When You’re Not As Vulnerable As You Think You Are

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We got to church early, knowing it would be a different Sunday.

Crowds were gathering in London from all over the world and H was warned that there might not be enough seats for everyone. He sat in an aisle seat and I placed my purse, camera, and coat on six chairs between us. Saving seats for the family of my best friend LuAnn, who just happened to be in England from Kansas the week we were scheduled to be there for a conference. We were checking off the proverbial bucket list; girlfriends worshipping together in a place we’d only dreamt about.

While we waited for their arrival, I became enthralled with watching people. The diversity they wore in their clothes, the cadence of accents representing places I’ve never been — it was like hearing a favorite forgotten melody, lost among the provincial white paint of my hometown. Dusty doors of my soul were creaking open when the voice of a teenager seated in front of me broke into my wandering thoughts.

“Are you having a good day,” he asked me holding a pastry in one hand, plastic cup in the other. He was still chewing when he turned around with the inquiry.

“Oh,” I said startled, “Yes, so far, I’m having a great day.”

He nodded and smiled, took a sip of his drink while small sleepy children were being herded into seats next to him by their au pair. “Are you here for the conference,” he asked.

I said yes and told him we’d been in England for more than a week already, visiting friends and seeing some new places.

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Through our brief exchange, I learned that he is the age of my son and recently moved to England from Austria. He likes his new school, is making friends and his family loves HTB so much they go to two services on Sunday. Then I met his mother who seems just as genuine as her son.

At first, I found it curious that a teenage boy would strike up a conversation with a middle-aged woman wearing a faraway look. Perhaps he wanted to meet an American I thought smugly.  Or maybe he has an ulterior motive, like money. But he kept asking me questions. And I kept thinking that my son would rather eat worms than talk to strangers. He’s an introvert.

It turns out that a teenager can be genuinely interested in conversation with someone a few generations older without motive. So why is that so hard to believe?

Probably because I don’t do that. I don’t talk to people I don’t know at church that way and I don’t expect it from my kids.  Because that means being vulnerable with the possibility of rejection. And I don’t go to church to be uncomfortable.

Ouch.

Sometimes it takes travelling across the world, seated among strangers to realize you aren’t as vulnerable as you think you are. Because speaking the truth and being vulnerable are not the same thing. And He loves me (and you) enough to reveal the difference.

Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection. ~Brene Brown, Daring Greatly

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Linking with Laura, Jennifer, Jen, Heather, and Emily.

  • http://dramaticelegance.blogspot.com/ rachel lee

    this is absolutely beautiful. and convicting. you really spoke hard to my heart, not going to church to be uncomfortable.

    visiting from the Sisterhood today, and blessed i am.

  • 1_lori1

    Oh I wish I could have been there….and the message wasn’t lost on me either. Pictures are breathtaking.

  • Jedidja

    This is a nice blog to read. I think European teenagers are different than American teens :-) Here in Holland youth is very open. Sometimes a bit cheeky. They grumble our generation is so introverted :-( And after the church the elderly will go home soon, while the young people want to talk about the sermon etc.

    Eh … I actually feel the same as you but the young Dutch people here are really frank.

    • Shelly Miller

      I noticed that Jedidja, the way teens are different in Europe. It would be the reverse in my hometown church. Kids can’t wait to leave, while the adults linger afterward. Thank you so much for contributing to the conversation. It’s helpful knowing your perspective.

  • Mia

    Dear Shelly
    Some people are just more extrovert than others and find a chat with a total stranger a very natural thing to do. I am one of those, but my husband not. He used to get quite irritated with me in the beginning when I would talk with anyone we met, say for instance, while we went shopping. But know he understands and just smiles. Seems to me this young man was one of those chatterboxes like me. What a beautiful church
    Mia

    • Shelly Miller

      I don’t have a hard time talking to strangers, I’m actually very extroverted and like you, my family often gets irritated by waiting on me while I chat with people. But in church, I’m not that way as much and I’m pondering why that is.

  • JViola79

    I am so glad that you shared this. It is interesting to realize the depths to which God goes to reveal a truth to us. I visited from Playdates :) & was blessed this morning.Thank you!

