During a recent youth leadership retreat with my church, I had the opportunity to participate in a team-building exercise that each person take turns sitting on a stool as the rest of the group would say words of encouragement to that person. When my time came around, I sat on the stool and nervously jiggled my foot.
It can be nerve-wracking to be in the spotlight and listen to what others’ impressions of you are. And while I knew this exercise was meant to be encouraging, I was still surprised and deeply moved to hear the warm, understanding responses by my friends and mentors. While I left that stool feeling loved, affirmed, and grateful, there was a part of me that thought perhaps it wasn’t all true.
One thing that different people had mentioned was that they admired my ‘vulnerability.’ But despite the fact it had been described as a positive thing associated with strength and genuity, I couldn’t help but feel like a hypocrite. Because although I truly believe vulnerability is essential for the relationships we have with others, I usually place myself in an invulnerable state.
In a society where emotion can be simplified to an emoji, I often succumb to the temptation to escape one of life’s greatest experiences: to have deep and meaningful relationships. Whether it be at work or school, the fear of getting hurt or rejected has influenced my many excuses to not put my relationships first.
In different ways, I’ve tried to outsmart vulnerability. When I first began having suicidal thoughts, I was so overwhelmed by guilt that I began to open up to people I didn’t know very well. I took comfort in confiding in someone –– relieving a bit of the shame –– and because I knew the person didn’t know me well enough to keep me accountable, I could continue living with my secret thereafter.
The fear of getting hurt has influenced my many excuses to not put my relationships first.
Putting yourself in a vulnerable position is hard, and even harder with the people that are closest to you. It makes you susceptible to pain, rejection, loneliness; my mind races to all the times I’ve felt these feelings, and all the ways I tried to numb them. But on the other hand, vulnerability can lead to positive feelings like intimacy, joy, empathy, belonging, and many more.
It can be daunting to reveal those parts of myself that I think are too gritty or too raw, and it takes courage to leave your heart so exposed. But in the end, I have more often than not been met with the kindness and support from my closest friends and family, as well as counselors and mentors within my church community. They keep me accountable, and likewise, their vulnerability with me inspires me to do the same for others; sharing my own burdens, so I can share the burdens of others.
Now, as a youth leader, I get the chance to mentor and develop relationships with the teens at my church. I try my best to be vulnerable and open in who I am and what I do in my life, so they know it is safe for them to do so as well, and that they are not alone in their struggle.
Fostering a culture of vulnerability and openness takes a lot of work, but the fruits of a strong community based on intentional relationship definitely outweigh the labour.