Last week we started exploring what we believe are the most essential building blocks of any healthy relationship. Thanks again to Matt Payne for the question: “Your shared accomplishment and friendship is extraordinary. What can the ordinary person do for a friend to build a closer relationship?” Last we week we started with honesty and today we are going to explore the idea of being vulnerable. Whenever we speak on this topic, we find ourselves in conversations afterward about the fear that is associated with being vulnerable.
A few years ago, we were wrapping up the day at a dinner party. With my glass of wine in my left hand, I raised Justin’s to his lips with my right. One doesn’t normally drink wine through a straw, but since Justin can’t use his hands, it’s the safest way to avoid red stains on his clothes. We had delivered a keynote earlier in the day and now were enjoying conversation with fellow speakers, sponsors, and conference attendees.
A tall, broad shouldered man in a gray suit approached us. His salt and peppered hair combed back, his eyes narrow behind his round glasses. We recognized him from earlier when he had delivered an eloquent, thoughtful talk on community health.
He sized us up and then blurted out, “When I first saw you guys, I knew you were full of sh*t!”
Taken aback, Justin and I just looked at him. The air was suddenly tainted with a cloud of awkwardness. Both of us were thinking, is this guy for real?
Then he smiled and said, “I’m glad to know I was wrong!” The gentleman then asked how two men could have such a deep, raw and intimate connection. “I want what you guys have, I just don’t know how to do it.”
Smiling, I responded, “I can’t speak for Justin, but I know what our lifelong relationship has required of me. Complete honesty about my fears and failures, full disclosure of my temptations, and a willingness to lay down the burdens I carry so he can pick them up for me. Complete vulnerability.”
The gentleman’s narrow eyes were replaced with wide saucers. “The thought of being that open with another person, let alone another man is terrifying!”
This interaction sums up how so many feel about vulnerability. Being vulnerable is often associated with weakness and fear seems to be many a person's first reaction when challenged to be vulnerable. But there is beauty on the other side of vulnerability.
Every Monday night, we gather with a group of friends. These are people we live life with. Not too long ago, as we sat with these friends, we discussed what being vulnerable looks like. Their insights were profound. One of them stated, “Only when someone knows all of me can they truly love me.”
Only when someone knows all of me can they truly love me.
Being vulnerable is a terrifying prospect, but these words are so true. And this idea is the foundation of any close relationship. In fact, this is the cornerstone of how Justin and I operate. There isn’t a thing about me he doesn’t know. He is aware of all my fears, just as I am aware of all his failures. A healthy friendship isn’t much different than a healthy marriage. No secrets, and for better or for worse.
When we trust others with all of who we are, we are giving them the opportunity to love all of who we are. Sharing just the good stuff, just the things we are proud of, the things that don’t scare us, makes for pretty shallow relationships. But when Justin, our friends, and my wife choose to love me in spite of who I am... that's real love. It's the closest thing to unconditional love we will experience with our fellow man. But this isn't an easy thing to embrace.
Is it scary? Yes!
Is it hard? Of course!
And it is made even more difficult because to show others our weaknesses is counter culture. For some, it is even counter intuitive. But vulnerability is the foundation for everything important in relationships. This fear that often prevents us opening ourselves up to others often manifests because we fear rejection, we fear not being worthy. The trepidation is made even more powerful when we have histories of trauma or abuse. Circumstances and life experiences often give us reason to not trust others. But any healthy relationship is grounded in love and acceptance, loving each other regardless of how worthy or unworthy we might be.
A magic happens when we lay everything on the table. When people choose to accept us for who we are, in spite of who we are, we have the foundation to build something beautiful. We have the foundation of complete trust.
I would rather know I can trust someone, than wonder if I can.