“You can’t heal a wound by saying it’s not there,” -Jeremiah 6:14 (TLB)
When I was in middle school, I fell on my knee at a friend’s house. We were playing charades on the treadmill (questionable judgment) and she gave me the prompt, “Pretend you’re running in the park and you see a cute guy.” I stopped running upon seeing this invisible cute guy, and the treadmill threw me back into the wall. The treadmill continued to run, with my knee catching the brunt of it. We laughed about it but it really hurt, since the fall scraped off several layers of skin. I put a band-aid over it and went back to playing. Our game distracted me, but under the surface I was still embarrassed by the fall and my knee still hurt.
For the first few days, I continued to wear band-aids on my knee. The wound looked gross, so I covered it up with a fresh bandage each day. After a week, I tried to go without a bandage. My knee hurt from bumping up against my desk, and from air blowing across the wound. A classmate pointed to my knee and said how it looked like “elephant skin,” a grayish, wrinkled layer where my body was trying to heal. Because I hadn’t given it a long enough chance to sit exposed to the air, it was having a hard time healing. But I was more embarrassed by what others thought than healing properly, so I went back to wearing band-aids.
We can only ignore the discomfort for so long. I can get by with a bandage on the wound for a little while, but eventually I have to remove the band-aid and stop covering up the wound. I have to clean out the infection and expose it to air and light to let it heal properly.
It’s tempting to ignore the wounds though, isn’t it? It’s easier to stuff the feelings than to let ourselves feel them- especially when the emotions that rise up are difficult. It’s tempting to push past the hurt instead of slowing down long enough to properly heal. It’s common to numb the symptoms of the pain, rather than addressing the source of the pain. We do patch-work on our problems instead of looking at the whole picture, so that God can in turn make us whole.
It’s scary to actually look at the wound, to admit that we’re hurting, and to surrender to the healing process. But in the case of my middle school knee, that’s what it took for new cells to generate and the wound to heal. In the case of our past hurts and current discomforts, true reflection and vulnerability are important for new life to enter in.
There’s a verse in Jeremiah that’s stuck with me for the past few years in my recovery work: “You can’t heal a wound by saying it’s not there.” I’ve seen this to be true in my own life, related to healing from trauma and unhealthy relationships. If I ignored the memories or tried to avoid triggers, the wounds were still present. The longer I let the unhealed trauma stay beneath the surface unaddressed, the more room I left for unhealthy coping mechanisms or “infections” that made it worse. I carried the trauma and pain into new relationships and settings, and projected my past pain onto new people. I viewed life through the lens of my hurt, instead of the wholeness God intended for me.
In order to step towards healing, I had to finally take off the “bandages” of busyness, new relationships, and my denial of any issues. I had to make space to say, “I’m hurting. I need help.”
When we’ve spent a long time ignoring pain, it can be really uncomfortable to sit with it. But I believe feeling the pain (without numbing) is what leads us to seek healing. I had to learn to identify what I was actually feeling, what I needed, what I was scared of, and even what I hoped for as a result of healing. It took time for me to learn that those hard feelings, memories, and fears did not make me a bad person or a poor example of a Christian. They just made me human, and showed that the brokenness of this world affects all of us.
Last week, I shared about vulnerability with God, and how He wants us to bring all of our hearts to Him. When we know that there is a safe place to let down our walls and take off the bandages, it creates a safe place for us to be honest and open with ourselves.
Eventually, the wound on my knee became a scar. The skin looks a little different there, and it’s a reminder of a former hurt. But it no longer stings or burns when the air hits it. It’s no longer raw “elephant skin”- it’s just a light pink circle, barely visible to the eye.
When we make the space to sit with our wounds, we can invite God in to meet us in our pain. That willingness to be vulnerable with ourselves and others, in the safety of God’s presence, brings restoration. After we find that healing, we may carry the scars of the past, but they no longer fester in pain beneath the surface, begging for us to pay attention. They can now serve as reminders of His redemption, and remind us of His power made perfect in our weakness.
