Within the past several months, my husband and I have moved across the country to settle in a new city. And while I have been adjusting to a different rhythm of lifestyle and location, I've found that my fear isn't of a new place but rather, a fear of new people.
Community feels much easier when you're already known by those people. You've already broken down your walls with each other. You know each other's struggles, what causes hurt, what makes one another tick. But in a new community, there is a sense of hesitation in opening up and being vulnerable.
At the root of it, the fear of vulnerability lies in the fear of being known and even worse, being rejected when being known. This can lead us to pursue a surface level kind of community, a safe version of community. We put on a mask, and like an actor, we play pretend. We shove down any inward expression of feeling and act like we're perfectly fine on the outside.
I've performed this act more times than I would like to admit. I've avoided voicing certain prayer requests and have shared others that weren't as emotional. I've lied to others when they asked how I was doing, saying that I was great, while inside my heart was breaking. I've shifted the conversation to focus on another to dodge being asked questions about myself.
A lack of vulnerability may seem like a safe option, but it results in a heavy heart. God designed us to have intentional, life-giving relationships with one another. He designed us with emotions and feelings that aren't meant to be suppressed but expressed to one another. If we resolve to live a life free from vulnerability, our hearts will shatter under the weight of trying to hold it all together ourselves.
Countless movie plots have revealed the detrimental outcome of living a facade. A person wants to win the approval of a group of people or a potential suitor, so they completely transform themselves into something they're not. But the more they try to maintain this different persona the more difficult it is to keep up the act. Soon enough, they have lost the relationships around them, and even worse, they've lost themselves.
To live as someone else is to resist the person God created you to be. The more you keep your mask on, the more of a stranger you'll become. A well-known pastor once explained that to be 99% known is to be unknown.
I don't want to get to the end of my life and realize that I failed to be my genuine self with people–that the person others saw and knew was actually a safe version of myself. If I'm half myself and half someone else, I am a whole stranger. It is only when we are genuine with others that we reveal our true selves.
Jesus Christ demonstrated this perfectly. By becoming human, Christ allowed Himself to be the most vulnerable. And He didn't come with a mask on, pretending to be human; He was human. He didn't walk among others acting like He had it all together. He didn't refrain from people but pursued them. He didn't hide any part of Himself but invited others in. He displayed emotion in front of others, even weeping in their presence. Furthermore, He experienced the highest form of vulnerability by laying bare on a cross.
Through Christ's vulnerability, He made possible our own. God created us to know Him and to be known in return. But through the fall, our sin separated us from our relationship with God. Through Christ's death and resurrection, those who trust in Him are reconciled to God, restoring what once was broken. As a result, we receive what our hearts crave the most–we are truly known and truly loved. Out of the vulnerability we have with the Lord, we in turn give our whole selves to others. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 2:8, "We cared so much for you that we were pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us" (CSB).
If we want others to know Christ, we can't offer them a perfectly manicured version of ourselves. We can't share the gospel while clinging to an image of ourselves that isn't true. The gospel isn't a neatly packaged message but a deeply vulnerable invitation. We reflect the vulnerability of Christ by allowing ourselves to be known no matter the cost. And as a result, we allow others to be vulnerable in return. It is when we allow the dam of our hearts to break and release the outpouring of our feelings that others will feel encouraged to do the same. It is when we confess our sin instead of hiding it that others feel safe to do the same. It is when we take off our mask and reveal our tired eyes and tear-streaked faces that others will feel welcome to do the same.
Christian community was designed to bear each other's burdens, but to allow others to carry our burdens, we must share them. To experience the joy of fellowship, we must be our authentic selves. And even if we are rejected in being known, we can rest in not only being fully known by God but fully loved. We can come to Him and bare our soul, knowing that He sees every part of it anyway and loves us no matter what. Because of our reconciliation, we will never face rejection from our Heavenly Father. He beckons us to approach Him with confidence, not hiding in any way but freely coming into His presence, imperfections and all.
Don't let the fear of vulnerability keep you from experiencing life-giving community. There is freedom in removing the mask, so take it off and let yourself be known by your brothers and sisters in Christ.