“Courage originally meant ‘to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.’ Over time, this definition has changed, and, today, courage is more synonymous with being heroic. Heroics are important and we certainly need heroes, but I think we’ve lost touch with the idea that speaking honestly and openly about who we are, about what we’re feeling, and about our experiences (good and bad) is the definition of courage. Heroics are often about putting our life on the line. Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line.” – Brene Brown
Oh, that lovely but cringe-worthy word–vulnerability. My guess is that if you’re like me, you have a love-hate thing with vulnerability. It’s brutal, hard, risky, and scary to share our real hearts and let ourselves be known in a raw way.
But it’s also freeing, empowering, healing, transforming.
Living authentically is a core part of life in the trenches with people. Down in the nitty gritty of incarnational relationships, fake and surfacey won’t do. Over the years I have discovered that people on the margins of life and faith can sniff out inauthenticity like none other.
My friends’ honesty and courage have challenged me to be more honest and brave, too. It doesn’t always come naturally; it’s very easy for me to say “fine” when people ask me how I’m doing as a natural reflex instead of taking a breath and engaging with how I’m really doing. It’s easier for me to talk about other people’s problems than my own. It’s easier to only share the vague generalities than the nitty gritty specifics.
But I keep learning how authenticity is maybe one of the most important practices I can engage with as a person of faith. The ways of Jesus are all centered around humility. And authenticity requires humility. My reflex is to protect myself rather than humble myself before others. However, when I do that, I miss out on freedom, hope, and being loved for all of who I am instead of only the parts that I am willing to share.
Before I began to be more honest about my real story, struggles, and feelings about God, I had a voice in my head that taunted me: “If they really knew you, they’d leave you.” I listened to that voice for many years. However, over time I finally humbled myself and risked being more honest. I found that not only did my friends not leave me, they actually drew closer to me.
It’s weird how that works. The thing we fear will drive people away is actually the thing that draws them closer.
I passionately believe that the work of the church is to create spaces and places where people can be real, let down the guards of self-protection, and move toward greater and greater freedom. This broken world does not need more pride and protection. Instead, it’s crying out for authenticity and humility.
Years ago a friend told me a little something her therapist shared that I always remember. Part of becoming more loving, more free people is learning how to:
1. Show up
2. Tell the truth.
3. Trust God.
4. Let go of the outcome.
Show up, tell the truth, trust God, let go of the outcome.
I think of these all the time, especially when I am in one of those spots (which I often am) where the only thing I can think of is running for the hills and doing whatever-possible-to-avoid-pain-and-humility.
There’s no way to do these four things without feeling scared.
Without a do-I-really-have-to-do-this? feeling.
But unless we show up, we’ve got nothing to work with in relationship. We need to be in the room, eye to eye, in the conversation, present, bringing our body, mind, and soul to the same place as best we can. It’s much easier to hide, stay quiet, hang in the back, disengage and guard our hearts.
Then, tell the truth. I’d change the therapist’s wording here and say, “Tell our truth.” This is probably one of the hardest skills to learn. Many of us are disconnected from our feelings, critique our thoughts, and do all kinds of nutty things in our head that discount our truth. Being honest is one of the bravest things we can do this side of heaven. Saying, “This is what’s going on for me, this is how I am feeling, this is the crazy stuff swirling on in my head, this is what I am afraid of, this is what I want, this is what God is stirring up in me, this is what I am confused about, this is what I dream for” is truly courageous. When we tell our truth, it helps others be brave, too.
Next is to trust God. That can be freaky in all kinds of ways, especially for those of us who think we might know better than God what would be a good outcome. Or for those of us who have all kinds of reasons to think that maybe God might not be trustworthy. However, I do think our best hope is taking a breath after we show up and tell the truth and trust that God is in the midst of whatever we just showed up and told the truth about. That we’re not alone in it, that we’re not abandoned completely, that somehow, someway, God is at work in our honesty.
And lastly, the one that is the hardest for us control freaks (please tell me I’m not the only one)–let go of the outcome. Loosening our grip, letting go of control, realizing we can’t take care of all of the ins and outs of what happens once we show up and tell the truth is really scary–and wonderfully freeing. For those of us who thrive on control, letting go of an outcome is so good because it forces us to reckon with the most important part of vulnerability–we can’t control it. Authenticity can’t be managed, contained, or tamed. When we put ourselves out there, we put ourselves out there.
Vulnerability is a core ingredient of a life of downward mobility–a life centered on people, not programs; a life centered on freedom, instead of self-protection; a life centered on the ways of Jesus, not the ways of the world.
May we be people of courage, willing to show up, tell our truth, trust God and let go of the outcome.