The last night of retreats, growing up, would surely turn into a massive group therapy and cry spectacle as the ‘open mic time of sharing’ of what individuals learned during that retreat would result into youth sharing their deepest secrets and struggles in a room of 120 Chinese youth and counselors.
Among Chinese Christians especially, there is a notion of shame/honor even in the Church. Discipleship was (overall) lacking growing up, because the thought of opening ourselves – our inmost, deep, secrets – up to each other? Nonexistent. Oh, we wouldn’t dare. Even though nothing can separate us from the love of God and we can never repay the love that God has shown us, we need to try to repay this love. I’ve been thinking lately about how it was the norm to operate in a scarcity/zero-sum mindset. Only one person can succeed: one person’s success must lead to another’s failure. And perhaps while we ostensibly hurt with our friends as they shared their struggles, perhaps deep inside? We smiled, knowing that that kid wasn’t as put together as he seems. [I am making a sweeping generalization here, and I quite honestly could be wrong. Forgive me if I am wrong. I loved each and single one of these retreats. And perhaps this isn’t isolated to the Asian/Chinese church. It’s merely the context that I am familiar with.]
Anyways – and every single retreat, I would be one of those youth. I would burst into tears, have a good cry, worship my heart out at the worship session that often followed – but have no lasting change. When I came home, I’d sulk into the same fog and fall into the same temptations.
So, I emptied myself to be fully vulnerable – but at what cost?
Flash forward to spring of 2018. I’ve had an unexpectedly vulnerable few weeks, just as the Lord has been working in my life. As I’ve debated how much to share and what to share to who, my mind flashes to those confessions in high school.
Is this true change?
Do I really want to share this part about myself?
How are others going to respond? Will they think lesser of me?
I listened to a talk given by Melissa Helser this week on vulnerability. I have always admired Melissa because of how she holds to the unwavering, steadfast hope that she has in God in the midst of deep, unbearable chronic pain. The whole podcast was on point, as always, (you can listen to it here) but these few excerpts really resonated:
“It’s not enough to be vulnerable with others when you can’t be vulnerable with yourself, much less than with the Lord […] you need to find and fight for that true connection with the Lord.”
“Social media is producing a false sense of vulnerability. I can’t sit down with my friends and be honest, but I can certainly do that on Facebook. I can’t sit and have an intellectual, beautiful, humble, strong conversation about politics, but I can certainly discuss it on Facebook. Because there is no accountability.”
If we are confident in our identity as sons and daughters who are a chosen people, called out of the darkness (1 Peter 2:9) into the kingdom of joy purely because of God’s overwhelming kindness — through walking with and dialoguing with the Lord, I think that we will learn that true vulnerability is all right.
Discernment is important, but it is okay to be vulnerable with people.
You remember that scarcity mindset I mentioned? I think that in the Kingdom of God, the response to knowing and believing the Gospel is the opposite – to live a life of abundance. Out of this abundance, we are able to rejoice with others when they succeed. You see, I think that in the Kingdom of God, when others succeed, we succeed too; when others flourish, we flourish. If our ultimate destination is to be headed to a place where we will be free from sin, our trembling and presently partial faith will be made perfect, and where we will forever scream, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord Almighty” – should we not support our brothers and sisters as we press on towards this goal, together?
Out of this gospel of abundance, we are able to press on together. Knowing that the Table of God always has room, bar none. Knowing that the Lord loves to show mercy, bar none. Knowing that “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us…” (Ephesians 2:4-8) doesn’t have a quota for lavishing his kindness to us.
Back to vulnerability.
Like Melissa alluded, I once thought that vulnerability was solely restricted to deep Instagram captions or Facebook posts. It did not cross my mind until as of recent that real, human friends actually want to know what I am up to, shenanigans and all. And that they actually want to hear me call them or catch up over coffee and tell them – real verbose conversations, that they don’t see my speech as a deterrent and neither do I. And that when I tell them what the Lord has been doing, they are genuinely excited for me. In the same way, I am able to be sub-genuinely excited for others without simultaneously wishing for others to slip up so that I don’t have to feel bad about not flourishing like they are.
I think — not, I know — that in the Kingdom of God, when others succeed, we succeed too; when others flourish, we flourish.
I’m slowly attempting to spend less time on social media, and transition to have more ‘real’, one-to-one, conversations with others. It’s exhilarating.
Let me close with one more story. Yesterday, I lost all my text messages due to an unfortunate technical mishap. I was super discouraged, and that was an understatement. In the midst of the whirlwind few weeks that I’ve had, I’ve had some very treasured conversations with different friends that I wouldn’t have expected I’d have a month ago — I didn’t think to screenshot most of these text messages (yes, that’s probably concerning that I would think to screenshot them, but I’ve always been a pecuilar one).
I decided to take a risk last night and text friends, primarily friends that I’ve had these crazy conversations with, asking them to send me something encouraging because I was pretty devastated at such a trivial loss (I could have asked everyone to send me screenshots of those text messages, but, now, that’s just flat-out weird). The responses astounded me. Out of (such a trivial) loss, I received such encouraging words and Scripture; additionally, I received testimonies of how the Lord has been faithful in their individual lives recently, and even testimonies about how the Lord is moving throughout the world. At one point, I amended texts to include “or something cool that happened to you today” because I was overwhelmed at how many people actually are rooting for me. (Friends, thank you for responding to my weird text message. It means more than you know.)
I took a small leap of faith in vulnerability, and the Lord reminded me (even though He keeps seem to be reminding me of this lately – I am so forgetful!) that I have a community that is rooting for me to keep growing into the likeness of Christ.
Oh yeah – in the act of being vulnerable and opening up over the past few weeks, I have been met with the similar response by my friends. Only love. Only kindness. Only pure excitement.
Maybe we, the people of God, should spend less time gossiping, and fantasizing about what we could be, but more time dwelling in the present and using our individual gifts to encourage each other. Maybe in that process, we will find that we are actually encouraging ourselves.
I know now that in the Kingdom of God, when others succeed, we succeed too; when others flourish, we flourish.
(caveat: obviously not saying that we need to share everything. Or to everyone. Do I even need to say that?)