The recent carnage the well-publicised disciplinary councils have wreaked among women I love and admire saddens, scares and angers me. Some of my closest friends have been afraid to be open and vulnerable with friends they’ve had for years, with women they’ve served with, even with trusted and familiar blogs. I don’t know much detail about the OW movement and recent events, but I have many dear friends who have struggled with issues this month has dredged up for them – not even touching the ordination topic or discipline measures – such as the repercussions of having bad fathers, criticism from others within the gospel, poor priesthood leadership in individual lives, unrepentant family members, and the ebb and flow of their own faith through crisis, abundance and drought. I know many women who don’t care in the least about the OW-media circus, because they’re literally trying to find money to feed their children, deal with a son’s exposure to porn, wrap their panicked thoughts around upcoming surgery, forgive those who have grievously sinned against them, adjust to their mother being in hospice, and/or because they believe otherwise to the loud. They now feel as if their situation, their feelings and thoughts are not as important – or as worth caring about – as the issues being discussed elsewhere. They don’t care about the latest news, but are scared to say so. So they say nothing, and bleed in the dark.
I’ve haemorrhaged emotionally and spiritually in the dark. It’s not a situation I’d recommend, or ever want to find myself in again. The thought of people I care for feeling that such a place is their only recourse or refuge chills and fevers me. I don’t want to become a toughened, emotionally void bit of gristle believing that anyone who lives or believes or struggles differently than I do isn’t worth my time, my listening, my consideration and conversation. I don’t want to wrap my heart in a box; I want to wrap it around people. If a friend is worried about a sickly, injured, scared or fevered part of their world, I want to know about it, to be a safe place for them to share their aching hearts. I think being honest, being vulnerable with pieces of ourselves, is like cuddling your own newborn self and then letting someone else have a hold. Newborns are delicate, sensitive, messy and precious, no matter what they look like, or what led to their birth. Just like our vulnerabilities, we need love, gentleness and consideration – even when we’re screaming.
As we all learn, our individual history isn’t something we can sluice off at the end of the conversation, or day, or hot mess of disaster. You take some of it (or it takes a mouthful of you) into the next moment, day, year and you either learn to walk with the limp, grow familiar with the scar, or continue bleeding for the rest of your life and drown yourself and those around you in your despair and negativity. Sometimes being able to approach a friend in any medium (text, email, phone call, physically or via cheese/dessert platter) and say “Hey, can I talk to you for a minute?” is the equivalent of a medal of honour, vulnerability and bravery, in the face of rejection, fear and self-doubt.
So in the midst of caution, courage and deliberate vulnerability, what is a good process to follow, a goal to have? In Brene Brown’s incredible TED Talk she suggests:
…to let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee — and that’s really hard, and I can tell you as a parent, that’s excruciatingly difficult — to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we’re wondering, “Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this?” just to be able to stop and, instead of catastrophizing what might happen, to say, “I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.”
Terrified, yes, but also tenderly, exhilaratingly, obviously open and alive. And for every time anxiety chokes me when I think of reaching out and entrusting someone with a sliver of my own wonky, twitchy heart, and every time I find myself wondering where hermit caves are advertised, I remember CS Lewis wrote:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
I don’t want to lose my friends, my sisters, to the thought that they are unloved, unwanted, unworthy, or to the feeling that their struggle is any less important than those on front pages and press releases. I don’t necessarily have to be my sister’s keeper, or teacher, or leader or preacher. But I do want to be my sisters’ sister, able and willing to carefully hold and consider whatever precious, wonky, struggling, stubborn or fluttering part of herself she chooses or needs to share.