From her research, Brene Brown argues that in order to engage fully in our lives -- in our relationships, in our pursuits -- we must show up and let ourselves be seen. We must embrace vulnerability, which she calls uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure (34). This “showing up” is what she means by “daring greatly” (a phrase she takes from Theodore Roosevelt’s speech “Citizenship in a Republic”, delivered at the Sorbonne on April 23, 1910).
As I wrote about recently, I have been sitting in a season of uncertainty. I have also had more opportunity this year to risk emotional exposure -- through fostering friendships and sharing my writing. All of these things stir up fear within me, and throughout this season, I have been learning to lean into uncertainty and acknowledge fear. I am also learning how to let God come alongside me and comfort me.
There have been many occasions this fall when I have prayed Brown’s vulnerability prayer, which states: Give me the courage to show up and let myself be seen. (42) And an equal number of times when I then apply the definition of courage that my kids learned at Sunday School recently. Courage, they learned, is choosing to do what God asks of you when you don’t know what will happen next.
But I still struggled, frustrated that showing up wasn’t getting any easier. What if my words or work isn’t good enough? I heard the gremlins say. And how can I be sensitive to those around me while maintaining authenticity?
Brene Brown’s visual for this struggle -- walking a tightrope -- really resonated with me, as she describes:
When we stop caring about what people think, we lose our capacity for connection. When we become defined by what people think, we lose our willingness to be vulnerable. If we dismiss all the criticism, we lose out on important feedback, but if we subject ourselves to the hatefulness, our spirits get crushed. It’s a tightrope, shame resilience is the balance bar, and the safety net below is the one or two people in our lives who can help us reality-check the criticism and cynicism. (169)
Earlier this fall I got a card in the mail from my godmother. We aren’t in touch regularly, so her words and the timing of them truly felt God-sent. She provided that safety net of reassurance in my time of doubt when she wrote:
“I have prayed that you would have the strength to stay true to your commitments and that what you do continues to be guided by your love and faithfulness to Jesus Christ. I have prayed that God would open the eyes of [those around you] so that they could see your consistency in your beliefs and your love and compassion for ALL of God’s people that he created.”
Reading Brene Brown’s words, along with the reassurance of real people in my life like my godmother, made me want to echo Brown’s message to my own critics and that doubting voice in my head, saying,
I see you, I hear you, and I’m going to do this anyway. I want you to come, but I’m not interested in your feedback (from the video “Why Your Critics Aren't the Ones Who Count”).
She admonished that: If you’re going to spend your life in the arena you need a clarity of values, at least one person you can look at you when you fail and say ‘yes, that sucked, and you were brave,’ and a seat reserved for yourself -- because you are your biggest critic.
In addition to gaining language to use in order to fight off the critics, my small group also discussed Brown’s revelation that the key to continued engagement and vulnerability is the belief in one’s own worthiness. Conveniently, we already hold a model for this in church: We are taught that our worthiness is innate. We are God’s creation, his handiwork. Brown generalizes this concept for her audience while holding the same truth:
Spirituality emerged as a fundamental guidepost in Wholeheartedness [engagement from a place of worthiness]. Not religiosity but the deeply held belief that we are inextricably connected to one another by a force greater than ourselves -- a force grounded in love and compassion. For some of us that’s God, for others it’s nature, art, or even human soulfulness. I believe that owning our worthiness is the act of acknowledging that we are sacred. Perhaps embracing vulnerability...is ultimately about the care and feeding of our spirits. (151)
In my small group at church, as we discussed how to stay grounded in our worthiness as God’s creations, we named Bible verses we can turn to in times of doubt. For me, I remember this verse:
“He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)
It reminds me that, while I am an unfinished work and continue to make mistakes, I must be worthy, because he’s not giving up on me.
With these reminders of worthiness, friends at my side, and tools to fight off critical voices, I have learned how to sit in vulnerability with God. Despite the uncertainty and risk and emotional exposure, I hope I can continue to show up in the arena, and in doing so, dare greatly.
Here you will find a catalog of my writing and reflections.