When I was in college I took a personality assessment that gave me an interesting result- it said I was 98% extroverted on the introversion/extroversion scale. A staff member reviewed my results and was surprised by my number. “It’s not a bad thing, but you may want to explore healthy ways to stretch yourself in the other direction.”
The reason I tested so high on that end of the scale is because I was terrified of being alone. In a room full of people, I could figure out how to act, what to say, and who others expected me to be. I could read the emotions of everyone around me, and knew how to answer questions to keep others happy. I knew how to define myself as long as others were around me.
After getting the 98% extroversion result, I tried spending an afternoon by myself in my college dorm room. I had a panic attack after 10 minutes. I literally didn’t know how to be on my own. My people pleasing was a coping mechanism I used so that I didn’t have to look inward or deal with my own pain or discomfort. I could tell you what you liked and how you probably felt and what you needed, but I couldn’t answer those same questions about myself. It was too uncomfortable and painful.
Part of my healing journey with the Lord has been learning to sit quiet before Him. I ask Him to show me the feelings I’ve suppressed, to bring up the painful memories so we can deal with them together, and to show me the aspects of life that bring me joy so that I can be comfortable with time by myself. If we are going to be vulnerable and live authentically with others, we have to be okay with looking at our own stories. We have to pray, in the safety of God’s embrace, for Him to reveal our thoughts, feelings, and the depths of our hearts to us so that we can step into freedom. There’s no way to be free if we aren’t willing to look at and heal from the wounds that chain us down or keep us trapped.
What about you? Are you willing to ask God to search you? Do you get scared of what you will see? The final part of Psalm 139 says this searching work will lead us into the way everlasting. I pray this time of self-examination and vulnerability with the Lord will lead to freedom, sweet friend.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!”
In the beginning, God designed us for connection.
Before He even formed man, God built a garden and provided all we could ever physically need. Can you imagine how glorious it must have been? A whole spectrum of bursting color, pure, untainted and joy-filled to behold. Lush plants and an array of fragrances from the fresh fruit trees. The harmonies of bright birds singing their songs in the sky, and animals running through the grass.
God knew that a beautiful earth could meet our physical needs, but He also said it wasn’t good for man to be alone. So God formed Adam from the dust of the earth, and formed Eve using one of Adam’s rib bones. God breathed His own holy breath into their lungs and created the most intimate human relationship right then and called them one flesh.
“Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” (Genesis 2: 25)
The three of them, Adam, Eve, and God, walked through the gardens together. I wonder what God’s laugh sounded like to Adam and Eve. I picture them sitting in silence together with complete comfort as they watched the sun rise each morning. I imagine God pointing up at the night sky to name all of the stars for His children. I wonder what it was like in those beginning days, with no shame and no sin. Brokenness had not yet entered into the world, and the connection He established remained perfectly intact.
But the second they ate the fruit, shame crashed into the world. Adam and Eve covered themselves, hid from God, and blamed each other. Most of all, they were disconnected from God and one another.
“Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’
He answered, ‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.'” (Genesis 3: 7-10)
I can’t imagine how much it must have broken God’s heart to have to discipline His children, to send them out of the garden He built for them, to have to make them garments to cover up their nakedness. That original sin caused a chasm from the original connection God designed.
How does that affect us today?
Even though God designed us for connection, we push Him away in our shame. Our shame casts a shadow over the way we see ourselves and the way we see our perfect Father. We fear that He will no longer love us if we let Him see the deepest secrets we carry. We fear our sins are too big for Him to forgive. We fear that He would be disappointed if He only knew our thoughts and our quiet actions.
So we wear fig leaves to try to keep ourselves from being seen:
-Denial (I’m okay, really)
-Avoidance (busyness/not spending time with Him/closing ourselves off)
-Numbness (if I can’t feel anything or pay attention to it, it’s not really there)
-Defiance (rebellion/sin/running the other way)
-Pride (I can handle this on my own/I don’t need help)
Here’s the thing though: God ALREADY KNOWS all of our sin, thoughts, words, actions, and secrets. The fig leaves we try to use to cover ourselves are not enough of a barrier to push Him away. He still loves us even with His intimate knowledge of our brokenness.
