My definition? Hipsters who sit around talking about how miserable they are, basking in a powerless existence of self loathing. Sounds fun right?
I always thought that vulnerable people were either women, or whimpy men with high levels of estrogen.
Hey… I am just starting it off by being real with you! :)
I am pleased to announce this is no longer my definition of vulnerability.
Vulnerability has been the greatest source of frustration for me. Beyond the pain and frustration, vulnerability has been the avenue to ultimate freedom in my life. It has been the gateway to intimacy, one of the greatest desires of the human heart. To be known and seen for all that we are, the good and the bad, and still be 100% loved and accepted.
Thats my goal today, to be a catalyst for vulnerability and intimacy. Why? So that we can experience the depths of love like never before. So that we can live emotionally prosperous. So that we can be free from shame, guilt, and condemnation. So that we can have thriving relationships, with our creator, ourselves, and others.
The problem? Vulnerability is scary and painful. Or so we think...
The fear of pain is a hindrance to intimacy. It cuts us off from joy and adventure. When we are afraid to embrace pain we stay at a shallow place of existence. The truth is, there is no easy road to take. Struggle and pain is an invitation to a depth of love rarely experienced.
For me, I thought I always had to have it all together. My focus in life was to get rid of all the pain. In this pursuit, I brought upon myself even greater pain. The pain of not experiencing the fullness of love.
Things like… struggle and pain were foreign to me. They were things to be avoided, not embraced. After all, pain is only weakness leaving the body right? Thats what I thought to. I was afraid of pain and therefore, I became a surface dweller, abiding in the safety of the known. Here in this place I became shallow. Never showing the real me for the fear of rejection.
So how did I get rid of this pain? I created a facade that hid the real me. I put on fig leaves around my personality, my emotions, my beliefs, my dreams… Everything about me was hidden!
Its the age old lie that humanity struggles with. (If we show ourselves completely, we will be rejected and ultimate pain will come upon us.) But The Gospel is the good news that The Fathers affection never turns off towards us. No matter what we do or say, He will love us the same. It is this kind of Father we can trust with our nakedness.
One time, in a worship service, I heard The Lord say, "I want to see you naked." My first thought was, "I rebuke you devil!" Haha but God is funny. He said it that way for shock value and I knew what He meant by it. He was calling me out. He knew that I was coming to Him in a way that wasn't real.
For example, whenever I was struggling, I would simply block it all by "worshipping" Him. Sounds holy right? The problem was, I still had my fig leaves on. I wasn't bringing ME to HIM. I was bringing my perfect little self as if He didn't see the crap. Not intimacy at all!
We Need Intimacy.
True intimacy requires that both parties come together without judgement, condemnation, or criticism. It requires that we bring the real us, not the person we are trying to be, but the person we are now. That includes all the insecurities, fears, and doubts. It also includes, all the dreams, desires, passions, and hopes.
It is impossible to live a life fulfilled without intimacy… With ourselves, God, and yes, even people. It first starts with being real and honest with God and ourself, then it ripples out to the ones we love and cherish in the world.
Somewhere along the path I realized that I was failing at this intimacy thing. I was saying all the right things, yet I didn't feel… authentic. I somehow came up with the idea that I was supposed to be something better than I was. I no longer saw myself as I was, but what I should be. That is just a sucky way to live, always comparing yourself with some imaginary version of you. Not cool.
I get that we are always transforming. I get that we never want to stay at our current level. We want to increase and be better than we were yesterday.
But this is what I was missing… Grace for the process.
Without a healthy sense of intimacy, this whole transformation thing can become a very frustrating, shallow experience.
For me, it came from the desire to please God. I never want to lower the standard of the gospel so that it will make me feel comfortable. Therefore, I became so "truth" oriented that I became religious about it. I had black and white answers for everything. I disregarded my emotions in the name of "living by faith, not by feelings brother." it basically robbed me from the ability to live and enjoy life. Even though this pursuit was a noble one it eventually hindered my growth. Why? I wasn't able to love myself in the process. I put expectations on myself that God didn't even have for me. It became a heavy yoke of performance.
