Last week Pastor Ben walked us through the moment when shame moved in. And today I want to camp out on one of the details of that story. Before Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the tree that God told them not to eat from, it says that they were naked and unashamed. (What a feeling that must’ve been. They had no idea the freedom that they were living in.) But after they ate it says this in verse 7 (Genesis 3) Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked…
We all know what that realization feels like? It’s shame. Shame is that brutal feeling that makes us feel exposed and vulnerable. And it can come on you in a moment. You can be feeling good about yourself one second, but when shame comes over you you immediately feel not enough. You feel flawed.
A couple of weeks ago, during one of the recordings, I was scheduled to close the gathering. A few minutes before, as Pastor Ben was teaching, I decided to close with the Lord’s Prayer. And as I’m praying and going through it, I was into it (feeling God’s presence and all), but I got confused with my translations and it made me stumble through the prayer. Instead of saying “forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors”, which is how it’s worded in the translation that I have this passage memorized in, I started using the translation that has the word “trespasses”. It was a minor blip and I finished the prayer. But as minor as it was, in those moments, when your adrenaline is pumping and you are communicating to hundreds of people, you can catastrophize things -- you can make things out to be much bigger than what they are. (At least I tend to do that.) So subconsciously there was this tension building up within me between “it was nothing or minor” to “what just happened?!”
Well, when I got off the stage it seemed like I was in the clear because it appeared that no one noticed my trip-up -- they thought I was just in the flow. But as we were walking out of the building, a good friend of mine, who was here serving, jokingly and innocently said, “Those translations can be tricky.” And as minor as that might seem, a flood of shame came over me right away. I found myself trying to defend and explain myself. (Have you ever been in a shame storm?) I could notice that I was being flooded by shame because I was stumbling over my words and I was extremely uncomfortable. I knew that I was in a shame storm because I was doing exactly what Adam and Eve did when they sinned against God and shame moved in -- I was trying to hide. But the more I hid the worse I felt. And the worse I felt the more I wanted to numb the pain and those feelings — I wanted to escape.
We all know that feeling, right? This is what shame does to us. It tells us that we have no choice but to hide. It tells us that if we want to escape those uncomfortable feelings then we have to build up a wall between us and the person or thing that we believe is causing the shame. And if that wasn’t bad enough, shame takes it a step further and tells us that the feeling that we are feeling, we shouldn’t be feeling it; so we should go ahead and narcotize and numb the pain and run to vices and addictions that will help us feel much better. And maybe they do for a little. But in the end we end up feeling much worse AND we find ourselves in a worse situation.
Now, what if I were to tell you that that very vulnerable feeling that we are trying to hide from and escape is actually what we need to lean into in order to come out of our shame? The way we counter the vulnerable feeling of shame is through vulnerability. Some of you think I’m crazy. Did he just prescribe the sickness as the medicine? Yes, I did. It’s kind of like a vaccine. Now, I can’t get you to get the vaccine. But maybe I can help you venture out and be vulnerable.
Here’s why you are going to want to lean into vulnerability:
Greater and more meaningful connection with God and others. When you can be vulnerable before God and those closest to you, you tear down the wall that has been creating a separation. You let them in; and a strong bond can be formed.
The freedom to pursue your God-given purpose. For some of us, because of our shame we are so afraid of failure. And so we hide and don’t venture out. For others of you, your shame has driven you to pursue worldly success in order to be accepted. Your hiding as well behind your success. But on the other hand, vulnerability says I have nothing to prove or to fear. I’m going to live my life for God.
No more hiding. No more need to wear a mask. You are comfortable as you are -- flaws and all.
Don’t we want that? Don’t we want to stop hiding? Don’t we want deeper relationships? Don’t we want to step into what we’ve been gifted and created to do? I know that I do. I know that you do too. Because as long as we allow shame to dictate our lives we are not truly living. And we know that.
But I know, vulnerability is easier said than done. So here’s what I want to do. I want to highlight some of the challenges to vulnerability, and then I want to give you some Biblical examples and tips on how we can practice vulnerability.
Challenges to Vulnerability. For starters, We see vulnerability as a weakness. This is a cultural perspective. With all of the wrongdoing that is coming to light, when is the last time you heard a public figure just say I’m sorry? They can’t. Even though most of us would agree that forgiveness and confession are important and necessary, we don’t see them commonly practiced. Because, they make you feel weak. They make you feel vulnerable and exposed. (No positive definitions for vulnerability.)
