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Girl, Let It All Out

Girl, Let It All Out

A Little Vulnerability Can Change Your Life

I’m one of those all-in kinds of people. If I decide I like something, or that there’s something I want to try, there’s no going slowly and gently feeling my way through. For me it’s more like a blonde bull in the proverbial china shop yelling, “I’M HERE, Y’ALL!” I’m passionate about all the things I love: my people, my animals, my places, my food. And I’m extremely passionate about my faith.

Now, I wasn’t always that way; in fact, I was a believer for a long time before I was a passionate believer. I didn’t even know you could be all that excited about Jesus. I thought good Christians were reserved, soft-spoken, and super polite. Oh, and they were generally pretty old. Based on the elderly congregations I grew up with, I’d concluded it took many years to get Jesus all the way into a person.

My sweet friend Stephanie Payne showed me just how wrong I was. Stephanie and her husband, Tim, founded Momentum, a church in Gulf Breeze, Florida. I came to know them in the beginning stages of their church — about three months in, to be exact. I fell in love with who they were and the excitement of building something new in our town, and I was all in. Now, I will clarify that my version of being “all in” in a scenario like this rarely includes setting things up or taking them down (skills desperately needed in a new church that doesn’t have a permanent location) or cleaning things or cooking things — I’ve never been that all in for anything. So in this case my “all-in” status meant I was an excellent hype girl.

I was excited about all the possibilities this church brought to our little city. I loved meeting new people, and the way Tim preached was new to me. Tim was a bold, energetic, and passion-filled pastor — he spoke in a relatable, conversational way, holding my attention with stories about how the Bible’s teaching related to our everyday lives; he could make me laugh and bring me to tears in the space of twenty minutes. Prior to attending Momentum, I had attended mostly Catholic churches and one conservative Methodist one, where the pastor and priests — though wonderful in their own ways — were solemn and more prescriptive, with lots of recitation and little spontaneity. This more contemporary way of sharing Jesus excited me.

What does any of this have to do with vulnerability? Hold on, I promise I’m getting there.

Early on, Momentum introduced a program of community groups, creating a way to connect people within the church, to invite outsiders in, and to, well, love on one another. Some people call these Bible study groups or small groups or life groups; whatever the name, they were small gatherings of ten to twenty people where you talk about all things Jesus and life.

It sounded pretty good to me, and I signed up right away because, remember, I was all in. We were told that for the first semester of our group, we would meet weekly on Tuesdays and discuss Mark Batterson’s book The Circle Maker. Buying the book was easy. Reading the first chapter, per our assignment, was not quite as easy but more painless than I expected. (As you know, I’m not a big reader, but this book was engaging and gave me a new perspective on praying.)

Then, suddenly, the day arrived. It was time to actually show up. To get in the car and drive to the inaugural meeting of my new community group.

Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever been invited to a gathering of women where you don’t know any of them (except maybe the host or the one overly friendly neighbor who invited you), but I feel it is always, no matter my age, a little terrifying. In fact, I can work myself up into such a tizzy over not knowing anyone that I will back out of attending things like this entirely. It’s a little ridiculous when I say it out loud, but I have done this more than once. Many times more than once.

But this time, whether it was my comfort level with my weight at the time or my hair working particularly well that day, I decided to take a leap and attend the first meeting at Stephanie Payne’s home.

I had no idea what to expect other than some Jesus conversation, which I was certainly too biblically uneducated to partake in, but I figured I could listen and learn.

When I arrived, Stephanie greeted me at the door with a big hug and quickly introduced me to several of the women, two of whom I had already met at church. There was food laid out across the kitchen counters and a coffee station. Food and coffee is the right way to start anything, in my opinion. We talked for about twenty minutes and then Stephanie guided us into the living room, where people sat on the sofa, chairs, and the floor. It felt relaxed and comfortable. We talked about that week’s chapter of the book, and we shared about our lives, and then we prayed together. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But something beautiful happened in that living room I had never experienced before —

a group of mostly strangers became friends.

Let’s go back to the “we shared about our lives” part.

