“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”
~Author Brené Brown
I remember during my chaplain residency, after a particularly difficult and heartbreaking patient, my supervisor reminded me of the importance of vulnerability. If you know me well, you know that I have obsessively read all of Brené Brown’s books, and that I love her endlessly.
And part of why I love her endlessly, is because in her research, she found that the key to living “whole hearted lives”, is vulnerability.
And I’ve got lots of it.
Scars vs. Wounds
I try to lean in to my vulnerability. To live into it. And it’s tough. But one thing that helped me that day with my chaplain supervisor? She told me that vulnerability is important, but so is caring for myself. I don’t remember who said it, or if my supervisor made it up herself after reading Henri Nouwen’s The Wounded Healer. She said it’s important to be vulnerable, of course. And it’s important to minister not from our open wounds, but from our scars.
If we our hurts and our suffering is an open wound – if it’s fresh and new, if it feels fresh and new, then sharing our vulnerability when we’re caring for someone else is problematic. By caring for ourselves, and knowing what we can and cannot share in the moment, we are better able to care for those we minister to.
Discerning our own healing
Sometimes we begin to share our vulnerability with others in our lives and in our ministry when we are still healing. The wounds haven’t healed all together, but have gotten closer.
It was more than a year before I shared with my internship congregation in a sermon the fertility troubles my husband and I were experiencing. That pain wasn’t yet a scar, a fully healed remembrance of that struggle. Instead it was like a slow-healing ache.
But as I prepared my sermon that Sunday, the Holy Spirit called, and called, and called. And finally I decided to add my pain to my sermon, to share my experience and where God was acting in my experience. Could I have done that in the first few months of our fertility struggles? I don’t know. Would it have had the same impact on me or the congregation? I’m unsure. But I do know that in sharing, I found a piece of healing for myself, and so did many of those who listened.
Last year’s wounds are this year’s scars
I have recently begun sharing with some members of our church the difficulties I had during my pregnancy. Last year, during my pregnancy, people wondered. I was going to the doctor twice a week during my third trimester. They were planning on inducing labor (which became a C-Section). People asked. And I was grateful for the care and concern.
But I wasn’t ready to share that we had gestational diabetes during the pregnancy. Initially because I didn’t want anyone to begin policing my food (sometimes you just need a piece of bread). And because I didn’t want anyone to worry since we were managing it all. But that wasn’t the only reason I didn’t share.
For me, it was an painful and difficult struggle, and it was too fresh, too new, too unknown to share. It was a piece of myself and my experience that I wasn’t ready to share with my congregation.
I share it now as I have been thinking about vulnerability. As I have been thinking about being my authentic self. I am aware now that the stress of that ordeal has healed, but it’s only been in the last month or so. As I look to my daughter’s first birthday this month.
I wonder at the ways we are called to be vulnerable, to be authentic, to belong to one another, and what pieces of ourselves and our experiences we are called to heal with those close to us, to share with those who care for us, and how we are called to share our authentic selves together.
How do you share your authentic self with those in your community? What healing work are you doing in your own life? Might it one day be something you can share in relationship with others? How might God guide you and heal you this week?