“In the beginning, people think vulnerability will make you weak, but it does the opposite. It shows you're strong enough to care.”
I recall a few years back when a friend gave me a valuable piece of advice. She read something I wrote, and remarked that it could be better if I shared my vulnerabilities in the context of my writing. This advice proved to be applicable in all facets of my life.
This afternoon my daughter shared an experience with a friend, whereby her friend never shares any of her problems, worries, fears, or mistakes.
“Mom it’s like after a while of me talking, I just shut up because I don’t think she gets it. Her silence tells me she doesn’t make mistakes. And so I don’t feel like telling her anything personal anymore.”
In those words I heard the preamble to the death of that friendship.
“If only” her friend allowed herself to be vulnerable to share a failure, a fear…anything. We are human, feeling beings. We need to connect to people on a real level. To always keep conversation safe, we find ourselves only talking about the weather. How boring is that? How much more like strangers can we be?
I understood my daughter’s angst, and I could relate to the underpinnings of disillusionment and resulting frustration. We want our friendships to be more than mere superficial exchanges. But it requires both people going out on the limb to share.
Recently I had my own experience where a good friend seemingly retreated and stopped calling and texting. She appeared to drop off the face of the earth when she started dating a guy. I thought it odd that a woman in her 40’s would revert to high school-like behavior and forget her friends. At first I was concerned and called her to check to see if she was all right. But upon hearing glowing reports about the guy, I concluded she was taking her friends for granted. I made a mention of it, and she was receptive to my concern and shortly afterwards stayed in touch. But it was short-lived.
Sometime later after they broke up, she contacted me. We renewed communication, and then she disappeared again soon after she resumed dating.
Then the ugly little gremlin of brewing resentment began ruminating inside me.
Last weekend was my last attempt, I told myself. I invited her to coffee. I realized I couldn’t act like nothing has happened and ignore the 3,000 lb elephant in the room (at least for me). I knew better than to take this personal, because people are driven to do what they do because of what’s inside them. However, resentment was present and I had to fight hard to keep my mind and heart open to give her the benefit of the doubt.
After much talk about other things, I finally broached the subject that I didn’t want to discuss, but knew I had to. I’m supposed to be a mature adult after all.
“There’s something that I want to share with you. Please know that I share this out of love and concern for you and our friendship, which I value.” I went on to say that, “It appears to me that the only time we meet is if I make the effort to contact you. Have I done anything to hurt your feelings or to alienate you? Because that was never my intent if I have. And if this retreat is intentional on your part, then I’ll accept that and respect your desire, without hard feelings.”
She was very open and receptive to this dialogue and shared that recently another friend made the same revelation to her. She apologized for disappearing like that and confirmed it wasn’t intentional. Then her tone quickly changed and her tears flowed, “It’s just that I’ve been feeling like such a failure lately. Since I haven’t been able to find a job for over a year, and it’s been very hard for me to be around people and maintain a strong and encouraging attitude.” She admitted to self-imposing these false and unrealistic expectations of herself due to the nature of her role as a teacher.
My heart broke for her. I felt shame for judging her in my mind as I had done.
Looking back, I see that it was ego driving my perception of her withdrawal and isolation. Ego makes it about me. How “I” feel about “her” disregarding our friendship. Instead of looking through love, I look through the filter of me as a victim. It doesn’t allow me to see that it has nothing to do with me, and it has to do with what’s hurting inside her. She later realized that her friends would want to know that she’s feeling frail and in need of support. That hiding this from us robs us of the opportunity to be there for her.
How many times in my life have I done this to friends and others, without them knowing? A hangman jury in my head is played out, and I scratch them off my “friend” list because they are not perfect, or don’t meet my expectations. Mind you, I’m not talking about abusive/controlling/exploitive people in this example. Those you must protect yourself from and it’s a healthy discernment to terminate that friendship.
In that moment, when she allowed her vulnerabilities to spill over onto the Kleenex, I saw the child of God that needed love and reassurance. I had no more resentment, only compassion.
We are most beautiful when we are most vulnerable. Only then do we offer another the blessing to look into our heart. This makes the way for an authentic relationship. Without sharing this naked truth, we have a ruse of a friendship, a 2-dimensional lackluster façade. And it’s in this ability to open oneself up, even to a stranger, that one invites the possibility of a friendship to take root.
I relayed my experience to my daughter and asked her to consider giving her friend the benefit of the doubt that “perhaps she’s unaware of what she does. We should extend Grace, because we don’t know what has happened in her life, the reasons she guards herself. You have been raised in a very open and intimate environment where you feel safe—in fact, encouraged —to share your feelings and thoughts naturally. If you drop the friendship without first talking to her, you rob her of the opportunity to know how special she and the friendship are to you. Disappearing punishes her for something she may be clueless about. You both lose. She misses out on the blessing of your friendship and you hers. All you can do is tell her how you feel, after that it’s up to her what she does with that. If she chooses to do nothing, then at least you acted with love and were honest.”
We never can control outcome, or what another chooses to do with our shared vulnerability. We extend them a precious gift, if they abuse it, or disregard it, then it’s their bad. We acted out of love and gave our heart willingly and with sincerity. The ability to do this, the openness to do this, the trust we exercise to be able to do this, is what makes our humanity shine. It is what will draw others to us. Weakness is real. It’s what allows us to get close and intimate with people.
According to a great book, “Safe People,” (by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend):
“It is also in our relationships that we learn the ways in which we fail to love correctly. It is only as we relate intimately to others in the body of Christ that we find out how unloving we can actually be. They tell us, we apologize, receive forgiveness, and then try to do better. Through this process of failure, forgiveness, and growth we find out the areas and ways we need to change, and God is then able to change us.”
Copyright © 2011 Ella Venezia. All Rights Reserved.