I was given a challenging book called “Walk the Way” for my birthday, and I am using it throughout the season of Lent. Yesterday, I read a quote from John Bunyan, which really made me sit up; “Remember that Jesus did not protect his own heart against sorrow or suffering; for this would have meant him hardening his heart against you and me. On the contrary, he awakened himself and opened his heart with great compassion.”
I started thinking how often, when we’re afraid of getting hurt, we do try and protect ourselves and erect all sorts of barriers in our heart, some subtle, some glaringly obvious. But if we wish to stay tender and remain vulnerable before God and others, we couldn’t do better than think on Jesus’ perfect example: such open-hearted love, even though it knowingly led him to the cross; in fact, just because of that.
I wonder what strategies you employ to cover up your vulnerability – what are your favourite protection mechanisms? For many years I hid behind an omni-competent, self-reliant, “I don’t need you” exterior. It took 10 years at Ashburnham, and the first few years of OTCC, to allow God in to start dismantling those walls! And now? Sometimes I still pretend I haven’t seen someone coming up, and avidly absorb myself in the conversation I’m in, until they pass by or move off. Or occasionally I still catch myself, when a conversation seems to be going in a direction where I’m feeling uncomfortable, brightly changing the subject to a safe topic. I think this comes from dissociation learnt in childhood, where, in scary or threatening circumstances, I would chatter away brightly as though absolutely nothing was happening, not acknowledging anything untoward at all = nothing bad was occurring was it – so I must be safe?! (I still do this at the dentist’s, until the number of implements in my mouth puts a final halt to the chatter). This behaviour is not good for kingdom relationships, aged 68, or any age come to that.
Perhaps a good Lenten exercise for all of us would be to think how we might be more honest with ourselves, God, and each other, about our fragility and insecurity, however deeply buried or in disguise they might be? This is the sort of transparency that enables God to work in us, and through us. We all fear the shame of such honesty, and imagine people will shun and reject us if they really knew us for who we are, which of course is why we hide and pretend. But instead, when we openly confess our weaknesses to each other, we discover our brothers and sisters moving towards us, not away from us. And more than that, often being encouraged themselves towards similar openness and vulnerability – it’s the ripples on the pond effect. And whilst it’s true there is always an outside risk someone will use our self-revealing honesty to try and wound us, there are greater Kingdom principles at work, not least in that we become free in the light, and more and more ‘us’.
A young leader from a congregation that is strong on being accountable one to another, was telling us a couple of days ago how many men older than him, and in more senior positions, come to him for accountability, trusting him with deeply personal stuff – and how humbling and privileged that feels. But then he confessed that there is no one with whom he is that accountable. I think there are many of us, especially those in leadership, who find it easier to encourage others to be open with us, but find it more difficult to be vulnerable ourselves, maybe because we feel we have a position to retain, a reputation to live up to, to keep in control; but that’s probably just pride. (I think Glyn and Emma set us a wonderful self-revealing example, don’t you?)
So, how about it – will you join me in taking tremulous steps towards becoming more open-hearted like Jesus?