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Archive for the ‘Vulnerability’ Category

“And when the Israelites saw the great power the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.”  – Exodus 14:31 (NIV)

Trust is a very deep and mysterious thing and yet it something that we do every day to some degree. Without trust our lives would be in tatters. We trust everything from cars to computers, bus schedules to customer care employees. When you think about it trust is also risky. By trusting others, we can open ourselves up to hurt and disappointment.

Seven years ago today, September 1, 2009, I made a choice to trust someone with personal issues in my life that were beyond my own resources. The details are not as important as the lessons that resulted from that decision.

 In reviewing the story in Exodus 14 where Moses, under God’s direction led the children of Israel out of Egypt, safely through the Red Sea from the flight of the Egyptian army we find a very interesting statement.

At the close of this crucial chapter the text says, “The people feared the LORD and put their trust in Him and in Moses his servant.”

Trust is critical to our relationships both with God and others. As a Christian, in my work with other followers of Jesus, rarely do people argue the fact that we should be trusting God. However, the stronger pushback comes when we start talking about trusting others around us.

Trust is a matter of the heart and we don’t like having our hearts crushed, yet all meaningful relationships are built on mutual trust.

I’m sure that over time, the Israelites found God to be more trustworthy than Moses. However, I’m coming to see that we can’t fully say we are trusting God without being able to trust key people whom God has placed in our lives.

There are several “Moses” figures in my life and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not fully trusting God if I’m not trusting them at some level.

Seven years ago today, I took a step of faith by trusting a friend with things I had never spoken about to another living individual. Admittedly it was a risk, and there were many issues that flowed from my decision to trust another living soul with my “stuff.”

I have since regretted many of my life choices in the past, however, I have never regretted the decision to trust God and another person He had hand-placed in my life.

Looking back over the last seven years here are a few life lessons that will remain with me always as a result of my decision to trust God and a “Moses” in my life –

  •  Vulnerability and Relational growth – As a result of my decision I eventually discovered that I was robbing myself and others of the “real” me that was hiding behind a curtain, too scared to come out. These years later perhaps more people around me get to see the “real” me with fewer masks.
  • A Confidence that God is work in my life – Previously I was trying to be the best version of about five or six people whose lives I was sure were “better” than mine. I stopped trying to be my version of other people and instead trust God with who I really was and was becoming.
  • Transformation and the Inner lifeIn these years I discovered that everything in our lives really flows from the inside out. Jesus once said of men that “from the overflow of the heart, his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45 NIV) Cultivating our inner life is the means whereby God meets us at deep levels. Life circumstances may shape us but deep change in one’s life is from inside out, not the reverse.

I can speak from personal experience that trusting God and others made all the difference in my own life and even though it’s a difficult road I’m grateful for the growth.

Who are the “Moses figures” that God has placed in your life that you need to be trusting?

We don’t grow unless we’re vulnerable with someone we can trust. It goes without saying that we can’t trust everyone but we do have to trust someone. We often find out the hard way that we can’t trust everyone and we can often get caught out.

Was there ever a cook who has never been burned in the kitchen? Most good cooks I know had their share of wounds but bandaged them, went back to the kitchen and ended up being quite successful at what they did. They grew despite the pain of the wounds.

We should always be discerning when it comes to trust. We may never trust everyone that we should but we’ll certainly not develop as healthy individuals without trusting someone. Perhaps in doing so we’ll be safe and trustworthy ourselves, even a “Moses” in the making.

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Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”  – Ephesians 4:32 (NIV)

I don’t know about you, but for many years I had the fear that people would really find out that I was much more of a mess than I appeared.

I’ll never forget the day that I had to sit down before my family and close friends and admit to a string of failures that had spanned a number of years. Sparing the gory details, just believe me when I say I was a train wreck. Without realizing it, I was missing out on major sources of wholeness in my life – for many reasons. Among them was the fact that I was trying to be “the hero” as I call it, moving through life like a knight in shining armor while neglecting key relationships with those around me.

As I interact with people on a personal level more and more I see that people, especially men, are much more alike than we are different, at least when it comes to opening up about our fears, failures and imperfections. I realize that I’m speaking in generalities but I do see some consistent trends.

We men, in general, don’t like to admit that we have needs.

We men, in general, work hard to cover up fears, failure and imperfections so that others will think the best of us.