Secondly, Our upbringing can present challenges to how vulnerable we are. Many of you grew up in homes where if you would give any hint that you were hurting or experiencing emotions that are traditionally viewed as weak, family members would use that as an opportunity to pounce on you. I’ve heard this especially from men who grew up in homes dominated by boys. But it doesn’t just come from dad or brothers; maybe it was your mom that didn’t want you to show any weakness. And listen, maybe they didn’t have the best example. But what does that environment teach us to do? To hide. To not show any part of us that might be hurting. To not be vulnerable. Because vulnerable equals weak. And weak is not allowed. No. Our society has taught us that we need to be strong and successful and have it all together. We are so concerned with image. But how much has that helped us deal with our shame?
Lastly, regarding the challenges, It’s just easier to hide than to be vulnerable. It feels safer. You see, shame is vicious. It is a bully.
Growing up I wasn’t ever physically bullied. But there were a couple of guys that I would avoid AT ALL COSTS because I was afraid of them -- I was afraid of what they could do to me. Just being around them made me feel small and weak so I would avoid them -- I would hide.
Shame gets a similar reaction from most of us. And here’s why: because it knows exactly what to say to attack our identity. Shame doesn’t attack what we do; it attacks who we are. Many of you have heard this before in regards to the difference between guilt and shame. Guilt says, “I did something bad.” Shame says, “I am bad.” Two completely different things. Shame attacks your identity, whereas guilt is more about calling attention to an action or behavior. Guilt can be helpful, even godly, as Paul says to the Corinthians because it can lead to repentance. But shame is never helpful.
In the story that I shared earlier about me stumbling through the prayer, here’s how I knew I was dealing with shame. I could hear it in the attacks from my inner critic: “How could you have made such a dumb mistake? How could you? You’re an idiot!” You see, it wasn’t so much that I did something wrong or made a mistake. But no, there was actually something wrong with me -- I was the mistake.
The inner critic is harsh. And as Pastor Ben said last week, when we let the inner critic be the dominant voice or the only voice, of course it’s going to be easier to hide over being vulnerable.
Let’s shift gears now and talk about what it would look like for us to practice vulnerability. But first, let me make one statement about what vulnerability is not. Vulnerability is NOT oversharing with everyone. This is the fear that some of us have -- that vulnerability requires everyone knowing our business. That’s not it at all.
Vulnerability is not saying it all to everyone. Vulnerability is more about knowing what to share and with whom. Let me give you an example from the Apostle Paul. Here are a few things he wrote in Romans 7 (15, 19, & 24a): 15I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. … 19For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. … 24What a wretched man I am! … Do you know how hard it is for a spiritual leader to disclose these things? It doesn’t come naturally. But Paul doesn’t see the need to put up a front -- to put on a mask. What is he doing here? He is disclosing a universal human experience in order to be helpful to his readers. He’s saying, You know that battle that is raging within you to choose between evil and good? That battle is going on inside of me too. And get this, even though I don’t want to, sometimes I do what I know I shouldn’t do. (Gasp!) He’s saying, Me too! You don’t have to be ashamed because you struggle. We all struggle. Do you know how helpful that must have been to the Romans? It’s helpful to me. I hear Paul and I’m like, It’s not just me.
Your vulnerability can help bring freedom and lift a weight off of the shoulders of others. Paul is disclosing in order to help others along on their journey.
Leaders / Parents, your people / your kids need to see you be vulnerable. If you act like you have it all together what do you think they are going to do? Better yet, how do you think they are going to feel about their own struggles? Parents of young kids, and parents of adult children (this applies to you to), some of your kids have never heard you apologize. Now maybe you didn’t have healthy examples of vulnerability; but it’s not too late to start now. Unless you are Jesus there should be something that you are sorry for. At least once a week I have to apologize to my kids. That’s a humbling and vulnerable thing to do. But you know what it does? It brings us closer together and sets an example for them.
Leaders, there’s a way to be vulnerable without saying too much. If there’s a merger taking place and rumors of lay-offs, why not say at your next team meeting, I know that there is a lot going on -- some things are clear, others are not. I know that this type of environment can be distracting and quite scary. I’ve had to work extra hard to stay on task. And I want to help us all do that. So if I can help you, even if it’s just talking through how you are processing things, my door is always open (or I’m a zoom call away). That’s vulnerability. And that’s being a leader. But most of us don’t do that. Do you know what we say at the next meeting? Nothing. That is the quickest way to lose the trust and respect of your team. Why? Because you just put up a wall and hid. You didn’t address the elephant in the room.