For example, I remember a time in my life where I was so afraid of weakness. I believed I was strong and didn't have fear, but on the inside I was really terrified. One day, in my second year of ministry school, we were doing an exercise where we were all supposed to say out loud a lie that we have believed. In our small group, everyone was going around saying the lie out loud all smiley and stuff. Then it came my turn. My response… "I am not gonna go digging inside, I don't have lies." Wow, talk about denial. In all actuality, I heard the lie, "I am not powerful." So to me, the act of actually admitting I struggled with that lie meant I wasn't really powerful. I know… Twisted. That all began to change over the next 9 months...
Through amazing people in my life, especially my pastor, Bea Ward, I came to the conclusion that I was about to enter into a season of "greater intimacy." Ya, sounds all glorious and sweet until you start SEEING everything inside you! But deep down, I am always willing to pay whatever price to have more! More love, more joy, more wholeness, just more! So somewhere in my heart, I made a promise to myself to embrace the process, no matter how much I disagreed or was offended.
To me that looked like being 100% honest, with myself, others, and God. Sounds simple enough, but it was really awkward at first. I felt completely out of control. As I began to give myself permission to feel everything, it was pretty overwhelming. I became aware of all the crap so to speak. I mean, these emotions have been stuffed away for quite some time, and now I am letting the lid off. Certainly not the prettiest sight in the world. Yet at the same time it is, for whenever a heart is being set free, I think all of heaven rejoices!
Continuing on with the journey…
In times of prayer I wasn't sure if what I was saying would offend Him or not, I would talk about all the doubts I had, the bitter emotions I had towards certain people… I wasn't even sure if I was allowed to feel these things as a good Christian, because of course, when you become a christian you have to have it all figured out now right?
Man that religious spirit is a bunch of do doo!
So as I continually gave myself permission to be real, it got messy. I was discovering things about myself I didn't necessarily like. But this is what happens when you finally allow the light to shine. See, ignoring and stuffing emotions keeps your heart in the darkness. It makes room for guilt and shame. It makes you believe the lie that, "if people find out what your really like, you will be rejected" It causes you to hide.
But the truth is that we are so completely accepted. All the good, and all the "bad."
One day while I was leaving a friends house, I felt that unfamiliar, honesty, thing rise up in me again. As I was driving, I began to tell God that I doubted His goodness, that I doubted His provision and His promises, I began letting my anger out toward Him. As I did, it was like a wave of His love crashed over me. I felt so completely naked and free. It felt so wrong at first to even think I could be angry at God. But thats what was deep inside me. It was at that point I realized, He meets me exactly where I am at. He doesn't do shallow, and He doesn't do fake. He desires for us to bare our souls before Him.
After all, He cries out, "come to me as you are!" Notice it doesn't say, "come to me as you think you ought to be."
This isn't a nice little alter call message for unbelievers. It is a life long plea from a loving Father to His children.
We often feel like we need to be perfect in our relationship with Him, its absolutely crazy. He is the safest person to be around. We can tell Him our deepest darkest secrets. As we are completely raw before Him, we open ourselves up to His extravagant love. On the other hand, if we keep our fig leaves on, hiding in shame, we will never experience the abounding love He has towards us.
Thats the problem though isn't it? Taking off our fig leaves is vulnerable and scary. But its ok, we don't have to get it right the first time. Just start somewhere. It gets less and less awkward the more we do it. The more we dive deeper into this ocean of intimacy, we realize its not such a scary place. Its actually the place of greatest adventure, mystery, and creativity. It is the place where we come fully alive, emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
When we keep our leaves on, the very opposite happens. We enter into self protection, and who can blame us? It only makes sense to try and protect ourselves from pain right? It is our natural instinct, get rid of pain and find more pleasure.