We men, in general, think that vulnerability is a sign of weakness and if we go there will make us even more of a failure than we think we already are.

Several years ago, through a God-ordained and defining experience of personal failure and brokenness I discovered just the opposite.

When I started to shed the cloak of “perfection” and began to more openly confess and admit my sin, failure and imperfection I actually discovered that people can be forgiving. They can be loving and accepting too.

It’s fascinating to me that true confession is actually getting the bad stuff out in the open so everyone, including myself, can say, “Yes, that’s horrible! But I love and forgive you. I know the bad stuff is not the real you!”

One of my first experiences of confession outside of my closest family members came when I asked to see a couple with whom my wife and I had come to know very well. I was almost certain when I walked into their home that it might be the last time I would ever enter their door. After they heard what I had to say that might, in my thinking, be the last time they would ever talk to me. Confession was on my heart and rejection was my expectation.

To my amazement, after hearing my broken, heartfelt confession my friends embraced me in a way I had never experienced before. Their response was just the opposite of what I was expecting.

I stumbled reluctantly into the reality that humility and vulnerability hold the key to the door of forgiveness and restoration.

Really, we don’t relate well to people who are fake – trying to make others believe they are something other than who they are.

As I’ve lived with this new lease on life for some years now I see that I grew up with a perspective that some counselors call “splitting.” It’s the idea that internally we “split” ourselves, others and the world into “all good” or “all bad.” This perspective will not endure reality over time. The very best of us have badness and imperfection all mixed together and it’s reflected in our world as well.

Since we all have failings and imperfections, why not admit to them? I have found that to be healthy and whole I have to live this way.

The verse quoted above from the Apostle Paul is an instruction to people of faith in Jesus to be kind, compassionate and forgiving. It’s not a suggestion! It’s a command based on what Jesus has already done for all mankind. The perfect man gave His life for completely imperfect people. How can we follow Him without confessing our sin to others, asking for their forgiveness and forgiving them?

In order to pull this off we need to have communities of people who express faith in Jesus and follow Him to be modeling this – daily! That’s a challenge to me, but it’s a challenge to you as well. We need environments of grace and relationships of trust in order to make this work, but that’s another subject!

What are you hiding today and from whom? What do you fear that someone close to you might find out about you? What are you not disclosing to a friend or family member?

What I didn’t know was that what I was hiding with the greatest passion could actually lead to greater wholeness and happiness in my life if I only would admit to failure as a starting point.

When I started taking more steps toward vulnerability in my own life, carefully exposing my failures to trusted friends and family and dropping my “appearance” of arrogance and perfection, I found people to be much more forgiving and accepting than I realized.

Humility and vulnerability truly hold the key to the door labelled “forgiveness.”

I’m certainly never going get everything right and I’ll never be perfect in this life. But I can say that greater wholeness of life came home to my heart when my imaginary “knight in shining armor” got down off of his horse and started seeking grace and forgiveness. It’s freely available to the humble of heart.

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No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”  – 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV)

It’s a common human trait to get somewhat reflective as we start into a new year.  If you are like me, I tend to see old patterns and habits that seem very difficult to break out of and starting a New Year seems to be a good time to make a new resolve to let go of the past and form new habits for a healthier future.

One easy way to spot habits in life is to look at temptations we face that seem to crop up again and again. In my own experience I tend to see a pattern with these temptations that seem to keep pursuing me month after month and year after year.

Recently I began to probe why this might be the case. Some have suggested that a simple way to look at temptation is to reflect on a legitimate human need or desire and see temptation as a quest to meet that need in an inappropriate way.

In doing so recently I returned to the scene of an incident in my life in order to ask myself, “What was really going on there?”

In the days of my youth in Texas I would often go to a Methodist church camp that was located in the town of Glen Rose, the same town were my mother had grown up. My mother’s brother and his family still lived in Glen Rose and we had spent many days of my youth in their home which was located less than a mile from camp just down the Paluxy River.

One day while at a youth camp during free time I realized that I could sneak out, walk right down to the river and follow the shoreline right up to a hill near where my uncle, aunt and cousins lived. One afternoon without the knowledge of the camp kids or staff I took a little walk and visited my relatives!

When my plan worked to perfection by making it back without anyone’s notice I decided to try it again from time to time. A very clever way to add a little spice to my camping experience, but obviously outside the bounds of what was appropriate.

