved by grace.

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