Friday, February 21, 2014

How to receive vulnerability...

Vulnerability is trending right now, thanks to Brene Brown and a few other courageous writers who have championed the subject. It's made it's way through the blogosphere, into board rooms, and even (and thankfully) into the church. Everyone's talking about it, and I love it!

But what nobody's talking about is what to do when someone actually is vulnerable. It's just as foreign for us to be vulnerable, as it is to receive it. We have a nasty habit, especially in the church, of trying to fix people, or give silver linings to hard issues and deep pain. I know this well, because I do it too. I catch myself often trying to pull others up, shouldering burdens that aren't mine and taking on perspectives that can leave me jaded and compassion fatigued.

So what does it look like to respond to vulnerability in a healthy, appropriate, and most importantly, loving way?

1. Thank them. It's hard to be open, to risk being vulnerable. When someone opens their chest and shows you their heart, they feel as if they are risking everything. "I'm so honored you shared with that with me" can go a long way in alleviating the anxiety and panic that comes with vulnerability.
2. Empathize, don't sympathize. Empathy is the ability to enter into someone's story and sit there awhile without feeling the need to fix, silver line, or give advice. We'd do well to cultivate this in our churches. Empathy relieves the person receiving from having all the answers. For a powerful video on how to empathize, click here!  Romans 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn..
3. Resist the urge to fix. (See number 2)  Fixing assumes there is something wrong with the person, and it can create an environment of shame. Many times when we have the urge to fix, it has more to do with our anxiety, than theirs. It's hard to see people in pain---it creates anxiety in us if we aren't sure how to process it. But if we rescue people out of pain, we're doing them and ourselves a disservice. Pain and processing pain, are natural and healthy parts of the Christian walk. Just look at David's Psalms. If they teach us anything, it's that God doesn't mind our anger, sadness, anxiety, depression, or despair. 
4. Validate. It's common in the Christian world to feel like if you are angry, sad, mad, or any other negative emotion, you are somehow failing or dishonoring God. But that's simply not true, and the Bible actually has multiple passages to help support the fact that he doesn't expect us to keep a happy face all the time. Unfortunately scripture can be manipulated or taken out of context so that the end result sounds something like "only think about good things." Remember we must take scripture in context with both the surrounding passages, as well as in the over arching themes of the entire text.  Something like "I can understand how you'd feel that way..." relieves the guilt and shame that can come with expressing the more negative emotions. 
5. Me too. These are the two most powerful words in the English Language. If someone is sharing, and you've felt or feel the same, tell them. It's nice to know we're not alone. (CAUTION: If someone is hurting, this is not the time to rehash your story. "Me too" is more than sufficient for this situation.)
6. Don't Speak. No, I'm not talking about the No Doubt song. Sometimes the best thing you can do is...well...nothing. Not every vulnerable encounter needs a response. Sometimes the best thing we can do is listen. Really listen. Most people aren't looking for advice or guidance---they are looking for someone who can handle their story. 

Most importantly, let's remember that it's not about you--your hang ups, your anxiety over seeing someone in pain, or your opinion of what they should do next. This is not the time for silver linings, advice, or any phrase that begins with "at least..." This is a time to hold another's heart carefully. View it as an honor, and treat the information you receive accordingly.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Honesty in the most unlikely of places....

We were out in the cold waiting to eat at the newest "hipster" place in Deep Ellum, Tenoshi Ramen, when he approached us. Small and shaky, a man sauntered towered us, his hands fumbling his oversized jacket.

"Ma''am. I just got out of drug rehab and I'm real messed up. I need money for the night shelter and some's so cold out tonight."

He held out his hands where a few coins and a dollar bill sat.

"I have this much, I only need four dollars.."

Only. The word struck me like a ton of bricks.

At least he was honest. He didn't have to mention drug rehab, nor did he have to tell us he only needed four dollars. That was barely enough to buy a happy meal, much less any kind of drugs or alcohol. He wasn't shisting us, he was simply asking for his most basic needs to be met. 

Tears welled up and a sigh of relief escaped my lips. His honesty was like healing balm to my cynical heart. No fronts, no masks, no gimmicks. If I'd had a million dollars I would've handed it over, because it was worth the price of his real-ness.

I wish more people talked like that, I thought to myself.

Because let's be real, there aren't a whole lot of places that are safe to say we're struggling. People lay out their struggles in my office all the time, bracing for the lecture or disapproving look they are sure will follow. Like Pavlov's dogs, they've been trained to brace themselves for a certain outcome, and it's this, that brace for the disapproval, that I wish would change.

What if instead we could all be transparent about our struggles? What if we stopped giving people easy answers to their problems and simply "mourned with those who mourned?"

What if we stopped trying to "pull people out" of their muck and instead climbed down there with them and shared our own?

It only takes one person.  

One person to drop the act to let others know it's safe, and we could create a ripple effect, a revolution of sorts.

We could make it safe to be honest.

This is my dream--for the world, and more importantly for the church. But I can't change it by writing this post. I can only change it by doing it myself, and by hoping that you'll join me in taking off the mask.

As the man in my story put it, "I'm real messed up."

Ain't that the truth.