Young or old, it can be hard to talk about things that matter most: our deepest yearnings, fears, pain, and joy. Making yourself vulnerable to another requires courage and a safe, nonjudgmental audience: be it friend, family member, therapist, or faith community.
If we have such a listener we are blessed. To be known and accepted as we are paradoxically allows us to grow and to change. Shame is diminished. Healing happens. Courage grows. We’re empowered to risk trying new and healthier behavior if we know ahead of time that failure will not bring rejection.
Psychologist Carl Rogers said, “Total attention feels like love.” When we listen with unconditional acceptance we give a gift of new possibilities, even transformation. Whoever finds such a friend is blessed. Whoever is such a friend stands on holy ground.
But what if your have no such friend? Or you do, but you don’t know where to start?
Write it down. As close to the bone as you can bear. Even if you never share it. The writing itself will give you words for telling your own story – or parts of it – when you want or need to have a difficult conversation.
In my small church members are encouraged to write and share a “spiritual” autobiography. The question we start with is “How, where, when have you sensed God at work in your life?” The answer to this question almost always involves the recognition of need in a time of distress.
We’ve found that community is deepened where members really know one another – and are willing to be known. It helps us care for and pray for one another in an authentic way. It also increases our humility, in the same way Alcoholics Anonymous does when they open each meeting with members saying, “I’m Mary and I’m an alcoholic.” Revealing vulnerability has a wonderful leveling effect.
If the word “God” doesn’t work for you, substitute “Love.”
Writing the unvarnished story of one’s life – any life – will reveal challenges, shame, disappointments, lessons learned, courage, survival, even triumph. It can put the writer in touch with her/his own darkness and light, weakness and strength. Simply remembering what one has survived increases courage and hope. And gratitude.