Pen and paper musings led me down the path to my past this morning. My mind filled with memories of an insecure teenager at war with himself. Filled with a growing hunger for the opposite sex, but unable to express it for all the rules binding him. As a Christian, I do believe that premarital sex is a sin. While I set this as a rule for my life, I struggled with it in the face of a generation that didn’t share that belief. So while I found myself adding rule upon rule to keep this law, I simultaneously envied those who had the freedom to disregard it and sought my own acceptable compromises in the shadows. It left me with unmet desires, a sense of duty, and layer upon layer of guilt for feelings I couldn’t control or express.
You might say that I won this battle in the end, but in many ways I’m still fighting it. All because I chose to fight alone. That choice is the reason I write today.
To understand you need to know that I have always been the good kid. I was the one who’s teacher said, “I expected this of them, but not you.” I was on the honor roll. I didn’t smoke or drink. I didn’t get into fights. I didn’t ditch classes or sneak around to make out with girls. I tutored fellow students, helped teach some of my classes and served as a conflict mediator. I was heavily involved in church and was there with my family whenever the doors were open. This was my resume. Looks pretty good, right? But my motivation was broken. I was terrified of failing others’ expectations of me and falling short. For me, it had become entirely about keeping the rules no matter the cost, and I was scared of failing. I was terrified that people would find out that I wasn’t who they thought I was. It left me isolated which is a terrifying place to be, and I didn’t feel like I had anywhere to go.
Therein lay the greatest problem. I felt like I had to handle it alone because I didn’t have anyone I could trust to help me. Instead of comrades, I saw a slew of judges watching my every move. I had to be right and there was no room for being wrong. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way. In fact, I believe this is common, especially in many of our churches today where we’ve exchanged a merciful God saving sinful men and women for a list of rules and a bevy of judges. And when everyone is scared of being wrong, it leads to people living double lives. The one they show and the one they hide.
How do we get past this? We need to strive for our homes and our churches to be a safe place. By that, I mean a place in which people understand that failure is not an end. We need to feel safe in order to give ourselves permission to be vulnerable. Vulnerability opens us up to receive help from others and gives us the freedom to be honest about our struggles. I am reminded that a cord of three strands is not easily broken. God never intended for us to be a collection of super Christians; He created us to live as a body in which we each play different parts according to the strengths (gifts) He gave us. We need to remember that where there is strength there is also weakness. We were made to help and be helped. Our dependence on God and others is not a deformity, but a holy design.
I wonder how things would be different if I’d felt the freedom to be vulnerable. It may be an exercise in foolishness to wonder, or it may help me understand how to create an environment I didn’t feel like I had myself. Today those thoughts tell me that real community needs a safe place, a place of mutual vulnerability. It’s a risk taken that shows trust in your family and often opens up others to be vulnerable with you as well. It’s often in showing our wounds and scars to one another that we find a greater bond. It’s the hidden fears and struggles that draw us together as we realize that we aren’t the only broken one. We find acceptance in our brokenness, and we realize that we can be a work in progress and it’s okay. It brings light to the dark places in our lives and relieves us of the burden of fighting alone. It’s a hope I have for all of us. May we all find and help foster a safe place where we can be broken and accepted, where we can find help and encouragement instead of judgment.
Have you experienced something similar? How do you think we can create safe places in our own lives, workplaces, churches?