The only way to have powerful relationships is to live with healthy vulnerability. Yet we’ve all had those experiences where we’ve shared our hearts, opened up a sensitive area in our life and another person or group didn’t handle it with care. We end up with a choice, we either close that area off, deciding to never go there again or we recover ourselves, shake off the hurt and try again in a safer setting. But is it that easy?
We all love it when someone ELSE is vulnerable, but we so often run from living vulnerable ourselves. People are so deeply touched in positive ways when you are vulnerable, but there are always those certain people, groups or situations that don’t handle our vulnerabilities well.
Christians are often notorious for putting up a very polished presentation without showing much vulnerability, but this is changing. Yet how do we walk in powerful vulnerability in a way that is wise, where we don’t throw our pearls before swine or prematurely share when it’s not the right time or place.
Are there boundaries to vulnerability? Some would say just show and say whatever you want…who cares? Others hide in a world of shame, never connecting deeply to powerful relationships. Being vulnerable is important. But how can we do this in a healthy way?
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How Vulnerable Should You Be?
Mark: How do we do this in a healthy way? What I thought we could do is, can you take a moment to share a story when you were vulnerable and it didn’t go well?
I know for me that I remember a number of times, because guys struggle with this, once you get vulnerable, showing weakness, showing any sign of struggle or any deep area where they don’t know how to answer the questions, I remember even being a parent, we had Max, and there were things I was just struggling with as a dad and figuring out, and I realized there were a lot of tools I wasn’t given. What I needed to be was just vulnerable and just go, how do I do this, how do I walk through this?
I remember trying to talk with some guys about it and just sharing, and I remember literally one time, a guy looked at me and he was like, “Yeah, I don’t struggle with that.” After taking a moment of bearing my soul and sharing a struggle in my life, it’s like the worst thing to say to somebody when they tell you something of their heart or a struggle is to go, “Yeah, I don’t struggle with that.”
My first instinct was punch him in the face, followed by something’s wrong with me. Then what it did was it made me not want to share again, made me not want to go there again.
Melissa: Isn’t that what really happens? Wow. As you’re talking, I have many things flowing through my mind right now.
Melissa: First off, I feel like that, I think we all can relate to the area of family. We’ve had certain times and seasons in our life when we are going through different things, and obviously, I think for most of us, the first response is to want to share with family. I think at certain times, that just did not land well, because whether it’s family, friends or whatever, they’re not on the same journey as you. It just doesn’t go well, because you want them, especially family, you want them to grab your heart and hold it, and yes, I hear what you’re going through. That can just be so hard.
The one thing I will say that does jump out at me as a specific circumstance is when we were kind of newly diagnosed with Max and autism, and this whole world, and being devastated that it was happening to us, we went to see friends of ours, and share with them, and it just kind of, I was very raw, and going through a very tough time. I made some statements about it, about my pain about it, and they said nothing.
Mark: You got the blank stare.
Melissa: They said nothing. Now, I’m not going to give more details about the situation, but you wouldn’t have expected that these people said nothing.
Mark: You know what’s funny–
Melissa: You know what I’m talking about. You remember the time I’m talking about.
Mark: I know the situation, but the problem is that I actually have ten other ones that did the same thing, and it shows our inability of people to connect authentically and to be vulnerable, and to have someone be vulnerable and our response be one that allows them to feel okay for sharing, because if you respond well, the person can not only feel better, but they can feel comfortable to process through how to overcome, how to heal, but if not, you can go into some bad places. That’s where most people get locked up relationally, is we had a bad experience, and then we go, “I’m not doing that again.”
Melissa: Yeah. I think to another, little point that I want to bring out that I think happens a lot of the time, especially in the church world, when now we have the prophetic movement, we have a lot of things that I feel like people are tapping into, I remember very specifically, in between Max and Abby we had a miscarriage. I shared that when, as soon as it happened I shared it with someone, and their response to me was, “I know. God showed me that, that you were going to have a miscarriage.”
