It can be hard for them to articulate those fears, particularly in church communities that embrace a more positive, more 'faithful' narrative... One [parent] admitted she's ashamed to openly share her fears, isolation, and unhappiness over the situation, which eventually led to depression."
That's where the ministry of vulnerability becomes so vital to our commonality. Because this woman put herself out there to show me what it's like to be her, now I see a side to a shared experience many people go through that I might never otherwise realize. We haven't all had the same kinds of experiences, but when we share our experiences, we find out where we've had the same kinds of struggles. Of course we connect best with those who've been where we've been, but that is not a prerequisite for relational relevancy. Sometimes, it's just one little relatable piece of our struggle that gives someone something to hold onto, leading to just enough sense of connection to keep us reaching out in community. For some of us, any connection we can find is enough for now.
But alcoholism and depression have a way of undermining success. I made it to the top of the mountain just in time to go tumbling down the other side of it.
It's a common tale among alcoholics. We tend to be driven, talented, exceptionally capable people. We also have a unique penchant for getting exactly where we want to be, then lighting a match to our accomplishments and watching the whole mess crash and burn right in front of our eyes.
When asked why we did what we did or what on earth we were thinking while we did it, we might offer all kinds of blaming and excuses. If we're getting toward the end of our rope, if we're starting to get honest, we might mumble, "I don't know." Rarely can we articulate the full baffling malady of our spiritual sickness with just any old concerned party. Bill Wilson, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous and writer of the "Big Book" of the program, discussed the puzzling reserve of the alcoholic mentality in a chapter entitled "There Is a Solution." As many of us, including me, can attest, doctors, psychiatrists, friends, and spouses find the alcoholic near impossible to open up, Bill observed, "But the ex-problem drinker who has found this solution, who is properly armed with facts about himself, can generally win the entire confidence of another alcoholic in a few hours" (p. 18).
The solution, we're told, begins with acceptance—acceptance of self, and acceptance of others.
To accept someone is to affirm to them that you think it's a very good thing they are alive. We communicate this in a hundred ways, but the most powerful way is to listen with patience and compassion as they reveal their dark secrets. A mother resents her young children and sometimes gets angry with the demands they place on her, then she is also filled with guilt and is sure this makes her a monster. A businessman finds himself wanting to have an affair with a woman in sales twenty years younger than he is. A pastor finds himself filled with secret doubts about the God he proclaims to others. A fifteen-year-old boy is flooded with feelings of attraction toward other men; he cries and prays, but the feelings won't go away, and he despises himself.
These people tell no one their secrets, because they are sure that the stone-throwing would begin in earnest. They know, because they often throw rocks at themselves. If they are fortunate, they find someone who listens and does not turn their face away in disgust. Someone who listens with something more than the endurance of patient resignation. Someone who sees the darkness, yet continues to love. Someone who has no rocks to throw. (Everyone's Normal Till You Get to Know Them)
In God's hands, our biggest failures become our greatest teaching tools. Our dark past becomes our greatest asset. In his chapter about "The Family Afterward," Bill W. went on to note, "[The alcoholic] and his family can be a bright spot in [church] congregations. He may bring new hope and new courage to many a priest, minister, or rabbi, who gives his all to minister to our troubled world" (p. 132).
Here's the thing, Church... people who have learned to be fearless about God's saving grace are desperately needed everywhere. This is not a privilege reserved for alcoholics who've come back from the brink. This truth can extend to any struggle we've been facing alone. When we are armed with a right perspective of ourselves in relation to God, when we can clearly see our imperfections in light of His perfection, in His power, we broken sinners become a force to be reckoned with.
Recently, I read "Why Your Weakness Gives Your Strength" and found myself nodding all the way through.
What if we decided to step boldly into the reality that our weaknesses give us an unfair advantage? Have you struggled with sobriety? You have a unique opportunity to connect deeply with others who also struggle. Ever felt abandoned? You’re probably better at creating community because you know exactly what people need."
And the more I observe God's hand shaping even the momentary, minute interactions He carries me into, the more I see the ministry of vulnerability as something we can bring with intentionality into those "chance" encounters. Someone once said, "Whatever position God has given you in life is the position He's given you to minister." In other words, wherever He puts us, we have an opportunity to put ourselves out there. It's about praying to tune in and hear and relate. It's about being willing to engage, being willing to be inconvenienced, being willing to go places you weren't expecting to go. Who's the person standing next to you in the checkout line? Find out. What's the name of the cashier at your local gas station? Ask. Accidentally got into a conversation and now you're running late? The person in front of you right now is the most important person right now.
When we limit our view of ministry or service work to a certain building or a certain crowd or a certain context, we can overlook hundreds of touch points where we can connect with each other. I've been considering a few different areas this week: disclosure, proximity, and presence. The challenge is that each of these areas requires us to step out of our normal self-preservation mode and into our vulnerabilities. In order to be in tune with other peoples' vulnerabilities, we have to be in tune with our own vulnerabilities. That means being in tune with the Spirit. That means we're following after the Lord as disciples and letting Him lead us into the encounters where we are necessary, so He can show us what to do there.
We cannot predict or manufacture Spirit connections. We cannot rehearse a speech for an unexpected context to arise. We cannot check a box off a list and say we've done our community for the month. We cannot do this in our own power. We must be Spirit-led people who hear, recognize, respond, and "deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray" because we have all been those people, too.
For the next few weeks, I'm going to be writing about the ministry of vulnerability. I'm looking at areas of vulnerability where we can be intentional about stepping boldly into the places that hurt in order to minister to others and allow others to minister to us.
To begin with, let's talk about the vulnerabilities of...
I'm sure there are dozens of other areas we could talk about, too, but you see where we're going here. We've already been looking at the centrality of honesty in all of this, and honesty is the part we all seem to have the most trouble with, so let's start with some proper disclosure.
Next >> Working All Things for Good, Even Things That Don't "Feel" Good: The Vulnerability of Disclosure