Vulnerability, authenticity, being genuine, being open, being transparent, being accountable, being real, being honest and exposing our hearts and souls has become a common pursuit in church culture during my lifetime. Not that it was never a pursuit in churches, but in today’s culture, we have taken up the noble pursuit of breaking through the walls we put around ourselves to hide our ‘true natures’.
Someone once told me that ‘trust is built in vulnerable moments.’ I was really afraid of being vulnerable because I was afraid of being hurt. That some part of me would be rejected or judged. But I built a relationship on trust with that person by being vulnerable. Then I ended up breaking it in a vulnerable moment. Vulnerability is so crucial to earning trust that we must pursue it and as a community, we must promote it.
I call this a noble pursuit for the same reason we have taken to pursuing it; we aim to open ourselves up so that nobody feels the need to hide anymore and they can be themselves. If I am completely open and honest with someone, I have created an environment where anyone can reveal anything about themselves with no judgement. Now, by that sentence, we should already know that this isn’t quite true intuitively.
For instance, if I talked about my past engagements in sexual relationships with a sexual predator or murderer, chances are he is not going to feel like he can tell me about rapes or murders committed along the way when compared to my more ‘mild’ atrocities. Its an extreme example, but natural tendencies to hide what we have done exist because of such social pressures. These are the social pressures we are attempting to remove. So we proclaim our communities as places free from these pressures. But this, I am afraid has unearthed a new, dangerous, rabbit hole.
The danger to this is not that we haven’t eliminated our natural tendencies to hide those details that we believe will earn us judgement, but that we won’t admit they still exist within ourselves and those around us. We all attempt to be open and honest and we live in a world where authenticity reigns. Its a concerted effort. But in doing so, we expect those around us to be completely transparent with us because of all we have told them. What happens when you feel the need to hide something?
We have now created a new place to hide things. Now, things that we feel others are sharing give us room to share our own selves, but that which we don’t want to share goes even deeper. Under the pretense that we have shared everything, we have a level people don’t even ask about because they expect you to tell them everything. And we go back into the old cycle where if I have something to hide, I will feel like I am the only one, since everyone else is talking about all their problems all the time, I must be the only one with a problem this bad, and I will hide it while telling you everything else.
And even worse, since we expect everyone to be open all the time, when we find out they are not, we judge them not only for not telling us and going along with our new cultural pursuit of authenticity, but we judge them for doing something that is “so much worse” than what the rest of us are doing (as if God has a REAL problem with what they did, but not with what you did).
A quote I love: ‘The church only gives grace for the sins that everyone in church does.’ But even more than that, it only gives graces for sins that everyone already knows about and tolerates regularly.
If you really want an environment of vulnerability, where people are vulnerable with each other, you need to first understand grace. And then you need to develop deep relationships with people that generate trust. So when they fail, grace will be given. Just as you need grace for your failures. Failures are vulnerable moments and grace builds trust in those moments
We have access to an infinite amount of grace. We sing about needing it all the time, but if you aren’t willing to dish it out, there’s no reason anyone should tell you anything about themselves. In fact, its probably better that they don’t. So don’t expect them to.
Now, this isn’t to say that authenticity is bad. Given that I just explained how to get better authenticity. And I called it a noble pursuit. And its important to community that people not lie to and hide from each other. Just don’t force it in peoples face and expect it to work. Just clarifying.