Friends, there is a difference between transparency and vulnerability.
One is very easy for me. The other incredibly difficult… at times impossible.
It is easy for me to tell you about my struggles, to share from a distance about my weaknesses and hurts, my fears and internal junk. It is one thing to be “authentic” behind the safety of a screen. It is a completely different thing to actually vulnerably let someone into those rough spaces, to allow them to not only see from a distance, but to see from up close, to enter in.
Transparency can be a little scary at first, but often doesn’t cost a lot. Vulnerability feels absolutely terrifying.
There are two beliefs that have deep roots in my heart, that play into my fear of vulnerability.
The first says: “I am too much”
The second says: “I am not enough”
“I am too much” speaks to this believe that says people can’t handle me. If I really let them see and experience how insecure, and fearful, and needy, and hurting I am then they will withdraw. If I open my heart they will get all wide eyed and pull away. Fast. Cause, who wants to deal with all of that? It’s too much to handle. I’m too much to handle. My internal life is too complex, too messed up, too full of crazy thoughts and feelings, hurts and dreams. I dream too big and I fear too much. I ask questions people aren’t comfortable with and too many of them. My hunger for approval and love is often insatiable. It’s all too much. I’m too much. It’s not safe to be vulnerable. So, I should distance others from my internal life, distance myself from it even.
This started very young, but many of the real wounds of “I am too much” have come later in life, during seasons of confusions and upheaval, when I have fought to attempt vulnerability and been met, more often than not, with distance. Transparency is safer. I’ll go back to sharing my struggles through words on a screen from a safe distance.
“I am not enough” may seem at first in contrast to “I am too much”, but instead they are dear friends and play often together. “I am not enough” says simple you aren’t enough (skilled enough, smart enough, talented enough, pretty enough, nice enough, thoughtful enough, loving enough, organized enough, resourceful enough, successful enough etc.) to make your crazy worth it for someone. You don’t bring enough to your friendships to make it worth it for them to handle your vulnerability. You don’t bring enough to your relationships to make it worth it for them to put up with your crazy. You don’t bring enough to your creative work and ideas to make it worth it for someone to partner with you in your too-much-to-handle big dreams.
Can you see how these two play so well with each other?
I am too much, and not enough, so I should withdraw before others withdraw from me. I should keep people at a safe distance. I still value community, deep connection, and authenticity – I long for these things – so I’ll fake them, or get as close as I can get to them with transparency, all the while knowing that transparency is a poor substitute for vulnerability.
Vulnerability takes time, it takes slowly putting a little of my weight on someone to see how they handle it, it takes conscious choice and effort on my part, and it generally only comes after I fight a large battle with fear.
When Bryan and I first got married I was terrified that he would leave me. I wanted an open, honest, authentic, vulnerable, naked relationship. I knew that was the ground marriage needed to grow. But, I was terrified. Every time something came up, it took me a long time and a lot of tears to finally spit it out and tell Bryan. I am so grateful now that those battles were fought, because now there is pretty much nothing he doesn’t know about me, no thought too shocking, no feeling too horrifying.
But, here’s what I’ve been noticing lately. I’ve been having those battles, the one’s like I had at the beginning of my marriage, with God. Those times when I cry for an hour, not wanting to share that feeling, that thought, for fear of the repercussion. For fear of the withdrawal. Only to finally spit it out and find freedom in the sharing, not in the sharing from a safe distance, but in the right there, in-you-face pain of entering in.
I fear I’m not enough. I find myself wanting to do something to “contribute” and fearing my lack of contribution disqualifies me from the prize. Fearing I am not enough to run this race and don’t have what it takes. Fearing that there is some secret something I haven’t done that I need to do in order to win God’s favor, love, approval, blessing, etc. So, I hide.
Logically it doesn’t make a lot of sense for me to translate these wound messages of “I’m too much” and “I’m not enough” to God. He is love, if anyone can handle me He can. He made me, exactly as I am, if he thought I wasn’t enough he would have made me different, but he didn’t. Even my sin, my brokenness, he welcomes with abundant grace, covering over it by the blood of Jesus and making me into again the creation he intended through the work of sanctification.
Oh, but our hearts and our wounds are rarely logical.
I find myself wanting to let go of “I’m too much” and “I’m not enough”. Wanting to loosen their grip on all of my relationships, especially my relationship with God. Wanting to believe that God has already freely given me his favor, love, approval and blessing. Wanting to believe that his posture towards me really is love. Wanting to believe that he can handle me AND loves all of me.
