Time is such a funny thing for someone as impatient as I am. It feels like it will never pass, like this season I'm in will never end, and then in the blink of an eye- years have passed by. I never feel like I have enough time and yet I want the time I do have to disappear. I complain that I don’t have enough time to write and then I leave my best work sitting in the drafts folder for months.
With the start of the new year, I’m able to look back with clearer eyes upon the chapters of life behind me. While 2018 was, on the surface, a spectacular year, the year before it held more pain than I cared to share. I wrote about it a bit, but it was also a season that I needed to wrestle through on my own. My style of blogging has changed a lot over the years and I don't write as often as I wish I did. My mind is always full of ideas for posts, but they can't seem to find their way to the page. Seminary requires so much writing that I struggle to do so in my free time. I’ve also come to realize that it isn't the best practice for someone going into pastoral ministry to treat a blog like a public diary. Not all of my musings are best for public consumption. As someone who struggles with vulnerability, I sometimes overcorrect and write a bit too much. Walking a fine line between two extremes is pretty much how I exist in this world.
This all brings me to vulnerability. We each have our own kryptonite in the world and this is mine. I think I've always known this, but I started to really understand this through the Enneagram. Part of being an 8 means that I fear being controlled. That could look like a million different things, but for me, giving over control means giving someone the ability to hurt me. I've always felt like this, even when I didn't have words to describe it. When I was a teenager, I took scripture incredibly seriously, so when I read Proverbs 4:23, I took it as a direct command:
"Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it."
Guard my heart? You got it. I built a wall around my heart and didn't let anyone in. I had close friends but even then, I didn't let them know the really delicate, sensitive parts of me. And romantic relationships? Forget about it. I was determined to guard my heart against any heart-breakers out there. I wouldn't let a boy a hurt me. And I pretty much stuck to that for a decade. A decade.
In all those years, I was pretty proud of myself. I was proud of the way that I had guarded my heart. I was proud of the way I had kept myself from hurt. I never stopped to wonder if I was cutting myself off from the best that life has to offer. Because while I wasn't having my heart broken, I also wasn't letting anyone love me fully. No one got to see all of me-- the messy, ugly, and broken parts included, so they didn't even have the chance to love me. Fear told me over and over, "if they see the ugly parts of you, they'll leave and you'll be hurt. Better not to show them at all. This is what guarding your heart looks like." It's taken me a long time to realize this is a lie.
Being vulnerable is all a game of power for me. Calling it a game isn't really fair, but in my worst moments, it’s how I approach it. "If I open myself up to this person and give them part of my heart, what will they do with it?" I don't like feeling out of control, but that's what happens in relationships, especially romantic relationships. I don't have control because it's not just about me. It's about how much I care for someone and how much they care for me. Maybe I am going to be the one who cares more and maybe they are going to walk away with part of my heart.
Last year, thanks to some hard seasons of learning, and a great counselor, I began to see that vulnerability is the gift that I have to offer this world. Vulnerability doesn't make me weak, it makes relationships strong. I cannot have the relationships and love I want out of life without it. I have to do what scares me most to have what I so deeply desire. The paradox of it all is that because my vulnerability is so hard-won, it becomes the greatest gift I have to offer. When I can finally be vulnerable, it opens up the opportunity for others to do the same. Vulnerability can be an act of bravery.
Bravery has always been the most important virtue to me (although, as my mom once reminded me, it isn't even one of the fruits of the Spirit, so maybe I should focus on something like kindness). I want to be brave and I want to be known for being brave. I do things that look brave to other people- I call my senators or stand up to elected officials in a crowded room. While those take a measure of bravery, it's not the bravest thing I can. The bravest thing I can do is what is second nature to some of my friends. The bravest thing I can do is put my heart on the line. It's saying I like you first, with no guarantee it will be reciprocated. It's telling someone my fears and mistakes, knowing they may not like me the same afterward. It's admitting I am not enough and I need help.
In the past two years, I've learned to be vulnerable in all sorts of new ways. Sometimes it ended in deeper relationships but other times it left me hurt and disappointed. The truth is that when you are vulnerable with others, there is always a possibility that they might let you down. But it turns out that when that happens, the world doesn’t end. I learned to say "I like you" first, and not crumble when he didn't say it back. I learned how to share my scars, not my open wounds, as proof not that I am strong enough to conquer all things but as proof that I am human and imperfect too. I learned that feeling raw and vulnerable is simultaneously terrifying and infinitely better than feeling nothing at all. I’m no expert yet in vulnerability, but I’m learning one day at a time and that’s the best that I can do. Here’s to a gentler, softer me in 2019.