Vulnerable – easily hurt or harmed physically, mentally, or emotionally; open to attack, harm, or damage
Everytime I tell my story to another person, I open myself up to the possibility of being hurt again. I run a great risk that others won’t understand and will judge me. And that reality literally terrifies me.
As I said in my last blog, we all long for connection. We have a yearning that gnaws away at our souls to belong. When we don’t have these connections our hearts feel starved, and in our desperation we sometimes look for relief in places that are harmful to us.
Last week I emailed one of the few Christian friends in ministry that I’m not afraid to be vulnerable with, and asked him to pray that 2016 would be the year that our family finds others in the body of Christ to connect with. He said that connecting with others in the body of Christ is just in our DNA, and assured me that he’d pray for this.
I’m very thankful to God that He answered my prayer miraculously last year for connection and compelled an amazing lady in the community to invite me to lunch. I say miraculous, because she’s been through some things that have caused her to be compassionate and very accepting towards me. The ability to be vulnerable with her and not be judged has been a priceless treasure. As a result of being vulnerable with one another and our same faith in Christ, we share a connection that has satisfied in a healthy way much of the desperation in my soul.
But other members of my family have not been so fortunate. They still haven’t made any connections outside of our family unit, and there’s been a void, especially in our kids lives, where church fellowship used to be. They are attending a youth group for an hour a week and are slowly building relationships there, but it’s sorely lacking from the strong friendships they had in our previous church. My husband still doesn’t trust anyone except maybe our counselors, but that’s just not the same as a friend.
When I think of all the damage that was caused by the relationship with our former pastor the pain is excruciating and almost unbearable. A couple of days ago, out of the blue, a memory of my desperation and the self-destructive relationship I had with him popped into my mind in glaring technicolor. I still cannot believe that I did the things I did. My first reaction was great shame and regret. My next reaction was to embrace the righteousness of Christ that assures me I am forgiven and loved. Only because of Him, can I look in the mirror after the choices I’ve made. I cannot express enough how very thankful I am for His forgiveness. I’m also exceedingly thankful He placed it on my husband’s heart to forgive me, because I know I couldn’t have survived this last year without him. Even though the reality of what happened has caused him excruciating pain, we’ve learned through it all to be more vulnerable with one another that we ever have, and our connection has actually become stronger.
Steve Brown likes to say that our sin is our best friend if we know that we have it. I’d like to add a little to what he said. Our sin is our best friend if we know that we have it and know what to do with it! I constantly have to take mine to the cross. Otherwise, the reality of my sin will crush me and cause me to be self-destructive by either putting myself under so much pressure to make up for my sin by performing well, or I’ll punish myself with more self-destructive behavior. And by the way, performing well for long just isn’t possible for me, and my default mode for failure is, you got it, going back to self-destructive behaviors. So these days I run with my sins and reminders of my past sins to Jesus. I cannot afford to allow shame to have one iota of space or it’ll consume me. Part of running to Jesus, many times involves being vulberable and confessing to another Christian. And that’s the whole point of this blog. Vulnerability within a community is crucial to our spiritual growth.
But here’s the problem with those of us who’ve experienced spiritual abuse, being vulnerable is crucial for our healing, but it has also proven to be dangerous to our souls. Because depending on who you are vulnerable with determines whether you will be helped or harmed. Every member of our family was vulnerable to our former pastor. Not only did we go to him with our problems and prayer requests, but we also had his family over to our house on a regular basis. They were not only members of our church, but also members of our family. We even opened presents together at Christmas, so as much as we know we need connection and fellowship with other Christians, we also know that the pain of this is going to take a long time to overcome.
I read an article last week in Relevant magazine about things not to say to someone who has been hurt by the church. It was a very helpful and encouraging article for me to read, because the author understood where we had been. I found myself wishing he lived in my community and attended a church here, because maybe he’d be someone we could connect with.
Being vulnerable with another Christian reveals a deep need to be understood. One of the most painful realities of my last church experience with being vulnerable was that I was not only misunderstood, but was harmed more, as were the rest of my family. Confessing to my church leaders initially caused them to say that they forgave me, but later resulted in me feeling like I was dragged in front of the church to confess, even though it literally wasn’t me that was dragged, but only an edited version of my confession, it was every bit as painful. I was told the church meeting was held for the cause of protecting the church from gossip. Heaven forbid others in the church and community see the full truth of how broken and desperate others in the church really are and how unlike Jesus we really can be. It’s much better to water it down and make the stories more palatable. It’s also much better to expose the “sinners” in the camp, so the overall church’s reputation can be protected.
