For the first 8 years of our ministry at an established church, I didn’t have a friend to my name. In those same years, I birthed and stayed home with three children, and I remember willing myself not to get sick because I didn’t know who I would call for help if I did. Community was something I created for other people, not something I enjoyed myself. At least that’s how I felt.
When we prepared to plant out of that church, my husband gathered prospective core team members in our living room and asked, “When you dream of what church could be, what is it that you think of?” For me, the answer was simple, and I timidly spoke out loud what I’d held inside for so long: “I don’t want to feel as if I’m standing outside of community, helping it happen but not enjoying it myself. I want our church to be the kind where I get to enjoy the inside. I want to have friends.”
What I didn’t yet realize is that community isn’t something that comes to us; it’s something that we go toward. We make choices that either invites community or hinders the very thing we so long for. The reasons I’d struggled in friendship were many--my lack of initiation, the very specific parameters I’d placed around what type of friend I wanted and how they would relate to me, time constraints that I used as an excuse--but primary among them is that I chose not to take the risk of vulnerability with other women. I wanted close community, but I resisted revealing myself or asking for help. I even resisted spending time with other women.
God gave me a do-over with church planting, because the difficult nature of the work made it nearly impossible to hide behind carefully maintained facades or self-sufficiency. My spiritual, physical, and emotional neediness pointed like arrows toward asking wise and faithful women for help and depending on friends. And so I did.
Vulnerability is the spark for us to enjoy and help cultivate true community. Only through vulnerability can we fulfill the “one anothers” of Scripture--pray for one another, confess to one another, forgive one another, bear one another’s burdens--because only then do we know the burdens of others and only then do they know ours.
Vulnerability happens when we trust others with the sensitive areas of our lives, those aspects about us that feel fragile or reveal our imperfections. Sometimes it even feels vulnerable to extend an invitation or ask a probing question to someone we've only known on the surface.
Revealing ourselves feels risky because it involves embracing weakness and imperfection. Image-keeping feels far less risky because we believe it protects our sensitive areas from the judgment of others. For some reason, we believe impressing other women will lead to connection and community, so we expend effort on building an image rather than revealing ourselves. But until we lay down our defenses, until we stop trying to shield our insecurities and shame from the eyes of others, we will not experience the friendship that goes beyond the surface level, the kind we so long for.
Do you want to know a secret? People can see through our defenses anyway. We're not hiding as much as we think.
Vulnerability is the way we lay down our arms. Vulnerability takes a weakness and makes it a strength, a bonding agent, because acknowledging our need for God and others attracts fellow vulnerable sojourners like a magnet. Perfection-striving may impress from a distance, but it is vulnerability that wins friends.
I'm not talking about constantly gushing out our every emotion or thought or struggle to everyone we meet. I'm talking about nudging new friendships deeper by having women in our lives in an informal way. I'm talking about sharing our sin and how God has redeemed it. I'm talking about asking a friend to watch our kids so we can go to marriage counseling. I'm talking about calling a friend when we're having a bad day and asking them to pray for us. I'm talking about being the first one in our small group to share a deeply personal prayer request. I'm talking about letting safe people see us cry. I'm talking about confessing sin to a godly friend. I'm talking about letting people into the private areas of our lives, both our physical spaces and our emotional and spiritual spaces. I'm talking about asking for help when we're in over our heads.
Community requires this vulnerability.
I look back at those first 8 years of marriage and ministry, and I see that I did in fact have fledgling friendships. All those prayers I’d prayed to God for a friend? He’d actually answered it with Kelly, Jamee, Ashley, and Niki, but I’d never taken the risk of vulnerability with them. I’d been more concerned with impressing them than knowing them or letting them know me. As a result, the friendships had faltered before they’d even truly started. I had been my own worst enemy all along.
Dear one, don’t be your own worst enemy. Resist making excuses or thinking of yourself as “other." Yes, be wise, but don’t let fear and severe self-protection hinder the very thing that you long for. Take that risk of vulnerability.