“Bonding is the ability to establish an emotional attachment to another person. It’s the ability to relate to another on the deepest level. When two people have a bond with each other, they share their deepest thoughts, dreams, and feelings with each other with no fear that they will be rejected by the other person.” Dr. Henry Cloud, Changes That Heal
I didn’t dare be vulnerable with my peers in high school. It wasn’t safe.
I kept my interactions as superficial as possible for fear of being mistreated and rejected. I kept my thoughts, dreams, and feelings to myself. As a result, I was totally disconnected from my peers. It was painful.
I desperately wanted to belong to their inner circle but I knew they would mock me if they really knew me. I learned to keep a tough exterior. The ringleader even said of me one day “He’s so stoned!” No, I wasn’t high. But I literally felt like a stone. Hard. Silent. Cold. It was for my survival. Anything to keep myself from feeling the pain of their rejection. My social memory was traumatized by those who exploited any weakness in those around them with belittling, cynicism, and mockery.
Going beyond the superficial
In university, I started to make some good Christian friends for the first time. My experience with past friendships held me back from being vulnerable at first. But over time, being with these people felt safer. As I started to witness and experience their grace and forgiveness I felt safe enough to share my thoughts, dreams, and feelings.
Although it was terrifying, I took steps towards vulnerability with a few friends I felt safe with. I shared about my struggles with sexual sin, dating, and social awkwardness. I was surprised to discover that it was in my most vulnerable moments I felt the grace of God and their love most strongly. My willingness to be vulnerable with friends has always been a battle between competing desires: self-preservation vs vulnerability.
Vulnerability opposed my tendency for self preservation. It offended my ego. Vulnerability didn’t just happen and it didn’t come easily. Being vulnerable actually terrified me. I was immersed in a cruel culture, in which my critics were ready to pounce on my weaknesses and show disdain for me. I felt the pressure to save face and edit out anything that would threaten my image. And this was before Facebook was even a thing…
But I am living proof that the most hardened and hiding heart can learn vulnerability. For me it took a combination of a few things. A gracious group of friends and some courage on my part.
The anatomy of vulnerable friendship
God created Adam and Eve in a perfectly transparent relationship. They had nothing to hide from God or each other. After disobeying God, every relationship has been strained by the consequences of sin. We all have something to hide.
My shame and fear of rejection causes me to separate, isolate, and hide certain parts of my life from others. Why is it so hard for me to be vulnerable in friendships? Herein lies the tension.
One part of me is pulled by the echo of Eden that God planted deep within my soul. I desire to be fully known and fully loved. Despite sin’s power and sway over my heart, I still crave vulnerability in my friendships.
Another part of me desperately wants to hide the shameful parts of my life. My fear of rejection relentlessly pulls me away from being vulnerable in my friendships.
I am in a tug of warring selves.
Hidden, not healed
Those parts of me that I kept hidden remained unloved. Sadly, the more painful or shameful parts of my experience, the more reluctant I was to share it. Those were secrets that I would rather leave in the dark and never bring up. As a result, I didn’t experience the healing I needed.
I’ve been on a path towards more and more vulnerability. There are many times my internal world still looks very different from my external appearance. It is tiring to keep up the appearance of calm.
“Without a solid, bonded relationship, the human soul will become mired in psychological and emotional problems. The soul cannot prosper without being connected to others. No matter what characteristics we possess, or what accomplishments we amass, without solid emotional connectedness, without bonding to God and other humans we will suffer sickness of the soul.” Dr. Henry Cloud, Changes That Heal
Isn’t this the true test of how well the gospel is working in my life? Am I growing in my reliance upon God’s mercy and grace? Am I sharing my hard stuff with others and opening myself up to experience their mercy and grace? Or am I still trying to prove that I have it together, that I can somehow save myself.