I have been a part of the same Bible Study since my sophomore year of college. It originated from our College Life class and has expanded and shrunk over the three years, but it has become a very special part of my life in Chapel Hill.
Over a month ago, I casually volunteered to lead Bible Study the week that our leader, Amanda, would be out of town. When I volunteered much of it felt out of necessity because no one else was volunteering so I just casually raised my hand thinking someone was going to have to volunteer, and I guess that just meant me.
I wrote it down in my planner that I needed to plan Bible Study the weekend before and after that I casually pushed it out of my mind.
But then the particular Bible Study was I was supposed to be "planning" approached and I had no idea what in the world I was going to lead on. I felt less than adequate to be "leading" the Bible Study with my peers and best friends. It had been a rough two weeks previously and I wasn't quite feeling the whole "I know what I'm talking about and you should trust me" thing.
When it came time to planning nothing of significance was actually coming to mind that I felt adequate enough to lead on. After much contemplating, I had nothing in mind.
God had something in mind though. He had a lot in mind. All that He had in mind was everything I was sure that I was not an expert in and was sure that I was mildly horrible at... vulnerability.
God, really? Do I have to? Because I'd really rather not. Vulnerability... yea, that sounds pretty and all, but I am terrible at being vulnerable.
Yes, my daughter, you do have to. It's time to stare vulnerability in the face and take it head on.
I won't be good at leading a Bible Study on vulnerability though.
No, no, you won't. But you don't have to be. Because I will be.
So I started planning. I pulled out all of the resources that I could find and I began reading and listening and praying for the Holy Spirit to reveal to me what He wanted me to teach on. I use the word "teach" extremely loosely... I was hardly teaching. I was more or less fumbling words around and asking for everyone in the group to share and add input because learning comes best when we are all engaging with one another.
I wanted to share what the Lord put on my heart to talk about at Bible Study that week though, what I learned (or am still attempting to understand), and just a few nuggets of other people's wisdom on vulnerability.
First, I came upon Brene Brown's TED talk on the power of vulnerability. I was first introduced to this talk and research this summer at Timber Wolf Lake during an all-camp worship session when one member of the Assigned Team showed part of it as a piece of his message. It was from this talk that the inspiration came for our Bible Study. I highly, highly suggest that you watch the whole talk.
If vulnerability was not a topic that was sticky enough to be discussing, Brene Brown opens her talk with a discussion on the concept of shame. Shame... that is not only sticky... it's messy, ugly, and not often talked about.
Brown describes shame as the factor unraveling connection and as the belief that says "I am not ________________ enough." That blank can be filled by so many different things... pretty, funny, good, skinny, strong, witty, holy, wise... and, more often than not, can be left with just "I am not enough."
Yes, shame is ugly. Very, ugly.
Emily Freeman, author of Grace for the Good Girl and "chatting at the sky" blog, differentiates between guilt and shame. She uses the word guilt as a means to define "a God-reminder when things aren't right and an opportunity to change them." She writes: "Guilt says I did wrong. Shame says I am wrong. Guilt deals with behavior. Shame deals with identity. Guilt leads to repentance. Shame leads to hiding."
We hide behind countless things. Bri wrote about a few of them on her post last Friday. Some of the things we hide behind are good things and others are more destructive, but in all the things we hide behind we are hopelessly searching for some source of protection and safety.
But, WE DO NOT HAVE TO HIDE. If we have a relationship with the Lord, we are hidden in Christ.
"You hem me in-- behind and before;
you have laid your hand upon me."
He is behind us and before us. And His hand is even upon us. We are covered from all directions.
We are hidden in Christ. We are safe in Christ. We are SAFE in Christ.
When that sinks in, it gives reason to let the masks fade away. We do not have to hide due to our shame because we are already hidden in Christ.
"For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that be brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery."
- Deuteronomy 7:6-8
"Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame.
Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.
You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.
For your Maker is your husband--- the LORD Almighty is his name---
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth."
- Isaiah 54:4-5
"Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him."
- Romans 6:4-8
"For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God."
- Colossians 3:3
If we are known by God (1 Cor. 8:3) and hidden in Christ, then that allows for us to be known by others.
This is where it gets even more challenging for me. Just because I know that I am hidden in Christ, allowing others to truly see me is not something that comes easy for me. I am daily having to seek the Lord and ask for His grace as I fumble in this area of my life.
Brene Brown describes people who believe they are worthy of connection as whole-hearted people. When we are hidden in Christ, it allows for us to truly be whole-hearted people.
She uses three words to describe whole-hearted people:
- COURAGE: They are people who have the courage to tell the story of themselves with their whole heart and they are people who have the courage to be imperfect.
- COMPASSION: They are people who can be kind and compassionate towards themselves and then also to others.
- CONNECTION: They are people who connect to others as a result of authenticity.
That word is scary to me. In my mind, when I hear vulnerability I think weak, not strong. I think emotional, not compassionate. I think "too much," not authentic.
Brene Brown points out that while vulnerability may not be comfortable or easiest, that it is simply necessary.
"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable." - C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
One of my favorite bloggers, Stephanie May, writes: "Vulnerability is choosing the daring hope that someone will see us and know us and choose to love us because of what they see-- not for the show or for our perfectly styled hair. There's just nothing more courageous or deeply beautiful than that."
As Brene Brown deconstructed vulnerability she found four things that will allow vulnerability to come alive in us:
... let ourselves be seen ...
... love with our whole hearts even though there is no guarantee ...
... choose joy and lean into gratitude ...
... believe we're enough ...
While those things may seem simple, I tend to find them quite difficult. It's scary and uneasy and there is an enemy who so desperately does not want for any of those things to flourish in our lives. But it is when we are truly hidden and guarded in Christ that those things can begin to give way and reign true in our lives.
And that is what Bible Study was on that Tuesday evening. To say that I understand all of this would be a lie... to say that I practice all of this would be an even bigger lie.
But I am trying. And I am praying that the Lord will help me and guide me in His Truth all the while.