Don’t ever say that, whether it’s about a miscarriage or anything else in your life, “I know, God had already showed me, I was already praying for you.”… No.
Mark: They took your vulnerability to make themselves shine.
Melissa: And got pride, right, “well I knew that was going to happen to you.” “Oh, that is, okay, well I’m glad you knew.” I think that we have a lot of dysfunction when it comes around vulnerability. My goodness, we could stay on this for weeks and weeks and weeks. Do you have a good story?
Mark: I have a lot of times where I’ve heard other people share vulnerability, and whenever I hear someone who’s maybe well known, or maybe somebody who is on a stage, or has a moment to share, I’ve seen lots of very, very good moments of vulnerability, and I celebrate that. What I feel like, when I hear a pastor or someone talk, and they share and they delve into their struggle, and they talk about them, you get a sense of vulnerability that’s powerful, and you can feel their anointed self rising up, but then what happens is they sometimes want to backpedal out of it or wash it over, but it’s like, I want to cheer them on and say “hang in there, hang in there.”
Melissa: Right and say “Stop, stop, stay right there, right”.
Mark: And give people in that a sense of, because here’s where vulnerability’s powerful, is when you share the struggle and the tension, but then you share the victories you’ve learned, and then you point to where you’re headed. That’s what vulnerability, I believe, needs to be. Otherwise, we see really bad, now, where have you seen someone be vulnerable and it was awkward, and it was really like, oh no, this is not good?
Melissa: I think probably one of the most glaring ones that I think about through my lifetime, you and I were dating, and we were attending a church, and I went to their youth camp that summer. There was just a passionate move of God going on during worship. It was really great, and you could feel all of the passion, it was teenagers, you could feel all of the kids just getting massively touched.
A young man stands up, and he wants to share, and he gets up. Now, just to give some history on this, the young man is dating the daughter of a pretty established family in the church. This is a large church. He’s dating the daughter of, I’m just driving this point home, a very well known, established family in the church. He gets up and begins to talk about his very bad pornography addiction and sex addition, and how it’s gotten perverted.
Mark: In front of everybody.
Melissa: In front of–
Melissa: Hundreds of kids and adults and young adults and everyone. I did not personally know what to do. After, I remember speaking to you because I remember, he was actually very proud of himself. We need to even talk about that, because he was proud of himself that he shared and confessed, so how do you make that safe without TMI, but I remember looking at her. I will never forget this as long as I live. I could weep to this day. It was really, in a lot of ways, me coming into a lot of understanding about the spiritual atmosphere and things that are going on and what’s kind of hanging on people, for a lack of better words. When he spoke that, immediately my clarity over what I thought I had been seeing on her just illuminated, and my heart for her, and what she had been indoctrinated into in dating this boy, and what she maybe had been forced to do, or defiled by, immediately, it wasn’t about it. I think everybody was looking at her, the dirtiness on her, what had she done. In that moment, back then, I had no idea what to do, and I don’t think anybody really knew what to do about it. That’s a big story, and I’ve shared.
Mark: Because we’ve not had vulnerable teaching in training and safety, it’s like we’re filled up with all this stuff that we feel guilt or shame or things we’re battling in, and then it’s like we have these moments where it just goes boom. Social media’s a big avenue of that. People will say, “I’m being vulnerable,” and then what they do is they kind of victim-blast their friends–
Melissa: That’s a great statement, Mark.
Mark: By saying, “I’m just being vulnerable, and I’m just going to be real,” and so because of that, they feel that they can just say whatever they want. They wear the victim card, they wear the victim thing, “another day just not going,” and it’s great to share struggle. Please, don’t get me wrong. It’s great to share struggle, but sometimes we do it so that people will just come to us and, “Oh no, it’s okay, it’s going to be okay.”
