That’s the message I woke up to yesterday morning. And it immediately made me smile. Despite the laundry that I needed to do. And the dream I’d just had in which I woke up at 5 p.m. and missed the Cowboys game (weird, I know… apparently in the dream I wasn’t worried about the fact that I had also missed my accountability group meeting).
The message was from someone I haven’t seen–let alone danced with–in 7 or 8 years. He lives 18 hours from me. We’ve probably only “spoken” 3 times in the intervening years. But his message was a nice one to wake up to and brought back some of my favorite memories of swing dancing in barns in Colorado.
Where am I going with this? It occurred to me that his message was brave. At least by the skewed sense of risk that many of us have internalized in our relationships. I’ve spent a lot of time this week thinking about that sense of risk.
It started when I was talking to someone about being afraid of going in to the hospital next week. This particular brand of fear is unusual for me. She was trying to help me think through why I felt that way. Basically by pulling that toddler trick of asking “why?” after everything I said. (Lucky for her, I like overanalyzing things and when people challenge me to dig beneath my initial perceptions. Someone else would probably hit her. Or put her in a time out.)
I won’t go into all the details, but essentially I walked away from that conversation convinced that the primary reason I was feeling so apprehensive was that I didn’t want people to see me as weak or needing help (umm… being in the hospital and possibly crying… yeah, that’s going to come across as weak and/or needing help). I was afraid that my usual armor of control and humor was going to be missing and I might get hurt. I wasn’t afraid of a specific kind of hurt. Just a general “Ahhh, where’s my armor? Anyone could hurt me” kind of hurt.
As I turned this over in my head, I started to feel pretty shallow. Mainly because of the double standard I was carrying around. When other people have the humility and vulnerability to set down their armor and let me help them or encourage them, I feel honored. Closer to them. Encouraged by their trust to be more trusting myself. It may look like I’m reaching out to help them, but really they’re reaching out first to invite the help. It’s a reciprocal growth that builds both of us up.
Actually, the people that I perceive as weak are the ones who refuse to peek out from behind their armor. Who try to control and manipulate others. Who don’t have the strength to allow others close despite obviously craving connection. The ones who choose to satisfy their deep craving for real connection with shallow things like attention and surface-level inclusion (ahem, see prior post on gossip) because they don’t have the courage to expose their true selves to others for fear of being hurt.
And I don’t mean to downplay their fear. Yes, they might get hurt. When my friend said “How’s my favorite dance partner?,” I might have thought “Weird, this guy is a creep.” I’m sure that would feel embarrassing for him. Or I might not have remembered him. Also embarrassing. He might have ended up wishing he hadn’t said anything to me. Hadn’t tried to connect.
But, really, what’s the worst thing that could happen? So he’s momentarily embarrassed. If you think about it, my reaction would have had a lot to do with myself and not a lot to do with him. And I would have missed out on the smile I wore for the first 10 minutes of the day yesterday morning… a morning that I really needed to start with a smile.
If our positions were reversed, I would hope that the potential joy of reaching out and connecting would have outweighed the risk of rejection. And that my feet are planted on ground so solid that rejection can’t cut very deep. That my value is so firmly rooted in something stronger that it wouldn’t occur to me to fear such a marginal risk of rejection. (hint: God made me. Therefore, I am awesome.)
But the reality is that we often hold back from connecting based on an imagined fear of how someone might react. Often an overinflated fear that lurks in the shadows. And when we pull it out into the light, we realize that it’s just a tiny little fear puppy… not the terrifying monster we thought we heard lurking over there.
To top off all of this introspection, I read this verse in my quiet time yesterday afternoon:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, ESV)
(Side note: I’m always shocked by how often I spend days and days coming to a conclusion that’s written out in the Word already. Like trying to come up with calculus rules instead of looking in the dang text book. Yes, I am shaking my head at myself right now.)
So… Give your smiles freely. Try to make others smile. Stop worrying about how they might read into your behavior. Love without holding back. And when it goes awry (and life is messy so it will occasionally go awry), be kind and clear in how you proceed in that relationship. If you burn your hand, you don’t wrap it in a hard cast for the rest of your life. Even if it hurts like fire. You take care of it, it heals, and eventually it’s as good as new. And you appreciate it more because you know that it can be hurt.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
― Maya Angelou
Also, I’m going to read Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly while I’m in the hospital next week, so if you don’t like all this “vulnerability” talk… you are seriously out of luck.