    • Shelly Miller

      Sometimes He does it at the most random, unexpected moments too. Thanks for visiting, so glad you were here.

  • http://heartsoulexchange.blogspot.com/ Heart n Soul

    Great post, love it when a younger generation are willing to glean from those a little older and perhaps somewhat wiser :) … such great conversations. Love your church pics too – so lovely.

    • Shelly Miller

      I took so many photos of churches while I was away. I have hundreds of them. Glad you stopped by, appreciate your comment.

  • Sarah_piecesofgrace

    That quote you ended with really speaks to me today. Your words also – so much truth.

    I find it easy to put on a ‘face’ of vulnerability and sometimes that is good enough. I feel I have been vulnerable ‘enough’ and that is good ‘enough’. But look what we/I could be missing out on with just ‘enough’.

    thank you for your words!

    • Shelly Miller

      Sarah, there is a FB discussion on this book currently underway. If you interested in joining, let me know.

  • http://3dlessons4life.wordpress.com/ Lyli Dunbar

    Obviously, this young man is ready to be a serious disciple… wow! Gives you hope for that generation when you read so much negative stuff these days…. and I agree with you, it’s convicting. Very convicting.

    Thanks for providing the link to Holy Triniity Brompton. I had a nice time exploring… :)

    • Shelly Miller

      I know Lyli, I actually thought the same thing. So impressed.

      Yes, that church is quite amazing. We’re so glad to be involved with their ministry.

  • Jillie

    Oh Shelly…Your photos are so beautiful! Absolutely love the old stone churches there in England! Such rich history in those ancient stones.

    I often wish I could be more outgoing toward others, especially in church. But I tend to protect myself from rejection too. It’s odd how we are so shy with one another, especially when we know we’ll be spending eternity with these same people. We do need to take more chances with opening ourselves up to others. They usually don’t need to hear our life story. They usually just need someone to acknowledge them and listen to them. And, eventually, someone comes along who takes a genuine interest in us…like the young man seated in front of you.

    Checked out HTB. Love Nicky Gimbel, the ‘Alpha Man’!

    • Jillie

      Or is it Gumbel? Nicky Gumbel?

    • Shelly Miller

      I think you are right Jillie, we all just need someone to care enough to listen don’t we?

      And yes, Nicky Gumbel is the bomb. He spoke and did a wonderful job interviewing speakers at the conference. It was amazing. Love that you call him the Alpha Man. :)

  • Diane Bailey

    What a great interaction. You have an anointing for the younger generation. You know that don’t you? You are amazing.

    • Shelly Miller

      Um, not so sure about that Diane. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. But thanks for your confidence in me.

  • Lynn Morrissey

    Lovely post, Shelly. Gorgeous photos. What saddened us in England (and that last visit was in 1989, so maybe it’s different now), is how these beautiful churches were nearly empty. So that you were able to worship in a place where you had to save seats and that this young man struck up a conversation is indeed very special. Funny. I have no trouble talking to strangers, but I sometimes panick if I have real time with them. Then I can withdraw. In the end, as Christ-followers, we have so much in common and it’s such a privilege to open up in vulnerabilty. That’s the place were hearts truly connect.

    I wasn’t sure what you meant by this line: “Because speaking the truth and being vulnerable are not the same thing.” Can you explain? I guess I’ve always considered them pretty much synonymous.
    Thank you for sharing, and I can’t wait for more photos!
    Love
    Lynn

    • Shelly Miller

      Yes, many of the churches are empty indeed. And it is sad.

      To explain what I mean regarding the difference between speaking the truth and being vulnerable: Vunerability requires risk and courage in the face of possible rejection that speaking the truth doesn’t often require. For instance I could say,”I have a stomach ache,” which would be truthful. But if I said, “I have a stomach ache because I just lied to someone and now I’m feeling bad about it” there is a difference. That might be a lame example but I was trying to think of something simple and less wordy for the sake of the comment box. Both statements are true but one requires us to reveal something about ourselves that can risk relationship. Most of the time vunerability requires building trust but sometimes being vulnerable to strangers opens the door to trust.

