Last week I posted about my experience with the dark underbelly of the church. I was 26 years old, arrogant (I would have said gifted, but arrogant is probably more accurate), and fired from a church. Understandably, it was a confusing time. For all the finger pointing my experience could justify, I have to own my part in the story.
With very good reason to, I have not walked away from the church. Truth be told, I’ve double-downed on the church. Got fired, went to seminary, became a lead pastor – the cards have been dealt and I have pushed all in. There is no guarantee that I won’t get hurt again. In fact, the opposite is probably true. There is every reason to believe I will be hurt again. Let me say that more accurately – I’ve been hurt since. A few months back a rumor circulated back to me that someone thought I was a border-line heretic. Publicly, I wore that like a badge of honor. Internally…not so much.
The most frustrating thing about being human is that getting hurt is amplified when you decide to be vulnerable, authentic, and real in the midst of relationships. Don’t ask me why. I cannot for the life of me figure out why living vulnerably opens you up to more pain.
Well….there is that word vulnerably. As in, “Vulnerable to pain.” Or rejection. Or people saying, “I don’t like you.” Or people telling you not to talk like that or share that or pray that or be with that person or do that…..
Remember the old saying used to people feel better about giving public speeches? “Just picture everyone in their underwear.” Vulnerability is that – only in reverse. It’s everyone being clothed and you being naked. That’s vulnerability. And nobody wants that. We work hard to make sure we aren’t caught naked. Vulnerability feels like death by exposure.
But the alternative does even more.
I’ve dressed up in inauthenticity for most of my life. I’ve hidden behind the veneer of having it all together. I’ve embraced rugged-individualism like a good American, singing with Simon & Garfunkel “I am a rock. I am an island.” I’ve been so scared of being found out that I subconsciously kept relationships near the surface of deep meaning. This was my attempt to be in relationships with others without being vulnerable.
Having grown up in youth group I knew you weren’t supposed to wear masks. That you are to be yourself. That God made you special and unique and loved you for you and that was supposedly enough. But I wanted people to like me. What I knew, through the purgatory years known as junior high, is that people would reject me. So yes, Jesus may love me for me, but others didn’t. The mask, the image, being someone other than me was what I had to do to be accepted. Besides, where others failed at using masks I would succeed. Why? Because I am that good. Others may have failed in this egregious endeavor, but they weren’t me. I would redeem and conquer where others failed.
Like I said, just a teensy-weensy bit arrogant.
realized got slapped in the face by the reality that, by projecting the image I thought people would like, I became isolated. It was a disconcerting realization, but one that’s transformed my life. Let me explain. I worked tirelessly to project the image of a confident, gifted, charismatic young man. After all, that’s what the people like. So I put a lot of effort into my image. I crafted it to look good. GQ meets Rolling Stone meets David-playing-a-harp good. The kind of good that made others want to be with you.
And guess what?
It worked. True to form, everyone loved it.
Because, as much as I wanted it to be me, the image wasn’t me. Yes, it was part of me. But not all of me. Few, if any, knew all of me. Liking the image and liking me are two very different things.
It took me being extremely lonely to realize that.
I noticed this other odd thing. The more I tried to be confident and exude competency in all I did, the more others felt I was unapproachable. Which made me work harder at my image. Which made people back off more.
All because I didn’t want to get hurt.
But I still got hurt.
I got fired.
This all became an “ah-ha” moment for me about three years ago. I got very present to how lonely I felt and how my image-projecting defense mechanism was contributing to my loneliness. While the “ah-ha” was important, the real work and transformation began to happen when I asked some close friends what the impact was of me not being fully me was on them. I knew what the impact was on me, but I didn’t know what the impact was on others. And that’s what I needed to know if I was going to be different.
So often we miss this step. Repentance is an idea Christians talk a lot about. It is about turning from old thoughts, and behaviors, and attitudes towards new ones. But too often we think of repentance as asking for forgiveness. Repentance is more than just asking for forgiveness. It is moving in a new direction. Living a new way. Thinking different thoughts. That doesn’t happen easily. The pain caused by our way of being must be greater than the pain required to change in order for us to move towards true repentance. And we will only feel the pain of staying the same if we get present to the pain we are causing. So I asked, “What was the impact of me not being me on you?”
One friend looked at me and said, “I’ve often left conversations thinking how together you are, how smart you are, and how articulate you are. I’ve rarely left a conversation feeling loved by you.”
So I’ve decided to live a different way. Chosen to embrace my humanity and emotions and soft spots and my deep need for others. I’ve decided that if I’m going to get hurt, I want to get hurt while being fully human. I’ve done this because I realized just how lonely I was. So I have chosen to be honest about the junk in my life. To be authentic. To enter, scared, an adventure of courageous authenticity in the midst of real relationships. To be, metaphorically, naked. To let people see all of me and to be close to the tender parts where I can be most easily hurt.
I’m choosing to be vulnerable.