I never wanted to be a counselor.
My younger self was drawn to “big things”, purposeful things, things that take strategy and action plans and big steps. But in the way life often happen, I ended up with a counseling degree and an office with a big couch and a fluffy chair and a soothing paint color, spending hours doing the work that was quiet, hidden away and almost never felt heroic and flashy.
But what I thought was small work ended up being the big work–the work of allowing a story to unfold, allowing a person to fill in all the spaces that most of us leave out when we are tell ourselves who we really are.
In that fluffy chair in my quiet office is where I began to understand the power and the gift of vulnerability. Vulnerability is a requirement to tell the full story of our lives. The full story requires that we don’t leave anything out. It’s the story where we express the unfixable. It’s the story with the unfinished part, and we don’t try to finish it. It’s the story with the chapters of loss, disappointment, shame, sadness and emptiness. It’s also the story where we tell about our dreams of who we really desire to be. It’s where we can feel lonely and misunderstood and not enough and somehow be OK with it.
Counseling is where I learned that it’s OK to be the listener of the whole story and not have the answers. It’s where I learned that everyone on the earth needs healing simply by living on the earth. Earth is where sin is and sin is a landmine that we can’t avoid–all of us hit by its flying shrapnel, all of us creating some landmines ourselves. Counseling is where I learned to love people at their weakest. It’s where I learned to pray.
I don’t counsel professionally anymore, but my life in ministry is still full of people. Now I see vulnerability expressed over a great dinner with safe friends. I see it expressed through the unexpected depth of conversation with someone in the hall at church, or in the airport, or with a neighbor. When someone chooses to expose these real parts of life–loss, disappointment, shame, sadness, emptiness–I feel so much compassion for them. I feel a strong desire for them to know God’s healing presence, God who calls himself the father of compassion and the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3).
But what I’m also learning is that anytime I experience the gift of vulnerability in someone else, I’m also receiving an invitation. The invitation is to also embrace the vulnerability in myself. Every opportunity to pray for someone who is hurting or confused is also the opportunity to see those things in myself, to pray those same prayers. Every time I become a safe person that allows real emotion to be expressed in someone is an invitation to also be a safe person for myself to express those same emotions. Every time I see where healing is needed, I can also receive that healing.
Counseling is the place where I learned vulnerability is a gift. But it was only in the real work of life that I learned that vulnerability is also an invitation, for me, for you, for all of us. In a completely unexpected way, vulnerability is the “big thing”. It’s the true thing that we all can access, and it’s the way to express what’s broken and in need of the healing and wholeness that Jesus can bring. Vulnerability leads to truth which brings freedom and becomes strength. Choosing vulnerability for ourselves is not quick work or flashy work. It may not feel like the big stuff, but it might just be the most heroic work that each of us will ever do.
PS. Every week I cohost a podcast–and this week we are talking about the news, violence, racial tensions and what we do with it all. Check it out by downloading the Hope app here–podcast is under the ‘media’ tab!