By: Wendy Mattner
October 22nd, 2021
In the first 2 parts of this series, we've been talking about the value of relational connection. In today's article, our focus will be on vulnerability.
Vulnerability is built on trust and builds trust, and it happens when people get to a point where they are completely comfortable being transparent and honest with one another. They can say and genuinely mean things like “I messed up” or “I need help,” “your idea is better than mine” and even “I’m sorry.” At the heart of this vulnerability lies the willingness of people to abandon their pride and fear and to sacrifice their egos for the good of the relationship.1 Although this can be a little threatening and uncomfortable at first, ultimately it can become liberating for folks who are tired of wasting time and energy overthinking their actions and managing interpersonal shenanigans.
Vulnerability is built on trust and builds trust
Let's get back to Elijah, from the previous articles, and his relationship with God. After he is given rest and food, Elijah went further south to Horeb, the mountain of God, and hid in a cave. It was there that God moved toward him. When we want to understand what it looks like to "move toward" another in an effort to love and connect relationally, we look to the character of God.
"For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them." (Ezekiel 34:11)
"For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." (Luke 19:10)
God pursued people when they were suffering in bondage in Egypt. He pursued people when they were hardened in their own sin. God’s people reject him and hold him in contempt, but he responds by moving toward them and guiding them through the wilderness.2
When we want to understand what it looks like to "move toward" another in an effort to love and connect relationally, we look to the character of God.
It was in that moment of pursuit, that God spoke to Elijah; "What are you doing here, Elijah?" In response to Elijah's muddled response, God "passes by" and dramatically manifests himself through wind, earthquake and fire. And he continued to pursue when, after all of this, the gentle voice came in a whisper. Finally, in response to hearing God's voice, Elijah covered his face and moved to the mouth of the cave...he was finally ready to hear from God, his trusted friend.
Then, God patiently speaks to him again and asks him "What are you doing here Elijah?" Elijah's response was raw and honest. This is exactly where God wants to meet us! He knows what we're thinking and feeling already; why not just be honest with him and agree with what he already knows. It's in this vulnerable place, that we can finally get down to business with our creator.
Elijah's response was filled with pride and self-pity. He had expected the revival that had started on Mt Carmel to continue when he got back to Jezreel. However, he was utterly disappointed when he got there. The king had not changed a bit, and the people were no longer chanting "The Lord, he is God! The Lord, he is God!" God was obviously not on the same page as him. Elijah felt like he was the only faithful one left and that he could not be the lone prophet anymore. Elijah's response to God's question begins to flush out the clouded thinking that had infiltrated his heart.
In his disappointment, Elijah had forgotten! He forgot how big God was when He ministered to Elijah's needs through a widow. He forgot how big God was when God answered his prayers and held back the rain. Elijah's trigger, the button of his heart, had been pushed...perhaps his button was a desire to be valued, significant or successful...perhaps it's just pride, plain and simple, and Elijah was thinking that, somehow, he had developed the best plan and that things should roll out his way...or perhaps his heart's desire was not to look like a failure...?
Whatever the motive, Elijah's thinking went sideways! Eyes off of God and onto self...BOOM! Captivated by his clouded thinking, Elijah could not even muster up the trust to believe that God would protect him from Queen Jezebel.
God knows what we're thinking and feeling already; why not just be honest with him and agree with what he already knows.
God patiently and deliberately speaks to each one of Elijah's troubled thoughts. God lets Elijah know that he was going to bring justice; but it was going to be God's way! God went on to explain his succession plan to Elijah along with instructions to carry out that plan. God challenged Elijah's thought that he was "the only one left" by reminding Elijah that there was still a remnant of 7000 who had not yet bowed the knee to a foreign god...Elijah was not alone. And, by the way, Elijah did not have to do this alone; God was going to give Elijah a helper, and his name was Elisha.3
Like Elijah, we all need to lean into God, with raw honesty and vulnerability. We need to allow God to renew our thinking so that we can intentionally view our circumstances (however crummy they may be) through the acceptance and reality of God's perfect plan for our life.
God desires to connect with us as evidenced by the unfolding of Elijah's story. Just as God moved toward Elijah, God moves toward us. We need to recognize and respond to his desire for relational connection with us. And then, similarly, as his servants, we do the same; we move toward others. Because we are relentlessly pursued, especially when we are not worthy of such pursuit, we also become pursuers. We turn toward others and move in their direction.
Like Elijah, we all need to lean into God, with raw honesty and vulnerability.
In our last article, Lauren and her parents had established trust and were moving toward each other. When a foundation of trust is solidly in place, it creates a safe space to lean in and find out about others. When a person feels safe, they feel free to open up and share in an authentic and honest way. This vulnerability opens the door for honest discussion, dialogue and debate. "It’s safe here and I’m free to speak my mind and to speak the truth in love." Because of this, Lauren was able to be real and honest about her life and divulge that she did not feel valued or loved by her parents. She felt that their love for her was conditional on her behavior. In the absence of love, she withdrew from them and started getting involved in some risky behaviors including sneaking out at night and getting involved sexually with some of her boyfriends. In response to Lauren's behavior, her parents imposed more rules and appeared to love less as they became more and more exasperated.
Lauren's parents were also given the safe platform to share their perspective. They felt that they were getting "locked up" as Lauren's behaviors had gotten more and more risky. They were over their heads and didn't know what to do!
When they were all able to open their hearts and divulge the real struggle, we were finally able to move forward. The healing began when they could each say and genuinely mean things like "I’m sorry” and "I need help to do this better." At the heart of this vulnerability was the willingness of both Lauren and her parents to think the best of each other.
As we were able to enter this new safe space, we were able to problem solve together. We had the freedom develop a plan for mom and dad with strategies to create safe boundaries for Lauren. And Lauren was in the right frame of mind to commit to the agreed-upon boundaries and accountability. They also all agreed to value one another and demonstrate unconditional love accordingly. 4
When they were all able to open their hearts and divulge the real struggle, we were finally able to move forward.
How about you? Have your buttons been pushed? Have your circumstances become bigger than your God? Does your self-talk reflect clouded thinking? "What's up with this, Lord? This is not the way it's supposed to roll. This situation and these circumstances are not what I signed up for. I am weary of this business...there's no winning here. I just want to be done with this..."
When we hold on too tightly to our own plan and/or expectations, we can easily slip into the sideways thinking that begins as a pity party and quickly grows into a full-blown pride fest. Like Elijah, we need to allow God to renew our thinking and put Him in his rightful place on the throne of our hearts. With God's help, we can learn to pivot, holding onto our plans loosely, changing course when needed, all the while keeping one foot firmly planted in God's truth, trusting that God will do what God will do. We can always rest assured that God has a plan that we don't know or see. And more importantly, his plan is infinitely better than ours!
We can always rest assured that God has a plan that we don't know or see.
The old adage says, "we can't give what we don't possess, and we can't share what we haven't experienced." This is so true. Because only after we see and recognize that God is moving toward us, can we begin to feel his renewing presence in our lives. Only after we respond to God in a real, honest and vulnerable way, can we begin to personally engage with his tender mercies in our lives. Only after we have experienced these things ourselves, can we begin to empower others to do the same. This is how the kingdom of heaven works. Sins scatters people, grace draws us toward each other. Let's extend that grace and connect relationally with those who God places in our sphere of influence.
Next week, in the final article in this series, we'll dig into some communication skills that, when cultivated, will help us to meaningfully and powerfully connect with others.
Lencioni, P. The Five Disfunctions of a Team p195-196
Welch, E. Moving Toward People. www.ccef.org
I Kings 18 & 19
The names used in this scenario are false names to protect the people’s anonymity