Thats just it, sometimes the pathway to ultimate pleasure has scary cliffs and challenging obstacles. Protecting ourself is to never embark on the journey. It is coming to the conclusion that the risk outweighs the reward. This is what we do when we enter into self protection. Yes we may reduce the pain and discomfort in our life but we also reduce the joy, creativity, and passion!
So I am here to break it to you, if you want to experience true fulfillment in life, there is no way you can protect your heart from pain. There will always be an element of risk that requires us to trust.
As we begin to let go and drop our defenses, something peculiar happens, we enter into a level of relationship that our hearts yearn for. It is a place called TRUST. Here, we allow our Father to take care of us. Self protection is a form of pride because it says that we can protect ourselves better than God.
When we take upon ourselves God's responsibilities we start living in fear. When we are motivated by fear, it hinders us from receiving the perfect love of The Father. It causes us to take action to reduce the uncertainty. It inspires us to get things under control instead of leaning into the mystery. But of course, we christians like to spiritualize our dysfunctions, so we call it things like wisdom and honor…
Its ok, on the other side of offense is an invitation to greater freedom. (A great quote from a great friend)
But the doorway to this freedom is vulnerability. It is stepping into the unknown, it is taking a risk. It is becoming like a child, simply trusting in a really good dad to protect, just like He said He would, 100% of the time, never letting us down. This is what is available for us all. This is the beauty of The Gospel!
For me, I grew up with a mentality of toughness. I am the youngest of four brothers… Enough said.
Along with divorce in the family I created ways to shut myself off from pain. In the process I became increasingly detached from my heart. It was never ok to show emotion. When I was excited or sad it seemed like there was this regulator inside of me that kept me "balanced." In reality, my heart was in jail, chained to fear. Fear of intimacy, mans opinion, and rejection.
One night, God gave me a life changing dream. It took place in a large city. I found myself running the streets frantically trying to find my dog Koa. I was running up to people asking them if they had seen my dog. Each person gave me direction as to where I could find him. As I turned a corner, I caught a glimpse of him and my heart leapt within me. Hope began to rise in me. As I ran toward him, he ran and jumped across this large gap into a large body of water, like some sort of pool. I knew I was gonna have to go all the way around this building to meet him. But I was determined not to give up. So I ran and ran and as I turned the corner once again, I saw him running toward me. It looked as if he had a huge smile on his face. He came running toward me with so much joy. It was like a movie, he jumped in my arms and started licking my face. It felt like I was finally alive. I felt complete and whole!
As the days went on, He gave me the interpretation. My dog Koa, represented my heart. For so long my heart has ran away from me because I didn't value it. I thought it was all a bunch of sissy stuff. The city represented the journey I was on in terms of reconnecting with my heart. Cities are complicated and confusing to me… Each corner represented another level of breakthrough as I pressed on. The anticipation I felt as I caught a glimpse of what it looked like to be reconnected with my heart (Koa) kept me motivated to endure the discomfort. It was this feeling of wholeness, anticipation, and love that made the decision to keep going easy.
Enjoy The Process
Thank God for process. I have always had a bad taste in my mouth towards this word because in my culture it can be glorified. With an unhealthy bent towards process, people can be so focused on their faults that they lose sight of their identity in Christ, and that is not ok. On the other hand, without process, we feel like we need to have it all together, know all the right answers, and be perfect all the time. Both are extreme cases of error.
These last couple years have been a painful yet glorious journey of process. A process of setting my heart free. Free from the bondage of fear. It has been like open heart surgery without anesthesia at some points, but I have realized that if we are not willing to endure the pain, we will never soar the skies of freedom. We will never be able to enjoy the rivers of living water flowing out of our hearts. We will stay in a shallow, shadowy place of existence.
Simply realizing that there is a journey of discovery, that involves trial and error, will help us navigate this life in a way that causes us to live life to the fullest.
Pain Is Not So Bad
As we begin to change our views and perceptions about pain we can begin to embrace it. We can use it as fuel to affect change in the world. Thats what the King of Kings did. He couldn't bear the pain of losing His creation. He sent His son so we would realize that He never shut His love off towards us. He couldn't bear sin destroying His creation, the pain was to great.