Melissa: Which I think we see on social media. You and I have actually been quite surprised at many people we know pouring out stories that, to be honest with you, that is the very first time sharing. And you know this for a fact, I have never shared that story publicly about that young girl. I want to say it’s been 12, 13 years. People will come immediately out of situations, and then, for a lack of better words, vomit it all over friends, family, internet, bashing churches, and do it in a way where they think they’re being elusive. Thinking, “well I’m just insinuating, I’m not calling out the name of this person”. Well, we all know who you’re talking about.
Mark: Correct. Like: “Today’s not a good day.” “People who love you don’t always treat you right.” “#getamanwholovesyou.”
Melissa: “#marriagesucks.” Okay, well, we know, that’s a gotcha. We know what you’re talking about.
Mark: Vulnerability is, and there’s even, this has become a very big word people are using. In fact, there was a TED talk on the power of vulnerability. There’s more discussion happening in this arena, because we’re trying to move people into a vulnerable place, but it takes two things. It takes a person knowing, having wisdom when and how to express that vulnerability, and it takes a culture that can handle it safely, the culture being the person listening, or the group and setting. For instance, when you’re talking about a sex addiction, the best place to not do it is in a large crowd, because the people there can’t necessarily handle that. Now, you may get up and share it in a redemptive story of what God healed you from, but I still even feel that we’re still in a tension, because people still can’t even handle someone getting free, because they can look back and go, then you get the judgments and accusations.
Still, in the midst of it, you have to make a wise decision of, I’m going to share this, and I’m going to share it anyway for the sake of those who will really be blessed, healed by it. There’s vulnerability at a large level with people, which is social media, crowds, and even small groups. Then there’s the vulnerability of one-on-one, and I think that the question I want to ask is, how is our capacity to be vulnerable and allow somebody else to be vulnerable, how is that formed?
Melissa: Wow. What first comes to mind for me, and you and I have been having conversations about this, I think that as I’m raising my children and thinking about my own life, on how comfortable am I in being vulnerable, and it, for me, goes back to my childhood. I’ve talked about this many times on this show. We are very poor at bringing people in, and hey, come into the kingdom, come into the kingdom, but we are very poor at teaching people how to have healthy family life in the church. We’re all in process of trying to figure out how to be healthy family together, and if we can start talking about, I don’t even, you know, I’m going to actually stop talking about it as the church, because it’s the family. We’re the family of God. We’re in the kingdom and family of God.
Mark: That’s right.
Melissa: We need to start acting in such a way. Well, as you know, I’ve talked about this. We come from deep brokenness in family. Sibling relationships, mother-father, grandparents, et cetera, now you come into the church, and you are expected to act appropriately as such with brother and sister, father-mother, et cetera. Now as a child, a lot of us, I know, I’m even catching myself in times where I’m busy, as I’m watching us raise our own children.
Abby will come in, and Abby as a girl, she wants to process everything out. Some of the times, I have no idea what she’s talking about. She just loves to talk. She loves to create conversation. She just, those of you who have young kids, or especially young girls, you know they just ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba. There can be a tendency, because I know I do have a sarcastic personality, where I can be like, “Okay, Abby. Mm-hmm. You can go play now,” or those kinds of things, and really, it’s being dismissive, and it’s subtle. I think there are subtle and there are extreme things where we were ignored as children. We weren’t given room to come in and process. Now, we’re very big, as soon as we get our kids from school, “How was your day?” “Tell me little things.” “How did you feel today?” We’re not going crazy. We’re not obsessive parents, but we’re trying to make their conversation, their hearts, have a safe place to land and process out life.
Mark: What you’re talking about, too, it spells rejection in the sense of when you’re ignored, or when somebody shares and it’s diminished. Wow, I really connect to that. There’s many times I really went through a battle, shared it, and felt like it was minimized, and that’s not a big deal, don’t worry about it. I even think too, Abby was dealing with something she was afraid of this morning that she was processing through, and it reminded me, it took me back to being a kid, and sharing that, and then getting the response, “Ah, don’t worry about it,” because as an adult, we’re like, that fear is not really a big deal. Well then, that fear grows into another fear, and the next thing you know, you have a person who’s older who’s struggling with chronic anxiety and they don’t know why because they don’t know how to process through their struggles in a safe arena.