      • Lynn Morrissey

        I appreciate the distinction you are making. I think too that to be vulnerable means we always tell truth, but I can understand your perspecitive of telling it from a deeper, more personal place.

  • Kim

    Such timing, I just recently watched and then listened to Brene Brown on a ted talk and on BBC talk radio and as you were talking about vulnerability this came to mind. I often find myself in conversation with strangers who feel comfortable in sharing intimate things with me…and I always leave the interaction having gained something from it.

    • Shelly Miller

      Kim, there is a Facebook discussion on Daring Greatly by Brene Brown currently underway. If you interested in joining the conversation let me know.

  • http://twitter.com/AmyLSullivan1 Amy L. Sullivan

    I would like to jump into this post and dance around the pictures!

    • Shelly Miller

      You are so cute . . .and fun. Love having you around here to toss the confetti once in awhile.

  • Elizabeth Stewart

    Ouch! I’m the pastor’s wife and yet I too fear being that vulnerable. Thanks Shelly for being honest and helping me to see a hard truth about myself.

    • Shelly Miller

      I know Elizabeth, I think that is why I’m doubly convicted. And you know, as I’ve pondered this more, I realize I do this in general, talk to strangers that is, but I don’t at church and you would think I would do it more there being a pastors wife. I’m still wrestling with that one.

  • Starla K Smith

    oh very very true! We had a young man come to visit with a friend in our youth group. He was from Australia. He carried on conversation, seemed genuinely interested in what I was saying to him. He worshiped freely and loudly. I remember think what does this young man have the is so different from these American boys. It was so different from what I am use too: distant, aloof, or busy making light and cracking jokes…everything is a joke. He was vulnerable. It was beautiful….makes me sad for the rest of us that hold back. He had a rare freedom.

    • Shelly Miller

      Starla, I’m wondering what it is, the difference I mean in our youth and those in Europe. Why are the kids in the States not learning to engage with people like that?

      • Shelly Miller

        Starla, do you have a blog?

  • Beth

    Your pictures are beautiful Shelly. I could picture my youngest son being one that would not hesitate to strick up a conversation, and I’m always surprised by his comfort in doing so. I’m taking baby steps in allowing myself to be a bit more vulnerable…asking God to make me brave. Thank you for sharing with us. Many blessings. Beth

    • Shelly Miller

      Oh, I love that you have a son like that Beth. I guess you are taking cues from him then, in taking those baby steps. Thanks for your kind comment.

  • http://www.brennadambrosio.com/ Brenna

    You have me thinking (as you often do)….Thanks for this.

    And isn’t HTB wonderful?!

    • Shelly Miller

      Yes, it is Brenna. I’m having a hard time coming back to my little church. I grew up with worship more like what I experienced at HTB. Love knowing you lived in England for awhile. Learning more bits about you every week. You’ve had an interesting life so far my dear. Why were you in England, just curious?

  • Emily Wierenga

    yes. i wonder if this is why so many are scared off from church. because they’re scared their masks might come flying off and no one would accept them the way they were. so sad, really. i love this, dear shelly.

    • Shelly Miller

      Whoa, there is some wisdom in your words Emily. You are right.

  • http://lauraboggess.com Laura Boggess

    Oh, Shelly, these images are breathtaking. You make me want to go on an adventure…seek out a young face to talk to. Lovely, lovely stuff you give to us. And I am so glad.

    • Shelly Miller

      Oh, I like that kind of inspiration. Thanks Laura, you are always so kind to me.

  • http://www.gettingdownwithjesus.com/ dukeslee

    My goodness, girl. You are a master at creating a scene. And yes, there’s a message in here too (there always is, in your writing) but I am always, always enraptured by your ability to pull the reader into the place you were/are.

    • Shelly Miller

      Well, that means so much coming from you Jennifer. I hold your opinion in high regard. You teach writing after all. And I’m terribly hard on myself. Thank you, really.

  • Pam

    Oh, what heart-stirring photos!! Lovely…especially in conjunction with your beautiful story… – Pam, apples of gold…http://wordglow.wordpress.com

  • soulstops

    Ditto what Jennifer DL said…lovely, Shelly :)