Faith Column: Vulnerability
… And the need that we ignore
Undoubtedly, these past few weeks have been challenging ones. With all the final projects and exams, the campus is full of tired and restless individuals. It might be hard to look past cranky classmates and the sound of your alarm clock that seems to go off sooner and sooner every morning. However, something beautiful happens during this stressful time: vulnerability.
Every Thursday afternoon, the multi-faith chaplaincy hosts an interfaith dialogue. People from all walks of life are encouraged to come and discuss aspects of life and faith. A little while ago, we had a discussion revolving around the question, “where is God?” The chaplains had some candles burning and conducted the discussion in a very ‘turn-by-turn’ manner. Each person was free to say what he or she thought without anyone else commenting on it. After a couple of rounds of this dialogue, people started sharing very honestly about their struggles with belief or lack thereof. Erica Marshall, a social work student at Mount Royal who has been actively involved in these dialogues, was very aware of the atmosphere change that occurred.
“Everyone was being vulnerable in their opinions and that’s what made it more special than the other dialogues. People were being real. We responded to that and we were grateful for that.”
The chaplaincy office strives to be a safe place for people to express such thoughts and opinions. In everyday life, though, people don’t always know where to find safe spaces like this. Friends may have let them down, gossip might have spread, or opinions could have been rejected. What do all these poor experiences with being vulnerable lead to? A lack of community.
I’m sure you’ve all had experiences where people weren’t real with you. You got the fake smile or had the phrase “everything is fine”. Sometimes, that’s all that is appropriate. But how many times have you had people you thought were close friends do the same thing? What is it that causes people to close up so much and throw up walls, even in safe spaces? Marshall attributes it to a fear of being judged or rejected.
I’m not naïve. I know these are responses that people can get sometimes. Being vulnerable can be risky business.
Experiencing rejection or judgment from others can be quick training on how to stay sheltered and put walls between oneself and others. So how and why are we supposed to keep putting ourselves out there and being honest with so much risk involved? I’d like to argue that we do it because it is necessary. God created us to be in community with each other. He doesn’t want us to be islands unto ourselves. That is probably one of the reasons why so many people are struggling with depression these days. People crave community. We have social needs. There is a certain level of detachment one can live at, but it’s often more hindering than helpful. Openness is refreshing and life-giving. It connects us back to who we really are after we’ve been so caught up in who we think we are supposed to be.
The friends that I am the closest to and the relationships I value the most are the ones where tears have been shed (both from sadness and laughter), secrets shared and real conversations happened. I’m not suggesting people start crying to people they’ve never met (although that could be an interesting start to a relationship). Wisdom and discernment are definitely needed. Once you’re there, you’ll never grow any closer without being honest.
As exams wrap up, find people you can stress with and celebrate with. As the holidays roll in, find people with whom you can reflect on the past year. Simon and Garfunkel might contest that a rock feels no pain and an island never cries. However, I would also contest that rocks and islands don’t feel much joy either. Take a chance on people. They might surprise you.
As this is the last issue of 2013, I want to wish you all happy holidays and I sincerely hope you have a fabulous break from work and school! I pray that you can find rest surrounded by those that love you and that you have a fabulous New Year!