I think if we do this well, we’d probably solve half of the issues people struggle with, because once you feel loved and safe, you don’t feel condemned. That’s where the enemy does his greatest work, is not just creating a problem that you struggle with, a door point that he comes in, but it’s in its accusing you for having it. You understand what I’m saying? Not only do you have, not only are we going to push this issue, this temptation in your life, but we’re going to beat you up for having it, so vulnerability creates a safe place to say you can talk about this, and there’s no shame. You’re okay. Our responses create a place where it gets formed in our kids, and it gets formed in us. Then later in life, we go to a church and we share, and it doesn’t work out and we get hurt, I think that we carry a lot of stuff that we transpose onto people.
Melissa: I think that this is why we’re seeing such an epidemic, which is why, forgive me if I’m wrong, but our rejection book is our top-selling book, because we’re bleeding out these issues of being ignored, not being heard, not feeling safe, and so you can go into one or two extremes. I know we’ve seen this many times. You go into a group, and you have that, even a parent meeting or a small group or whatever, and you have that one person that just won’t shut up. They are vomiting out their story. They are vomiting out their pain. It’s because they’re finally now adults, and they’re like, darn it, someone’s going to hear me. Someone’s going to hear me and someone’s going to validate me. They’re so obsessed with feeling that way and getting that need satisfied that we’re seeing everybody just walking around–
Melissa: Right, or then you have the people that go into isolation and, oh, I do not feel safe, and I am not going around these people, and I am not telling them anything about my life, and I don’t trust anybody. Then we have that where we have everybody in their private closet, and they’re isolating from relationship, and that’s horrible too. It’s such a passion of ours to get people to feel safe.
Mark: There’s a question here in our live feed that I want to respond to that says, “How do you handle that, when people use the victim card?”
Melissa: Great question.
Mark: I think it all depends on what kind of relationship I have with the person. If I have a close relationship with the person, and let’s say somebody’s posted a victim vomit on social media, which goes to hundreds and hundreds of their friends, and they forget even who else is included in that list that’s seeing this, because we have to remember, social media is your friends, quote unquote, with people who you’re not close to, or you just know because he’s your mechanic, or you know because someone from school or whatever. When you share those kind of things, it’s not necessarily the right thing to share with everybody. When the victim thing gets poured out, I may private message the person. I’m not going to sit there in the comment section and just feed the waterfall that’s going on here. I may private message them and say, “Hey, are you struggling with this, do you want to talk?” if that’s the relationship we have.
It may be like, if there’s something they’re talking about, because a lot of times, people will pour out victim things about their finances, or things, and it’s like, there’s probably a better way to find a way to express that and talk with people out. Hey, is there a way I could be an encouragement to that? Sometimes if it’s a person that you have relational credibility with, it’s okay to sometimes even say that may not be the best way to share. Why don’t you let us know, the people who care about you, what we can do about it, because I really believe, vulnerability, here’s the thing. Vulnerability needs to, at its biggest place, be redemptive. What I mean by that, God is a redeeming God. He takes things that go evil, that go in pain, and He redeems them. He takes them back. He buys them back. He changes them, fixes them, heals those areas. Vulnerability needs to be a tool for redemption.
I asked a friend years ago, “When do you know when to be vulnerable and when not?” He said something that I thought was interesting. He said, “I always try to let vulnerability to be used redemptively.” I’m not necessarily, if my wife and I have an argument about something that we’re still fresh and trying to work out, going to just share that with everybody, because that’s not redemptive, but if it’s like, this is something that we’ve solved, or here’s something we’re moving to, here’s something we’re pushing towards, I think that’s where vulnerability is the most powerful.