So what if, instead of trying to hide from the One who already sees us, we stood with our hearts open to Him like an offering? What if instead of hiding behind our ceaseless striving, perfectionism, ambition, and addictions, we pulled back the layers to share it all with Him? What if we let go of the shame to say, “Here I am, Lord,” and let Him have it all?
I get that it’s scary, but to me, it’s even scarier to imagine pushing Him further away and staying hidden for the rest of my life. I want to live surrendered, in sweet intimacy and connection with the One who created me and knows all of me.
I want to be like Job, who calls out his questions to the God who has all of the answers.
I want to be like David, who wrings out his broken heart before a God who cares for our sadness.
I want to be like Jesus, who kneels before God and asks for the pain to go away, but trusts that God’s will is ultimately good.
I want to be vulnerable with my heavenly Father and hand Him all of my hurts, my fears, my doubts, my emotions, and my thoughts, because He can handle them.
I just have to let Him see me.
Related posts for further reading:
You know those dreams/nightmares of speaking in front of a classroom without your clothes, or showing up for a big presentation completely unprepared? Yikes. Talk about embarrassing and vulnerable, right?
We live in a society that calls up many different definitions of the word “vulnerable,” especially depending upon context.
Some view vulnerability as susceptibility to harm or attack. They might picture an unguarded castle, ready for an enemy to invade and take over. In today’s world, there are certainly cases where this definition of defenselessness is true.
Others see vulnerability as weakness. They may picture complete exposure or nakedness (like that stressful dream).
Some hear the word “vulnerability” and get itchy and uncomfortable all over… because emotional and spiritual vulnerability in particular can feel really unnatural, hard, and counter-cultural.
Others have tried to be vulnerable in the past but that openness has actually brought harm in relationships. So those same individuals who once tried to live vulnerably have now built back the walls around their hearts to try to withstand future hurts through self-preservation.
I understand all of these definitions because I can relate to each of these trains of thought. Here’s the thing though. I don’t know that all of these understandings of vulnerability apply to those of us who believe in Jesus and want to live in light of the Gospel. I came to ask an important question a few years ago, and I want to explore the answer with you:
Is vulnerability really worth it?
Is it worth it to bring down shields and defense mechanisms in order to connect with others?
Is it worth it to take off the masks we wear and let ourselves be truly seen?
Is it worth it to live differently from the world around us by getting uncomfortable at times, and showing our scars and telling our stories?
Is it worth it to open up again, even after we’ve been hurt in the past or our vulnerability was not met with respect?
These are hard, complex questions. But after six years of digging in to the question of whether vulnerability is truly worth it, my answer is resounding and resolute.
YES. Vulnerability is worth it, and is so important if we want live authentically as Christians in today’s world.
Over the next month, can we explore this topic together? We’ll talk about vulnerability and living a life truly surrendered to the work God wants to do in our lives. We’ll discuss what healthy vulnerability looks like, and how to practically live that out in a world that tells us to cover up the hard parts of ourselves. We’ll decide what it looks like to even be vulnerable with yourself, with others, and with God. We can chat about boundaries and finding safe people to practice vulnerability with in real life. And if you really want to dig deeper, I’m going to share books, podcast episodes, and resources you can check out to learn more about this topic (see number 2 below).
If you want to make sure you’re a part of this conversation, there are two places I’d love for you to follow along:
- Social Media- Instagram or Facebook– I’ll post daily thoughts on the topic there, and we’ll have a chance to chat more directly in the comments!
- My Email List- On Fridays for the coming months, I’ll send a newsletter to my email list, with exclusive extra resources on this topic, worship music that aligns with the theme, and extra questions for reflection. I’m calling these emails “Freedom Fridays” because I believe in the power of vulnerability to bring freedom, and because you’ll know to look for them on Fridays! You can sign up here to receive them below (if you’re not already on my email list!).
I pray that no matter what you’ve been through, what scars you bear, or how you’ve learned to survive in this world, our friend Jesus will guide you in a vulnerable life that is truly surrendered to Him.