I try to be vulnerable when I teach because I want to connect with you and I want to be helpful. But I don’t disclose everything in this setting because quite honestly that wouldn’t be helpful. It wouldn’t be helpful to you and it wouldn’t be helpful to me. Two things I have learned over the years about being vulnerable in public: Share my scars; not my wounds. If it’s fresh and painful still, wait for God to heal and redeem. That’s a better story. And secondly, If I need you to respond a certain way in order for me to heal, then I’m not ready to share. We can sometimes try to be vulnerable because we are looking for a certain response. But when we don’t receive it it is more damaging.
Now, just because I don’t bring my wounds into a setting like this, that doesn’t mean I hide them or keep them to myself. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus models what we are to do with our most vulnerable wounds. He models what we are to do with our shame. You see Jesus was extra vulnerable only with his closest disciples (Peter, James, and John). Just before Jesus is about to be arrested and then crucified, he invites these three to pray with him. And he shares that his “soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” (Matthew 26:38) Can you imagine him being this vulnerable with the crowd? No. Why is it that he only called upon Peter, James, and John to pray with him? Why is it that these three were the only ones present at Jesus’ transfiguration -- when he was glorified? There is something about having a small and close group that can be with you to celebrate your greatest wins, but also to help you during your greatest defeats.
Even though Peter, James, and John proved to be useless in the garden because they fell asleep, it begs the question, Who can you be extra vulnerable with? Who can you talk with about an issue and not have to hold back or filter your words? After the recording that night, battling the shame storm all the way home, I told Bea right away what happened because I needed her to help me process. And within 48 hours I told two other close friends. I am of the belief that we won’t ever be able to prevent shame from rearing its ugly head. But when it does come up will you allow it to keep you in hiding, or will you bring it to the light? Will you lean into vulnerability? One author writes, “Shame is always easier to handle if you have someone to share it with.” Who is that person, or those people, for you?
A couple of weeks ago we were talking about vulnerability in our marriage group. And two words kept coming up: Safety & Trust. And I agree, safety and trust are absolutely necessary in order to go into deeper levels of vulnerability. But let me ask you, what comes first? Do safety and trust need to be present first before you are vulnerable; or do you need to be vulnerable in order to know that you’re in a safe place and with a trustworthy person? It’s the chicken or the egg question. I believe it’s the latter. You have to get your toes wet first. It’s only by being slightly vulnerable with people and seeing how they respond that you are going to build on that safety and trust, and grow in vulnerability.
This leads me to my last point: There is no way to avoid risk with vulnerability. There’s no way to avoid feeling exposed or weak and receive the benefits of vulnerability. The Apostle Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians that after pleading with Jesus to remove something that was causing him to be weak, he said he heard this response back: (2 Corinthians 12:9-10) ... “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So Paul concluded, Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. ... For when I am weak, then I am strong. What is Paul doing in this passage? He is leaning into his weaknesses. He is leaning into his vulnerabilities. He is allowing himself to be vulnerable. Why? Because he has discovered that with Jesus vulnerability equals strength. Paul discovered that his weaknesses forced him to be more dependent on God — and when you are dependent on God, yes you might be weak in one sense, but this is when you are truly strong because of what He can do in you. This is one of those paradoxes of the Kingdom of God. (Weakness and Strength Coexisting)
Ian Cowley writes in his great book The Contemplative Minister: All true spirituality is about what we do with our weakness. ... We cannot learn to depend upon the grace and power of God unless we have learned our own weakness. (Ian Cowley, The Contemplative Minister) The grace and power of God that you seek is dependent on how well you can lean into your weakness, not how well you can hide it.
Jesus understood that there was no way to avoid risk and be vulnerable at the same time. There was no way to overcome the power of sin and death and shame without risking it all. Jesus left the safety and comfort of heaven and came to this broken world and was born of a woman. What is more vulnerable than a new born baby -- than human life? And get this: The one time Jesus became vulnerable we hung him on a cross. There is risk to our vulnerability. But as Paul figured out, and the cross of Jesus shows, there is strength and power when we are vulnerable. There is strength and power on the other side of vulnerability when we place our shame, our weakness, and all of who we are in the safety and trust of our loving Father and a compassionate community.
It is worth the risk for you to be vulnerable: no more hiding; greater connections with God and others; and the freedom to live the life that God has called you to live. Let’s stop hiding and expose our shame.
I’ve given you tips on how you can be vulnerable with others; but let us close in prayer by being vulnerable with our God and Savior. Ultimately what we are to do with our shame is bring it to Him. Vulnerability before God looks like confession and repentance for our sins, it looks like lamenting and crying out for injustices we are suffering, and it looks like supplication and pleading for things we desperately need. What do you sense God asking you not to hide behind any longer? Give it to him right now.