The purpose of the 3×5 cards was two-fold: a few atta-boys and a few constructive criticisms per person.
We were more than halfway through our nine months together; a perfect time to step back and re-evaluate. Ministries can be fantastic breeding grounds for misunderstandings and hurt feelings, so we strived to keep our communication strong.
Our group of seven staff felt safe, but we swapped the rectangles full of words and braced ourselves for the inevitable.
I naturally read the compliments first. The accolades boosted my confidence as a leader and confirmed feelings we previously exchanged in person: I liked them, they liked me… life was bueno.
I flipped to the negative sides, but honestly didn’t expect anything too crushing. My thirties had become drastically different since God moved us to Baja, Mexico, but I felt like my corner of the world was clicking along pretty well.
My husband and I were the directors of a gap-year ministry for college freshmen and our own young kids were absorbing Spanish faster than we could say, “Que?”
We were out of debt, out of the rat race and right where we thought God wanted us.
Ministry life proved challenging at times, but in my personal life I felt pretty good about how our staff and students perceived me as a mentor. There were little things I knew I could improve, but I basically read the cards with curiosity, not fear.
The zinger came from our youngest female staff member.
“I wish you were more vulnerable.”
Uhh… what? Like she wanted me to share dark secrets, confess failures and admit weakness? Thanks—I’ll pass.
- She wasn’t married—I was at the end of decade two.
- She didn’t want kids—I had them.
- She was an intern—I was the director’s wife.
- She just turned 20—I was almost 40.
- She was on her fourth tattoo—I avoided pain.
We had fun together, but how could she possibly understand anything personal going on in my life when we were so different?
And then, another card.
“When you never share any hardships in your life, it makes it look like you don’t have any. I feel like I can’t ever be as perfect as you.”
Whoa there. Perfect? I knew I hadn’t shared much with either of them, but I was so far from perfect. Why in the world would they think such things?
On the inside it was blatantly obvious to me that I did not have it all figured out. But on the outside I had inadvertently conveyed solid confidence.
I was not cocky, I was confident. There’s a difference.
Neither of those cards communicated terrible criticisms, but they caught me off guard. I assumed our relationships were productive, lighthearted and fun. I asked probing questions, and even gave examples of my past to help make points.
But I rarely ever gave examples of my present.
And that’s exactly what they longed for: an older woman, not quite old enough to be their mom, to come alongside them in their journey and admit life didn’t turn blissful when God moved me to another country. Or how I felt guilty about letting our kids watch another video while I went to another meeting. Or when we passed year 15 and marriage was still hard.
If you ask me why I’m always on the lookout for an older, female Christ-follower, I will tell you this: I want to know what makes her tick. I want to know how she plans on serving in retirement, how she got past her husband’s idiosyncrasies, what she considers one parenting flop and one success, how she avoids gossip and what kind of media she takes in.
Her social media life can be a window into her world, but that’s not usually an accurate indicator of reality. I’m talking about being in her home, watching how she builds up or talks down to her husband, how she guards or flaps her tongue and how she treats telemarketers.
And when I find women who do everything in their power to make their lives look squeaky clean and ridiculously put together, I move on. I am not interested in knick-knack collections, Facebook boasting, hair and makeup before exercise, extravagant vacations, more diamonds, or the neighborhood 411.
I want the things that matter. The Kingdom-oriented meat. The fruit in their lives that makes me want to strive for similar fruit.
I think that’s exactly what younger women look for in my generation, too.
- Ladies who aren’t afraid to tell it how it is.
- Real women who live what they preach.
- Female role models who care more about obeying God than what’s politically correct or fashion forward.
So why have so many of us lived behind that facade of perfection for so many years? Can we blame it on The Cleavers? Martha Stuart? Oprah? The Crawley Family? Sure—go ahead. But that won’t negate the fact that we all have a responsibility to the next generation.
“Similarly, teach the older women to live in a way that honors God. They must not slander others or be heavy drinkers. Instead, they should teach others what is good. These older women must train the younger women to love their husbands and their children, to live wisely and be pure, to work in their homes, to do good, and to be submissive to their husbands. Then they will not bring shame on the word of God.” ~ Titus 2:3-5
Not a popular cluster of verses, I know. But a necessary one.
The younger ones in the crowd who may appear to be calm and confident, but remind us of ourselves when we had taut skin and baggy jeans? They’re searching, looking, watching.
And just because they’ve grown up with Google at their finger tips doesn’t mean they want to type “How to find a Godly mentor who doesn’t have it all figured out and isn’t afraid to be vulnerable” into a search engine.
I recently heard Carol Kent speak at a writers conference about when her son was incarcerated for first-degree murder. When Carol shared her situation with an acquaintance the woman said, “I used to think you were perfect, but now I think we could be friends.”
Ouch. And wow. And thanks for the tip.
Like most women, I long to be authentic. However, I’m learning how difficult it is to truly embrace such a quality without vulnerability.
Satan hates vulnerability, especially between Christians who desire to be more Christ-like in their authenticity. That’s the humble work that tears down walls, inspires change and opens us up to depth.
As Brené Brown says, “Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.”
Positive change… depth… connection. Not exactly a barrel of monkeys, but undeniably rich.
When I find someone safe, I now try to practice the art of being vulnerable. Not gigantic chunks at a time; just little bits of my ugly. Small glimpses of pride, selfishness, insecurity.
Sounds fun and easy, right? Ha ha.
Of course it’s not easy. If it were, everyone would be doing it. But my motivation lies in hearing a younger woman say, “Oh, good—I thought I was the only one.”
And it continues when older an woman shares things that make me say, “Oh, good—I thought I was the only one.”
“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.
Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”
~ Brené Brown
Are you striving to appear all put together? (I still catch myself all the time!) Think of how you might tone it down a notch in order to put others at ease.
It’s hard for us to see ourselves in a non-bias light. Are you willing to ask a close friend or family member how you come across to others?