I confess to you writing about this still makes me very angry. My inner church lady is whispering “you know you need to forgive, so a root of bitterness won’t take over.” Why do these thoughts come up? Because I’ve heard this kind of thing so many times before in church, and I admit I’ve probably even said it myself. Certainly forgiveness is crucial for our emotional, physical and spiritual health, and I don’t want a root of bitterness to grow. I want God to root every single one out! That’s why I’m writing this. But inner church lady can we really be honest with one another? Did you tell me that because you legitimately wanted to help me, or was the messiness of my story making you uncomfortable? Are you possibly giving advice that makes you feel like you’ve fixed me, so you can feel better about yourself? Easy answers for others problems often makes us feel like we can control our own problems with easy answers. But the truth is there’s nothing easy about the desires of our hearts. They are desperately wicked. They are like ticking time bombs waiting to explode when Jesus isn’t in control, and even then our flesh fights viciously, with the enemy of our souls on its side, to have its own way. Paul cried out in the midst of his own battle with his sinful nature, Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death!
Romans 7:24 ESV
And if we aren’t willing to see this reality in our own lives we are in a very dangerous place. I know, because I’ve been there and still go to this place when the pain of my own sin is just too much to bear; the place is called denial.
I can assure you that part of my victorious Christian life plan did not involve an abusive and inappropriate relationship with my pastor. Before I met him, I had a quiet time regularly and was reading Jonathan Edwards, Henry Blackaby, and Beth Moore and praying for a revival. I wanted to know God. I wanted to be like Jesus. I felt His presence so much that I’d fall on my face before Him. I thought I’d always feel this way. I didn’t ever want to leave His side. Before things fell apart, I was that church lady giving advice, and I can see clearly now I was desperately fighting the reality of my sin nature. Does that scare you? If it doesn’t, it should. And I hope in your fear that you run to Jesus, because His love, not denial, is the only solution for that. I’ve been learning the hard way that denial is no longer a safe place for me. My own sin has taught me that. My new reality is life in my sinful human flesh is like walking in a mine field, ever aware of my need for Jesus to hug me when the bombs go off, and to pray He’ll lead me around the triggers so they won’t go off! The Christian life is about absolute and total dependence on Him, and it doesn’t guarantee that we won’t mess it up along the way. Though that’s been a most difficult reality for me to accept, I remind myself that He promises absolutely none of it will be wasted; especially the really bad stuff.
Though being vulnerable has brought me tremendous harm, it’s also brought me tremendous healing, and I really do long for a church family where it’s safe to be vulnerable. So please pray with me for that. I hope that my vulnerability with you here has been helpful. It has certainly helped me to write it. When it’s all said and done the most redeeming thing we can do with our pain is to share it with others, because within each of our stories told truthfully we reveal the glory of the Gospel and the beauty of a glorious God who came to rescue us from ourselves. When we water down our sins, we water down our needs. When we live in denial we put off meeting the One who loves us in ways wildly beyond our comprehension. By the same token, when we don’t hear all that others are trying to say without trying to fix it, we miss an opportunity to truly represent Jesus who loves us with enduring patience when we are at our absolute worst.
Peter is one of my favorite disciples, because I can relate to him so very well. One day he was walking on sunshine, feeling top of the world, because Jesus told him that he was the rock that He was going to build His church on. I’ve heard people in the church explain away why Peter failed. His pride took over, he took his eyes off Jesus and looked at the circumstances, yada, yada, yada. All these things are true, but they’ve missed the point…in his failures Peter learned more about Jesus than he ever did in his successes, and his story taught us so very much!
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”
Luke 22:31-34 ESV
And Peter learned just like I have, that it’s not about what we can do in our own strength, but rather the strength and ability we find in knowing that He loves us when we fail miserably.
Peter recognized his desperate need for Jesus and followed Him, because he’d learned there was no where else he could go except failure in his own strength.
Thank you, Peter, for being human, being vulnerable, and strengthening us with your story. May we do the same with our own stories!
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
John 6:66-69 ESV