Most people don’t know how to deal with people who are vulnerable. We are used to superficial conversations and don’t expect anyone to really answer us more than one word to the obligatory question, how are you.
It reminds me of a scene from Wayne’s World. One of the main characters runs into a friend at bar/club. This friend intensely looks at him and confides that he loves him. The main character’s response was an awkward thank you and then he just dances off.
While this was a funny scene in that movie, most people are just as awkward when others are sharing personal feelings with them. We get uncomfortable when someone is vulnerable, and we avoid exposure of issues in our own life.
Can I Just Take Back What I Said?
I remember when I first got married, my wife and I joined a newly married Sunday school class at church. It was a great class in many ways as we were all in the same phase of life and many of us were looking for some kind of connection with others.
During one of the classes, we split up between the men and women in attempt to get more personal. We were asked to share something we feared about marriage. People were sharing things not being able to love well, the loss of freedom, and stupid fights they had. Everyone was in agreement with all the shares.
Then, I remembered sharing that I feared that I may cheat on my wife at some point. The reaction to me was as if I said I was planning on doing it. I visibly shocked the group. Everyone got quiet, and I felt like an axe murderer. Something must be wrong with me.
Keeping Things Hidden
I learned pretty quickly that this was not something that should be shared. I also learned that something must be terribly wrong with me. I’m not like everyone else. It is best to keep the dark things inside me hidden.
The thing is that what is keep in the dark doesn’t go away; it grows. We need to get things out into the light if we want to find healing. We need a safe place to share these thoughts and fears so that they don’t overtake us.
Women, in general, have an easier time with sharing personal things about themselves, but they actually also struggle with this. Listen to many women’s conversations and you’ll find that they are talking more, but it’s about parenting, busyness, food, etc. They are not sharing how they tend to feel they need alcohol to relax or how they are afraid their husband will find someone else when he is away at work. Not that every woman deals with this, but those that do need a safe place to find help.
How To Create a Safe Community
Here are a few rules to help keep a sharing community safe:
1. Don’t Fix People.
When people share, they often know what they are thinking or doing is wrong. They don’t need others to remind them of that. Pull back on the desire to offer advice or Scripture. What they need more than anything else is someone to listen and say, “I’ll still be your friend.”
2. Don’t Freak Out.
Not everyone is the same and the struggles of one person more than likely are not those of you. Trust in God’s abundant mercy. Listening to someone is not the same as condoning what they have done. You are giving them space to overcome it. Most Christians know the things they are sharing are wrong, but the still need to get it in the open to find the healing they need.
3. Maintain The Group’s Desire To Follow Jesus.
Don’t allow the group to focus on self-pity or justifying what they have done. The sharing should be limited to just long enough to expose their fears, so that the light of Christ can come in. Some people will not say much to avoid what scares them; others will talk a lot and never touch the real fears. This will take practice and will need to be modeled. But never let the group forget Jesus is good and He loves each of you the group.
All of us have some people in our lives, but knowing people and having real connections are not the same thing. We often only tell other people those things that we know they want to hear. We censor those things we fear will bring us rejection. However, this censoring keeps us from feeling fully accepted, because there is a part of us we don’t want others to see.
To find a method to create relationships where you can be yourself, check out Mark Peterson’s book: ManAlive.
4. Trust the Holy Spirit.
Assuming you have a Christian group, trust the Holy Spirit to take this person on a journey of healing. There may be thoughts and experiences that arise that are not right, but if you keep a high value on the other points, you will give room for the Holy Spirit to self-correct the group. He may lead them in a different path than you would take them on, but you want to get them dependent on God and not you. God will never stop loving them and will complete the work He started in them. Trust that He loves that person more than you do.
5. Remind Them of Who They Are.
When people vulnerably share, they will immediately feel exposed and want to hide out of shame. This is when you need to remind them of your friendship with them and how God sees them. Many people feel that God can longer use them, will not continue to love them, or doesn’t have any more good things for them because of what they have done or the thoughts that go on in their head. They need your words of affirmation, especially at times they are just shared something they think will get them rejected. This is a great time to ask God what He says about them.
6. Share Vulnerably With Them.
Vulnerability will lead others to be vulnerable. People are afraid of being exposed and need someone to lead the way. As they see you share embarrassing things and find strength at the other end, it gives them the courage to do the same.
We Need to Create Safe Communities
We need to expose those things we are afraid that others may find out, because until we do those areas will hinder how God can use us. Our fear of those things will create a wall of protection to keep God and others away, so that we can keep them hidden and us safe. Can you imagine what it would be like to live without fear?
A safe community will lead people out of fear and shame. And, with those bondages removed, more and more Christians can find the freedom to completely live out of who God created them to be.