There was a day where I shared in a church setting I was working at my struggle with anxiety. I was still making my turn, but I was a lot freer than I was, so it was a great time to use vulnerability to share that. It wouldn’t necessarily be good to share, hey, I’m struggling and I don’t know what to do, because then that leaves people in an uncomfortable position of like, okay, what do we do here. If someone’s like, man, I’ve been struggling with this, and here’s where I’m headed, and you find a safe group or a safe avenue to do that, of people who can support that, then it’s powerful.
I think one-on-ones and small group settings are the best places to do that because it gets a response for people who love you to be able to gather around and support that, and be mindful of that.
Melissa: As you’re talking, it’s really just raising my desire to see healthy, wise people be raised up. I know you and I are always on the radar lookout of people that you would, I know you just did an episode on this, deem “safe people.” An example of that would be a leader of a small group who, when someone may be oversharing or, I’ll use the term vomiting out their story, they know how to lovingly say, to give a guard to the group, because they’re watching over the group, being a watchman over the group, to say to that person, “You’ve been through a lot. We love you. Brother or sister, you’re safe here.” Let’s take this conversation into private, we have personal ministry, we need to start really seeing those people come to the forefront who know how to be wise, who know how to lead a situation and watch over a situation, because these are the examples that we need, people we don’t have them. We don’t have them, but there are people out there.
I know that you’re someone that I look to for that. We have some great friendships in our life that I think people have those capabilities, to be watchmen over situations and be loving and be kind.
Mark: Be a safe person.
Melissa: Be safe, and be wise, that I know that when I leave that room, they are not turning to whoever and going, “Oh my goodness, did you hear that?” We need more of this in the church, and I think that we need that desire in our hearts to start saying, hey, I want to be that person, not because you want to be in the know of what’s going on with everything, but I want to be that safe person to start really building the family of Christ, the family of God to become a safe, loving family.
Mark: That when something is shared, my response is, going back to the safe episode that I talked about, safe relationships, excuse me, sorry, that I will be a safe person in how I respond. I will be a safe person in how I deal, and I think people need practice in that. Stop staring at people when they share vulnerability. Start off with saying thank you for sharing that. I really honor you for being vulnerable in that. I want to be a support to you and a help to you in this way.
Mark: If you’re giving advice on this subject, and you’re wanting to help people, answer this question of how vulnerable should I be? Where do we need to begin? Talking about the person and you being vulnerable, where should we begin with that?
Melissa: I think that, for me, you begin to find safe people. Go back to the episode, was it last week? We need to find safe people. There are those times where people have these great God encounters, and man, I didn’t think I could ever share this with somebody, and boom, it happened. I think there are times when God moves, but I think that we need to look at practicality and wisdom when we’re sharing, and find people who are safe, who will honor your heart, who will protect your heart, who will keep you safe. I think that that’s key and that’s number one.
Mark: What if somebody says, I’m playing the advocate here of the opposite, “I’ve tried that. I can’t find anybody”? I know my response is–
Melissa: Keep trying.
Mark: Be a safe person. Because you will find–
Melissa: You will attract, yes, at some point you will–
Mark: You will attract and find who you are. Sometimes we want to attract what we want to be, and really, we attract what we’re cultivating in our own lives. That’s our number one priority as a ministry, as a couple, is that when you’re with us, there’s safety that’s there. I think that I get into my own mind and my own thought process of what motivates me in being vulnerable, because I’ve been vulnerable many times and it didn’t work, probably more than when it did work. When your batting average is .350, that’s a good batting average, even though you swung ten times and six or seven of them–
Melissa: Don’t bring math into it.
Mark: Six or seven of them didn’t go well, but three or four of them went well, in baseball, it’s great. Anyway, I think that the mindset of vulnerability needs to be established of, you have a personal lifestyle where you don’t have anything to hide. You know what I’m saying? I’m not trying– I’m not trying to hide things. It’s not that everybody knows–
Melissa: You’re not wearing it all over you. Hey, I did this.
