People love a good story. Perhaps that’s why we love to gravitate to people being honest (or what we assume to be honest) and we hail people for being vulnerable, authentic, or “real”. We crave for people to trust or honor us enough to expose who they are and what they are going through to us, regardless of whether we’ve proven ourselves to be worth their vulnerability.
So everyone’s putting their proverbial best foot forward. Everyone’s winning and everyone’s unbothered. Everyone’s making moves and everyone’s proving haters wrong. But our inability to be vulnerable – in our families, our friendships, our relationships, our jobs, our places of worship, our communities at large – have us suffering alone needlessly and unable to achieve true freedom.
I want to talk about five roadblocks to vulnerability to share from my experience. These are things that have kept me (and sometimes still keep me) from being open about what’s going on with me when I really need that ear, that shoulder, that hug, or even that accountability.
In general, people are horrible at listening. So many of us are wired to have extremely short attention spans, which probably allow us to hear only a percentage of what people are saying in a given conversation. We pick up on key words; it’s like audio skimming. And from those words, we tend to put together the story for whatever reason. I’m sure I don’t need to explain why this is problematic – from misunderstandings to the person who is sharing perceiving that you as the listener are being apathetic. Once you are seen as apathetic to people, it’s hard to kill that perception of you.
Active listening is one of the best gifts we can give to others. It says “I’m here and I care about you and what you’re saying.” It is not busy trying to craft responses before hearing the person out and it is not being easily distracted. When we listen actively, we do one of the highest acts of kindness for the recipient.
Confusing Accountability and Judgment
My friends and I use the word “judge” rather loosely. After a disclosure that can range from super silly to serious, it’s not uncommon to hear us say “Don’t judge me” or “I know you’re judging me”. And my friends will admit that they are judging in whatever situation – because we have that kind of relationship.
The truth of the matter is – very few of us truly want to be judged or feel the intensity that comes with judgment. However, when we decide to share things about ourselves and our lives with others, that’s the risk we are willing to take. Too often, accountability is confused with judgment (by everyone – family, friends, church members, etc.) and that leaves people feeling like they need to keep who they are and what they are dealing with in hiding.
Here’s how I’ve distinguished between the two in my dealings – there is a relational element to accountability that is missing with judgment. I’ve had friends judge me and acquaintances be able to listen but hold me accountable for my actions. There is an invitation that comes with accountability that is more easily accepted once a person knows that their worth won’t be completely marred by what they expose to you, that every time you look at them you won’t cringe and remember every time you see them or use their story to make you feel better about you. Judgment says “I would never…” and “How could you ever…?” Accountability says “I’ve heard you. Let’s figure out a better way.”
Your Comfort Versus Their Need
This one has been the biggest pain in my side at this point in life. I’ve shared with a few people some of the ways I’m struggling and I can always tell how uncomfortable my honesty makes them, even when I mask it behind humor. There is always a rush to reassure me that this will happen or that I am not that old. And while I appreciate the confidence (or knee-jerk response to my pain), none of these things are for certain. I need my hope, at this stage, to be a contented hope – a hope that whether it happens for me or not, that I am OK. Telling me blindly that it will happen because you want to make me [you] feel better doesn’t help as much as we assume it does.
When people choose to be vulnerable, we should always check whether our response is to help that person or to help us out of our discomfort. I’m not saying ditch hope; hope is always a good thing. I’m saying don’t be so quick to give a response because it’s the comfortable thing to do. Speaking of which…
Talking Loud, Saying Nothing
When people come to pour their hearts out, more times than not they really just need someone to hear them out. If they want advice, they will make it clear that they are expecting you to say something. The comfortable thing in these situations is to verbally soothe, not realizing that sometimes we do too much talking. If someone sharing with you becomes about you (and what similar thing happened to you and what you did), you’re talking too much and that can actually shut people down.
Refusing to go to hell
From the time children are small, we make them adverse to dirty things and dirty situations. I know – I work with four year olds. They have to wash their hands after getting dirty and we admonish them not to play in the dirt. This doesn’t happen in the natural only.
Dr. John Kinney of The School of Theology at Virginia Union preached Fall Revival at my church a few weeks ago. In one of his sermons, he talked about how we [the Church] always want people to come to us to get a piece of heaven instead of us being willing to take the piece of heaven to them where they are. In other words, we refuse to go to hell with people. I guess that gives new meaning to when people say they aren’t going to hell for anybody.
There are few experiences more powerful or humbling than when you are willing to roll up your sleeves and sit with people where they are. There are so many people that we know who are hurting and in need of someone to sit with them in their personal hell and eventually help them up. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty every now and then.
Do you have anything to add to this list? How we can help each other be more at else with sharing (if that is our desire)?