We opened up. I mean A LOT. We should have signed waivers that said, “What happens in small group stays in small group.” Stephanie had asked each of us, one by one, what she could specifically pray circles around. The first couple of answers were sweet and maybe what I would call polite “surface answers,” like someone’s daughter had a big exam the next day and someone else’s husband had an important business trip coming up. But then the third woman, as soon as Stephanie put a hand on her shoulder, broke down in tears. This sweet woman began to share about her difficulties at home and her husband’s addiction to alcohol. She shared her embarrassment and frustration and fear.

Her vulnerability cut right through me. What she shared that day, that painful struggle of an alcoholic spouse, was the very same struggle I was experiencing in my own home. This was a few years before Craig’s sobriety and it was something I had been silent about, a deeply buried secret I was too ashamed to share with anyone.

But in my new friend’s heartbreaking and raw vulnerability, she gave me permission to share my own story. Although it took me a few weeks before I felt comfortable enough to speak up, when I did, it was as if the Hoover Dam itself had crashed down in tiny pieces, carrying with it the weight of my shame over Craig’s drinking. In that experience, I realized that

  • it took another woman’s vulnerability for me to be open and vulnerable about my own struggles.

I felt like I had discovered a secret of the universe.

So let’s talk about that secret. Vulnerability.

First, being vulnerable is not weak. It can show weakness, but it is in no way weak. Quite the contrary — it takes a lot of courage to share pieces of ourselves with others, especially those areas we perceive as shameful or damaged.

Vulnerability is essential to real connection with other women. If we can agree that the opposite of being vulnerable is being protected, then let’s imagine that whatever armor is protecting us is also forming a heavy glass barrier between us and those around us. You and others can see each other just fine, and most people won’t even realize the barrier is there — until they get close, and BOOM. They bump up against your glass. Where we keep the armor, we have the barrier; where we smash it down, we get connection.

The great Brené Brown talks a lot about vulnerability, and I enthusiastically endorse just about everything she says, but I would like to put forth a slightly radical take on one of her pearls of wisdom. “Vulnerability,” she says, “is about sharing our feelings and our experiences with people who have earned the right to hear them.”1

  • I say maybe we shouldn’t always wait until someone has earned the right to hear our experiences.

I say we get vulnerable more liberally, sharing some of the ugly stuff when it feels right, even if it’s the first or second time we’ve met. If that woman from my community group at Stephanie’s house hadn’t shared about her alcoholic husband the first time we met, who knows what precedent would have been set? Who knows how long it would have taken for her words to move me to get vulnerable, what chain of events would have failed to be set off?

However, I also very much want to acknowledge that you’ve got to use some discretion here. There is an appropriate and an inappropriate time to share. If we share too much too fast in certain situations — like when you’re on a first date, or at the office, or checking out at the grocery store — it can not only push the other person away but might totally freak them out. And there’s no way to guarantee, even in the most appropriate circumstances, that the other person will respond in the way you hope they would.

But if your heart feels compelled to, give it a try. For me, when the day came that I finally told my new community group about the private, shame-inducing struggles in my home and marriage, I surrendered carrying the weight of that secret. I surrendered it to those women and I surrendered it to God. I was instantly lighter, and it was easier.

Was my whole life healed at that moment? Of course not. Saying it aloud did not end Craig’s addiction or my pain, but I was a little stronger, a little more capable of bearing the weight. I experienced the relief and hope that came with their heartfelt, beautiful, supportive, encouraging hugs and words. I saw empathy in their tears and knew I was not alone. With time, God did heal Craig’s addiction and our marriage, but for me,

healing started in a room with real, raw, unapologetic sharing between women.
  1. Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (NY: Avery, 2012), 45.

Excerpted with permission from Midlife Battle Cry by Dawn Barton, copyright W Publishing.

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Your Turn

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. — 1 Thessalonians 5:11

You don’t have to attend a brand new church to join a fellowship group! Start today and get vulnerable with some new (or not new) Christian friends. We were created for community. We need each other! ~ Devotionals Daily