Mark: In my walk with God, He has carte blanche to deal with me in issues, and the people closest to me, starting with my wife, and mentors or people that have established close relationship, they have ability to talk into and we can conversate about any area, because I’ve made a decision that I want to walk in the light as he is in the light. That’s a powerful scripture, because the Bible says, “When we walk in the Light as He is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another.” Did you hear that? If I’m open season for God to deal with any area of my life, it moves me into greater fellowship. You hear that in the verse? If we walk in the light, in other words, if you have this light living relationship with the Father, then you have fellowship with others. It’s like, wow.
Melissa: They go hand in hand.
Mark: How that connects, it moves me into being able to have greater relationships. I feel that being vulnerable takes courage, and takes a risk, and sometimes I don’t just jump on the first instinct of maybe you should share this. I just kind of marinate on it a little bit, and think it over, but then I face the fear and take the risk. When I do it and it doesn’t work out, and this is a big thing I would say to people, and you take the opportunity to share, and this, to answer the question how vulnerable should you be, it’s in increments. You don’t dump the truck. You always begin in increments, because trust is built over time. You don’t just 100 percent trust somebody overnight. Even in your relationship with God, you don’t 100 percent trust Him when you became a believer. Let’s just get real.
Melissa: Right, you don’t.
Mark: Give me a break. If you say, “Oh, I did. I did, 100 percent.” No, you didn’t. You had areas of fear, doubts. You got lists of stuff, if we’re going to dig in. We always have those areas. That’s the dynamic of relationship. You grow in trusting God. We’re growing in trusting God. He’s learning to trust us. I shouldn’t say learning. He’s seeing where He can trust us with the tools of His kingdom. You start in increments, but whenever I do share and it doesn’t work out, I always celebrate that hey, I took a step.
Remember that time I was working with somebody, this is a job I’d had years ago, and I had gotten really vulnerable with him in a way to encourage him, and it went terrible? He just stared and me and then walked out of the room. I was like, I felt such shame, and I should have never shared that, and now he knows those things I struggled with, and he knows those areas of my battle, and you jumped all over it. I called you on my way home, and you were like, no, that was great that you shared, and we’re going to celebrate that. That was really helpful for me, because it encouraged me that when I do, it’s not, it might seem like a strikeout but it’s not.
Melissa: Absolutely, and if I could just encourage, before we end today, that if those of you that are married, this begins in the home, and I think that, when Mark and I started off, because it’s something that you will show as an example to your children, when Mark and I started, there was amazing moments where nothing was hidden. Nothing was hidden from each other, and we made it 100 percent safe to share. This is what I went through…This is what happened to me. He loved me through it, prayed with each other through those things, and I think that when you can start your marriage like that, and you know what, you could be 20, 30, whatever, how many years in, I want to encourage, sit down together and be like, how can we be more vulnerable, because that vulnerability leads to greater intimacy. We want that. It’s really what we’re all pining for, isn’t it?
Mark: That’s right.
Melissa: We all want that. We want to feel safe. We want to feel connected. I cannot tell you how many conversations I have with people. We have this constantly. I’ve been to certain places, I was sharing with Mark and friends of ours not that long ago, I went to a Girl Scout meeting where they were at the VFW, and all these military people were together, and they had a connectivity that was, it was just awesome. It was something I wanted. I was like, man, why isn’t the church operating a little bit better, like this, where they have a commonality and a connectivity that’s just awesome that we all are desiring.
I think that if we can just begin to seeing that in each other, that when people maybe are oversharing or not sharing or whatever, really it’s desire of everyone’s heart. We want to feel safe. We want to feel accepted. We want to feel connected, and we want to ultimately be able to say, you know what, I can be vulnerable with this person, because they accept me.
Mark: When somebody is oversharing, it’s a sign of what their huge need is.
Melissa: Oh my gosh, big time.
Mark: That they have a need to be heard, a need to be understood, a need to be validated, and that’s why we teach so much on the rejection minds, because that has to be healed, but sometimes they just need loving people around them to give them an atmosphere where they can go, okay, I need to deal with this stuff.
This is good.