A few years later at an older teen camp, I got to bragging to Darrell, one of the other campers, about my antics in previous years. I also knew that there was local movie theater (cinema) in the town of Glen Rose and it wouldn’t be very difficult to sneak out via the river, see a film and sneak back in without anyone knowing!  So that’s just what I did along with Darrell, my new recruit in crime.

Looking back on these boyhood antics I see that there were certain needs in my life that were getting met by these excursions – needs for adventure and a feeling of being special – no one knew the secrets of Glen Rose and my ability to sneak in and out of a camp! A small and insignificant boy (so I felt) could be a magician and do something clandestine – so I thought!

That day Darrell and I did make it down the river and out to the cinema. To this day I still remember the film. About half way through we were shocked when the director of the camp walked down the aisle and sat down right next to us! Someone had blown our cover and we were caught in the act!

Suddenly the great and powerful plan for significance had fallen completely apart.

I’m seeing now that much bigger and more significant temptations and failings in my life have followed a similar pattern.

When I get to feeling small and insignificant I intentionally try harder to manufacture something that will build my sagging ego and fulfill an unmet need for significance.

I can easily feel that temptation is running after me when in actual fact I’m running after temptation. I’m seeking some experience outside of my relationship with God, like a trip down the river on my own, to find meaning and significance that only my LORD and Maker can legitimately provide.

When we begin to see temptation as a pursuit more than something pursuing us I think we’re in a better place to see what’s really going on there.

Where do you go when you need care, love, significance or satisfaction? All are legitimate human needs. What are the patterns that continually trip you up and what are you seeking in the process? I think honestly probing these questions may provide significant clues to breaking patterns that continue to bring us down.

For those of us, like myself, who claim to be followers of Jesus, we have One who know us intimately and always offers us not only Himself but a way of escape in every temptation we face.

That’s good news for all of us at any time of the year.

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“Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but humility comes before honor.” – Proverbs 18:12 (NIV)

The contrast between pride and humility couldn’t be more distinct. We don’t often see our own pride until it’s exposed for what it is.

The word “humble” comes from the Latin word “humilis” which means lowly, insignificant, or “on the ground.” We think of a humble person as one who doesn’t have an exalted view of themselves in relation to others.

I think humility is easier observed than it is defined. Humility becomes a larger slice of our character when we see a picture of reality that shows us we aren’t the perfect people we hoped we would be.

It’s easy to be blind to our own pride and to observe humility in others. We would probably admit to being proud before we would consider ourselves “humble.”

If you’ve been following the professional golf news lately you will be aware that there’s been a changing of the guard at the number one position in the world rankings. In recent years we have witnessed the demotion of Tiger Woods and the rise of Rory McIlroy at the highest level of the sport.

Even though Tiger won five PGA tour events in 2013 this year has been one of injury, frustration and  disappointment while Rory, winner of several events and two majors this season, has recaptured the ranking of World Number one and is going from strength to strength.

The comparison and contrast between these two child prodigies turned professional have been noteworthy. Both have been in the media spotlight for some time now and observations and conclusions drawn concerning both of them are clear to see.

One of the most striking differences between these two men is how they conduct themselves with the media. When interviewed Tiger is cautious, mysterious and most often closed. He’s a classic example of pride and perfection. Rory is open, honest, unassuming, and vulnerable and dare I say, humble for a young man of such accomplishment at his young age. The broadcasters know this quite well. They love Rory – so do his many fans. Draw your own conclusions as to how they view Tiger Woods.

We live in a world where pride and “getting to the top” in one’s area of expertise is a highly valued. We love our sports stars but we seem to appreciate the ones like Rory who have a sense of humility about them despite their huge success.

The wisdom of the ancient Proverb quoted above teaches us that without a sense of brokenness in our lives we tend to become proud and think that we are above the faults and failings of others.

As Tiger Woods discovered almost five years ago now life’s catastrophes come along at various stages. The proud man or woman falls. Those who are humble are honored in success or failure.

Due to various humbling experiences over the past few years I’m realizing that in years past my own pride kept me from admitting failure and letting others close to me see who I really was. A lot of wasted energy went into hiding unsightly things about myself so that I could maintain an appearance of “having it all-together.” We are the last ones to see the evidence of pride in our lives.