See, pain is a part of love. We don't need to be afraid of pain. We can learn and grow from it.
We need to realize that if The Father makes Himself vulnerable to pain then who are we to think we can escape it?
Yet while God feels this pain, He is still 100% secure in His identity. He doesn't fall off the throne when He feels pain. I always used to think that the gospel made me tough, immune to hurt and offense. I always believed that if I really walked in love and identity I would never get hurt.
I got offense and hurt mixed up. Offense is when we get hurt, harbor it, and want to hurt the other person back. But when we get hurt, we can run straight into The Fathers arms to heal us. When we don't admit we have been hurt it is a manifestation of shame. For we are ashamed and afraid of weakness. And of course, being hurt means we are weak right? Wrong! Think about it, it takes more courage to admit someone hurt your feelings than it does to cover it up with the tough guy act doesn't it?
Let me clarify, I believe that when we catch a true revelation of love, we will be untouchable. We will be so secure in The Fathers love that no matter what comes our way, we will live un-offended. This is the goal and I know many that already walk in it. Yet I know that sometimes I can pretend I'm ok yet really be hurt on the inside. I find it way to easy to hide behind those fig leaves, but I chose not to. No matter the discomfort, I am determined to live a life of intimacy, knowing that on the other side of the pain lies true freedom!
So when we are honest with our feelings, we punch fear in the face and we take a massive step towards love. We slay the giant of fear and shame. How? We realize that it really wasn't anything to be afraid of. We thought it was a monster in our closet but it ended up being a cuddly little stuffed animal. Ok… Maybe not that nice, but you get the point. The fear of intimacy and vulnerability is just one big lie!
I remember one time I was sitting with my Pastor processing some things that happened the previous day. It was an incident with my girlfriend at the time, and I didn't handle it so well. I basically threw a conniption fit, and stormed out of the room not saying goodbye to her. I know… not very nice of me eh?
Well I was telling Bea, my pastor, what happened, and when it came to the part where I stormed out, it was super hard for me to tell her. Thank God she used her super power discernment gift and called me out. She was like, "ok, what do you believe, I believe, about you when you told me that?"
Whoa! I was shocked at that statement. In that moment I realized I was more concerned about my image than my breakthrough. I was afraid that, because I messed up, she was going to love me less. That if she saw me completely, she would reject me. I was living in a house that had no room for mistakes. Doing something wrong equaled shame to me. Thank God for people that call you higher! I now live in a house that has a nice little room for my mistakes. I have such a greater level of peace because I am not worried about saying the right thing at the right time. I'm also no longer controlled by the people pleasing spirit that caused me to hide my true self.
And when I do fall into the lie that it is safer to hide, I just get back up again. I don't freak out as if I never got breakthrough. I just keep running my race!
This is my testimony. As I share, my eyes tear up because I am overwhelmed with Gods goodness. I am so grateful He took me through this process. Yet I am somewhat afraid, for I know the onion has many layers. And at the same time, I am not afraid, because now my heart has tasted freedom. No lie will ever be able to enslave me back to the shallow waters, the old house with no room for mistakes, nor the stupid fig leaves! For the love of God casts out all fear and freedom is my portion!
So this is my encouragement to you today, be courageous. Be radically real and honest. Invite God to know you completely. Be vulnerable with your friends and family. Live "naked" and free, completely unashamed. For this is real courage. Refuse to cover up your doubts, your mistakes, your failures. Bring it all into the light and you will realize there was nothing to be afraid of in the first place. As you take these steps of boldness, you will sink into level of identity like never before. You will be a mighty oak tree that provides shade for the masses. You will experience the ecstasy of God in its fullness. Yes, that includes pain, but don't push it away, embrace it, as you do, the fear of it disappears. This is your mission if you so chose to accept. The reward is clear, freedom, confidence, impact, and above all TRUE LOVE!