I climbed into my car, sliding across the front seat and slamming the door simultaneously. It was a foggy evening and the marine layer that hung in the air over Pacific coastal towns had left its mark all over my car windshield.
I sighed, turning the key in the ignition.
I had fun…
I think I had fun?
No…I had fun.
But then why did I feel so unsettled? Why was there this emotion hanging over my heart that felt much like the heavy mist outside? It was as if I had left the warmth of a fire only to put on a wet jacket.
I traced the evening back in my head while navigating through darkened sleepy streets on autopilot.
I had met a few new friends for dinner. It had been a lovely time. We laughed, we joked. I carefully and thoughtfully asked them about the details of their lives, wanting to make sure I listened more than I spoke…
But did I? Did I talk too much? Did I ask enough thought-provoking questions? Did I place value on what they were saying more than what I was often waiting to say?
I sighed again as I turned left onto the uncrowded freeway.
The problem wasn’t when you were listening, Coleen, but when you were talking… A voice within me whispered.
I began to quietly panic, internally going through the list of conversation topics we had covered: church, college stories, our work places, where we wanted to be in five years, Flintstone Push-Pops, the pros and cons to Facebook, past relationships, personality quirks, personal struggles…
Maybe I had divulged a little too much. Perhaps I didn’t sugarcoat my struggles enough. I probably seemed high-maintenance, a train wreck waiting to happen. Maybe they even thought I had stints of bad judgment… Well, you have, I recalled to myself.
I groaned. I was reminded yet again that although I pride myself on being an open and honest book, I grapple with feelings of insecurity once I reveal an intimate piece of my soul. So this is why I felt like I was wearing a coat made out of the Newport Beach marine layer… Because although I craved vulnerability, I was afraid of it.
Words and stories are so easily articulated, so easily shared in the moment. Because in the moment, one craves the intimacy vulnerability brings. I desire to know and be known. I want someone to be aware of all the details, even the gory ones, and see through it to who I am at the core. To see good, even though there is some bad.
But afterward, I am afraid. Afraid that I am too much, my past mistakes too messy, my personality too loud, my jokes too borderline inappropriate. I am terrified that the experiences that have shaped me into who I am will discredit me and send others fleeing.
I take a deep breath in and blow the air out of my mouth, a piece of my hair wafting in the exchange. I tell myself it wasn’t that bad. That nothing I said was really that horrifying. We all have our “things”, right? But next time, if there ever was a next time, I would just hold my cards a little closer. Talk even less, listen even more.
But that didn’t feel right either. It felt safer, sure. But something inside told me that isn’t how we are called to live. I started to chew the inside of my lip, an annoying habit I had picked up somewhere around the sixth grade.
What am I doing to myself? I asked silently, rubbing my eyes and beating my palms against the steering wheel in frustration.
Why was how I felt about myself dependent on how someone else perceived me? Why was whether or not I had fun at dinner determined by a make-believe approval rating? Why did I assume that everyone else was judging me as critically as I judge myself?
Vulnerability Remorse. The desire to live vulnerably and truthfully, being open and generous with one’s stories in order to create real lasting relationships only to then feel insecure afterward. Like maybe my stories were safer inside…maybe I liked giving people the illusion I had my life all together better than being who I really am: flawed.
Even as I continued thinking, I knew that although I may prefer to maintain my “image” by staying coolly aloof, I would never truly be known that way. I would also never truly know someone else. I would never help someone by boldly sharing my past experiences. I would be “safe” but I would not be fulfilling my God-given purpose to cultivate community, discipleship, accountability, and growth.
I’m not saying the way to a godly life is to become a chronic over-sharer or that you should do all the talking. But a funny thing happens when I’ve shared something uncomfortable…I’m humbled by it.
I realize that I am not perfect.
And that’s okay.
Because if my joy is dependent on how other people perceive me, whether or not I have it all together, then I will continually be running on a hamster wheel trying to do damage control whenever that image does not align with reality (which is always). I will sacrifice who I really am, the experiences God has given me, and how I have grown, in order to maintain a false ideal of myself that does not, and cannot, exist.
The fact of the matter is…I do not have to keep my image polished with God. He already knows who I really am and loves me all the same. The people Jesus was the least impressed with were the Pharisees, leaders who were always worried about keeping up their perfect and “righteous” image. In fact, He told them that they were like white washed tombs… They may have looked great on the outside, but on the inside they were decaying.
So what am I doing to myself? What compels me to critique my performance, afraid that someone might take something I say and realize that I might be less than perfect?
I AM less than perfect. And that is a good thing. Because it is when I realize this truth that I become more dependent on God and who He says I am, rather than a group of friends I met up with for dinner.
He actually already loves me, knows me, and has made me enough… regardless of any other opinion. And that’s the best reason I’ve ever heard to be courageously vulnerable.
I finished the rest of my drive home smiling.