Our pride leads us to believe that we’re strong and invincible. Humility tells us that it’s safe to be honest with who we are as fragile human beings because we’re made in the image of God who knows us intimately. It’s His opinion of us that holds the most weight.

One of the most profound examples of humility in history is that of Jesus Christ. Being equal with God the Father He humbled Himself in taking on humanity and subjecting Himself to death so that men and women might find forgiveness and connection with God (Philippians 2).

Not even the Son of God promoted Himself in the grand scheme of things so why should we?

Long term we may not see Rory McIlroy win as much in his prime as Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods did in theirs, but if his attitude doesn’t change and barring major meltdown he may be one of the most beloved stars in the history of golf.

We know a proud man or woman when we see one. We know a humble man or woman when we see one. We are fortunate when we are vulnerable enough to admit our weaknesses and failures as well as our strengths and to release any illusions of our own superiority over others.

In the end humility seems to carry its own rewards.

 

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“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.” – Philippians 2:5-9 (NIV)

I’m not really sure why the concept of “vulnerability” keeps smacking me in the face everywhere I look. It could be that for much of my life it’s been a hidden theme lurking in the background.

In the spring of 1980 I took an intensely practical week-long course in graduate school entitled “Applied Leadership and Teambuilding.” All the participants of the class went to a conference center and broke up into teams. In addition to reading and lectures we went out on practical teambuilding exercises. Each team member had the chance to lead the group in an exercise at least once during the week. By the end of our time together we had come to learn a great deal about each other – and ourselves!

Our small group leader, Bob, happened to teach Leadership and Psychology at the US Air Force Academy at the time. He was gifted in many ways but was an especially keen observer of human nature. At the end of the course he invited each of us to a private session where he gave us his observations about our strengths and weaknesses. I was obviously more interested in my strengths!

“You’re not very vulnerable. You don’t give much away,” Bob observed in our interview.

I confess at the time I didn’t really have a clear idea of what he was talking about, but I took it by faith that being more of an “expert” in personal relations than I, he must be speaking the truth.

Since that time I have come to learn much more about vulnerability and why I put it to death for so long in my life. It’s a scary place to go. I’ve tried to reflect on what it actually is and why I avoided being vulnerable for so long.

Vulnerability, if you look it up in the dictionary, actually means “open to attack.” When you stand up for who you really are, what you like and dislike, share your opinions, etc. you are subject to being loved, hated, cherished, despised, or any number of other responses.

When you look at the person of Jesus Christ, you see a vulnerable man. He never hid who He really was and was comfortable being who He was. As mentioned in the verses above, being God He was willing to empty Himself of Divine privileges and come to earth as a humble human. He faced suffering and death for who He was, but He also was exalted to the highest place of honor in the universe.

There’s something very powerful and humble about vulnerability that we dare not miss.

Some of us close up, myself included, so that we can avoid or escape the potential criticism or judgment of others. I’m finding now in reading the research on vulnerability that we close off the potential for life and growth, connection and relationship when we take that approach to life.

Looking further back I think vulnerability died very early in my childhood and was never significantly resuscitated until recent years. Painful childhood experiences can shape us in many ways.

When I was either in Kindergarten or first grade I recall a little square dancing exercise we did in class. Boys and girls would cross arms and hold hands with each other, couples standing in a circle. When the music started we began skipping around the circle to the music. It was something about the tile floors in the school or the shoes my parents had me wear, but I kept slipping and falling on the floor whenever we really got going around the circle. My obvious reaction was “I’m not doing this! I’m not making a fool out of myself for the sake of this dumb exercise!”

I still recall the feeling of shame and vulnerability of that experience and internally I probably recognized that I would rather die that visit that place again.

The rebirth of vulnerability has been a gradual reawakening in my life in recent years – with some dramatic steps forward at times. I’m finding now that it takes courage to be vulnerable and to avoid it stems from fear – particularly fear of “what would others think of me.” It took some cataclysmic life experiences of personal failure and the love and rejection of others to allow vulnerability to be reborn in my own life. Painful but intensely productive!

As Easter Sunday approaches this year I’m reflecting once again on the beauty, humility and yes vulnerability of the Lord Jesus Christ. It took immense courage for Him to do what He did – even though He was God in the Flesh.

In humility, love, openness and courage Jesus Christ shared His very life – and death – with a hurting and broken world. Perhaps that’s what He calls His followers to do as well.

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