I want to dig up the roots that “I’m too much” and “I’m not enough” have wrapped deep around my heart, so that I can enter into free honest, genuine, and vulnerable friendships with others. I don’t want to fear their disapproval or their withdrawal anymore. I want to trust that God has me, and that even if my fears of others pulling away become reality, it’s ok. I don’t have to carry that.
Oh, but I’m not there yet. Just this week I have rubbed up against these wounds multiple times. Little step out of my shell, trying to put my weight down just a little someplace, only to be greeted by “I’m too much” and “I’m not enough” rearing up their ugly little heads right in my face.
So, here I am. Again processing alone, again sharing transparently behind a screen.
Yesterday a friend asked me a question, “You’re willing to be broken to a certain point and I’m so proud of the work you’ve been doing. But, are you willing to be broken enough to really need Jesus?”
I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Because I do this transparency vs vulnerability thing with God too. It’s easy for me to recognize I need Jesus from a distance, it’s easy to say and even believe I need Jesus, but it’s like transparency. I can recognize and speak about the need without entering into the need. What does it look like to be vulnerable with Jesus? To enter in with him to all my junk? To really need him? I have moments of tasting it – often after yoga classes, after being on my mat and getting into my body and out of my mind, the mind that puts up so many protective barriers. But, really entering into it day-to-day, really being led by my need for Jesus… I’m not fully sure what that would be like.
But, I’m beginning to think the first step is a step of replacing the story I tell myself with a new one.
Currently two of the most central things I believe about myself are “I am too much” and “I am not enough”. I think the first step to loosening their grip isn’t trying with all my might to loosen them, it isn’t focusing on them, it isn’t rationally realizing the hold they have on me. I think the first step, the truest, most helpful step, needs to be looking to Jesus and asking Him to replace them with a new belief. If I could fill my heart with a new truth, perhaps there would be no more room for “I am too much” and “I am not enough”. I want to suffocate them with truth, the truth of love.
Last night I started reading Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen. I had only recently heard about this little book, and I haven’t gotten very far into it, but it is shaking something in me. He writes:
“Fred, all I want to say to you is ‘You are the Beloved,’ and all I hope is that you can hear these words as spoken to you with all the tenderness and force that love can hold. My only desire is to make these words reverberate in every corner of your being – ‘You are the Beloved.’
“I am Beloved” that’s the story I want to enter into and claim. I think it is the only story that can uproot the tangles of “I am too much” and “I am not enough”, isn’t it?
Jesus loves me, this I know,
For the Bible tells me so,
Little one’s to him belong,
They are weak but he is strong,
Yes, Jesus loves me,
Yes, Jesus loves me,
Yes, Jesus loves me,
The Bible tells me so.
This simple song we teach our children is not just a simple song, is it? It is the core of our belief. God loves us. His story is a story of love. He seeks us, he calls us, he longs for us. He loves us.
“We are intimately loved long before our parents, teachers, spouses, children, and friends loved or wounded us. That’s the truth of our lives. That’s the truth I want you to claim for yourself. That’s the truth spoken by the voice that says, ‘You are my Beloved.’
Listening to that voice with great inner attentiveness, I hear at my center words that say: ‘I have called you by name, from the very beginning. You are mine and I am yours. You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests. I have molded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you together in your mother’s womb. I have carved you in the palms of my hands and hidden you in the shadow of my embrace. I look at you with infinite tenderness and care for you with a care more intimate than that of a mother for her child. I have counted every hair on your head and guided you at every step. Wherever you go, I go with you, and wherever you rest, I keep watch. I will give you food that will satisfy all your hunger and drink that will quench all your thirst. I will not hide my face from you. You know me as your own as I know you as my own. You belong to me. I am your father, your mother, your brother, your sister, your lover, and your spouse…yes, even your child…wherever you are I will be.’” (Life of the Beloved)
“That voice has always been there, but it seems that I was much more eager to listen to other, louder voices saying: ‘Prove that you are worth something; do something relevant, spectacular, or powerful, and then you will earn the love you so desire.’ Meanwhile, the soft, gentle voice that speaks in the silence and solitude of my heart remained unheard or, at least, unconvincing.” (Life of the Beloved)
Lord, I want to hear your voice louder than any other, louder than any wound, louder than any of my current beliefs about myself. I know I can not convince myself of my belovedness, other voices are too loud. Old convictions die hard. You, and you only, can do this work in me. I need you. I need Jesus. I need the person of Love, who by his life, death, and resurrection, acted out the deepest love of God. By your grace, would you meet me here? Would you speak love over me? Would you make your voice so loud and so clear that it drowns out all others? In Jesus name. Amen.
Rejoicing in the journey,