Like most of us in high school, I worked very hard to project a certain kind of persona that I wanted people to associate with me. In my case, it was the has-it-all-together-perfect-student-perfect-person. I’m a pastor’s kid, so there was already the foundation of pressure to appear a certain way and be analysed for your mistakes (pressure that came from society and myself, NOT from my parents who are amazing). Basically I sauntered through high school, getting great grades and having tons of friends, but none with whom I was actually close because I never got vulnerable. Ever. I gave out tons of advice when people were vulnerable with me, but I never delved deeper than ‘oh I wish my English mark was a titchy bit higher’.
And for a while, this worked. I got a reputation as ‘little miss perfect’ and you know what, I loved it. But after years and years of putting on a ‘nothing phases me’ face, I got tired. Really tired. By this time I was in grade 12 and applying for a massive university scholarship that was almost full ride for my BA and BEd. Suffice to say, it was a big deal and I put a ton of work into the application. I even had to drive down to the city to take this massive general knowledge exam. Oh and did I mention my older sister won this scholarship when she was at university? No pressure there at alllll.
I didn’t get the scholarship. And looking back, I am so grateful. I recently met the girl who did, and she has to work insanely hard to keep it. The grades it demands means the stress is pretty heavy. But at the time, I was really disappointed and it was the first time I’d ever really failed at anything. Sure I failed at little things, like not placing in sports events or messing up a project and having to start over, but nothing big. Certainly nothing $50 000 big. This feeling was pretty new to me. It helped that I had never really tried anything I didn’t think I could succeed in.
Around this time, Easter came and went. I attended a Catholic high school, so it was observed in my Religion class. As part of our celebration for it, my class went down to the chapel at the beginning of class one day and sat in a circle around a wooden cross. Now my faith is the core of my life and my relationship with Jesus supersedes everything else, but I am not big on religious routines. My church is very non-traditional in that respect, so I saw the cross and grimaced, already preparing myself for an hour of boredom and cheesiness.
My teacher explained that each one of us would get a stone, and that when we were ready, one at a time we all had to talk about something in our lives that was not good, something we’d done or said or a bad habit, and place it metaphorically on the cross as we physically placed the stone. ‘Classic religious symbolism’ I thought to myself as I tried to come up with something I could say that would technically be something bad in my life but that wouldn’t actually sound too bad (it felt like preparing for the ‘what is your greatest weakness’ question at an interview). People started going up and saying little things, nothing too major. I put it off and put it off and when there was just a couple people left I cleared my throat to start.
At the time, I just thought that I would tell a good, censored version of my scholarship story and be done with it. But as I started to speak, it came out completely differently. Without even meaning too, I started talking about how I set these standards and pressures for myself in every area of my life and I constantly force myself to adhere to this perfection status. I talked about the scholarship and started crying when I got to the part about not getting it. I ended by saying how I know that my family, friends, and God love me the way I am and I don’t need to be perfect and so I’m laying my stupid standards on the cross.
What happened next was where it got good. Almost instantly, the presence of God was in the room. It’s not something I can really explain or ‘prove’ but it was powerful and real. And all of a sudden, people were asking to speak again and sharing some incredibly personal, difficult, and deep problems in their lives. We were changed from this awkward crowd of 17 year olds who were waiting out the clock to a group of vulnerable people sharing and supporting each other through each of our individual trials and suffering. To this day, it is one of the most spiritually powerful moments in my life, and I believe it happened because I finally opened up and allowed myself to be vulnerable.
Now, I am in no way taking credit for what happened. The Holy Spirit did all the work, even in bringing up those words inside of me. But I let him. I was vulnerable and real and that allowed God to work through me. Everyone who was there, even the staunch atheists, noticed the change. For weeks afterwards, we were still talking about that afternoon in the chapel. A few times we convinced our teacher to go back but it was never quite like that first time.
That was over 3 years ago now, and I still struggle with vulnerability. Old habits die hard, and sometimes I like staying safe inside my shell with my full armour of ‘perfection’ on. But I’m working on it, or really I should say the Spirit is working on it with me. So I encourage anyone out there who shies away from vulnerability like I do, to step out. Even in small ways at first (like a blog post!!). Because the power of God works through vulnerable people (look at Moses! That dude literally told God face to face he didn’t want to do what he was asked because he was scared of public speaking) and on top of that, the relationships you can build when you are vulnerable with someone are so incredibly better than the surface ones. Sure, everyone thinks you’re perfect but no one really knows you. And being vulnerable, as scary as it is, is so incredibly worth the courage it takes to step out in faith.
“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” 2 Timothy 1:7 ESV