I woke up, stepped into my slippers and walked in to the bathroom, and I looked in the mirror as tears welled up and spilled over. How could I possibly be crying at 7:00 in the morning?! “What is wrong with me?!”
My husband looked across the room and through the bathroom door and said, “Oh my gosh! What’s wrong? What’s the matter?” And all I could do was cry more and choke out the words, “I can’t do it today. I just can’t.”
I was supposed to give the devotional that morning at our home church’s staff meeting. While we were home on furlough, we had been given an office at the church to use as our home-base for work. We had been home for several months, in transition between the ending of our first five-year mission assignment to new role in a new country. The staff at the church had been great, giving us a work space, welcoming us back in to the family, and treating us like we belonged. It had been great! Yet, here I was… crying. The normally confident I-can-do-anything missionary who had just managed to survive founding three eductional programs, a feeding program, starting a community garden project and raising goats and chicken in rural Peru was now cratering at the bathroom sink and saying, “I can’t do it.” How did I get to that place???
Bottom line… I’m great at wearing the mask.
I hadn’t been ‘okay’ for a long time. I had been on a downward spiral for well over a year or so. I had been suffering and hurting for more months than I could count. But, I am a master at covering it up. So, other than my husband, no one really knew what was going on inside of me.
On the outside, I still looked like that I-can-do-anything missionary. I continued to go to speaking engagements and talk about our life and work with passion and poise. I continued to teach at missions conferences and bible studies and church groups. In fact, the deeper I got with my own pain, the more things I signed up to do. I wrote a curriculum for a six-week missions course. I traveled and spoke and taught. I took online master’s courses. I volunteered to help anyone and everyone.
My to-do list was keeping me alive… but it was killing me, too. Busyness is my coping mechanism. If I’m busy, I don’t have to face the truth about my feelings. So I stayed busy. REAL busy. It’s better than sitting alone and crying, right?
On that morning, I woke up and crawled out of bed, and then I lost it. Where I usually would have strolled right in to that staff meeting and given an awesome, thought provoking devotional and led a rousing discusion afterward, I was now crying and paralyzed and unable to make a coherent sentence other than, “I can’t do it.”
It had to be God-given instruction after that, because the idea certainly wasn’t coming from me! When I stopped crying and got myself dressed, I knew what I had to do. I had to come clean.
I walked in to that staff devotional time and I stood up and said, “I don’t really have a devotional for you today. I have a confession. I’m tired of lying to you. I’m tired of people asking me, ‘How are you? How does it feel to be home? How are you doing with the transition?’ and my answer is always a happy, ‘Fine. I’m good. I’m excited about the transition. Life’s good.’ Well… it’s not. I’m not. I’m not fine. Life’s not good. I’m not excited. I am sad and I am scared and I am worried about the transition and I am not at all okay. I’m not fine.”
I remember looking out at the chapel and seeing a room full of stunned faces and thinking to myself, Now they think you’re crazy… good job. You scared them to death.
I continued to tell about what I was feeling, even though I thought that I had just sealed my fate and ended my career. I mean, once you messed up, you might as well mess it up big, right? I told about how sad we had been to leave Peru. I told about how hard it was to be back in The States and how hard it was to be ‘home’ when it didn’t feel like ‘home’ anymore. I told about how scared I was about changing mission fields and assignments, and how I didn’t know if I could do it again. I told about how I was afraid that I had been so successful in Peru and I was petrified that I couldn’t live up to that success in another context… what if I am a failure in another country?
It was the hardest talk I ever gave.
Vulnerability is hard.
But, guess what…
After that talk, my office was flooded with people who came in and sat down to talk. People who usually just chatted in the hallway or stuck their head in to say hi were now pulling up and chair and staying for an hour or so. People started to tell me real things, deep things, honest things about their lives and their struggles. It was like, not only did I take off my mask, but I gave everyone else permission to take off theirs, too! Everyone became real, all at once. It was great.
I had felt so vulnerable and so raw at that moment of coming clean. It was so hard. Seriously, it had to be God’s hand and his spirit moving me to do it, because I certainly wouldn’t have made that step alone!
But something else was really interesting, too. Where I felt vulnerable and raw, other people were saying, “thank you for having the courage to share with us” and “that was so courageous of you to! I couldn’t stand up and do that. You’re amazing.” I even had one person say, “Thank you for telling me the truth. I always thought of you as superhuman and untouchable. Now you are real to me. I love you so much more for it.”
I’ve learned a lot about myself since then. I’ve learned a lot about vulnerability, too. And I know more about how to keep myself mentally healthy while I serve others.
When have you witnessed someone else being vulnerable with their story? Did it seem courageous to you, or crazy?
Have you had a big vulnerability moment?
What are your coping mechanisms when you are stressed or overwhelmed?
To learn more about vulnerability, I highly suggest you see these:
or read one of her many books… my favorite is Daring Greatly by Brene Brown