It started young. I was the wobbly eight-year-old boy who struggled at gym. You know, the one kid who gets picked last when the captain assembles their (insert-any-sport) team? That’s me.
I remember it was gym class one morning and we were racing one another. Our gym coach didn’t notice how fast we were running until two kids tumbled and fell: One of them was me.
BAM! My right knee scrunched on hard gravel. I understood pain the way worship leaders understood their favorite worship song: Intimately.
I started to cry at the intense pain and the shame of failing my team. But it wasn’t long till the looming shadow of my coach appeared and snapped, “Get up. Stop crying. Your friend is hurt much worse than you are and he isn’t even crying. What a disgrace.”
There were no words of comfort.
For the first time in my life, under the sting of my coach and classmates’ disapproval, I began to swallow my tears and told myself: “I shouldn’t cry. I should be tough. I should be strong.”
It’s been more than 20 years since. But every time I face pain or hurt now, I still try to psych myself up with those same words. The problem is, not wanting to show vulnerability has led me to a place of emotional dishonesty as well, where I’m afraid to confront how I really feel because it would reveal that I wasn’t strong enough, that I was weak.
Now, when people say, “Hey Joe, how are you doing?”, even if I’m not well or troubled by a recent struggle, I would say, “I’m good!”, “Yeah, not bad, how about you?” and quickly divert their attention to something else.
But that, of course, is a wearisome way to live. Because not only did I close myself up to people, but inevitably, also to God.
It has taken me time to figure out that—maybe—it would be safe to open up to Jesus. After all, I’ve always been afraid that showing weakness would cause me to lose the respect of others.
Yet here was Jesus, the one who knew me inside out, yet somehow still wanted to love me wholeheartedly despite my weaknesses.
So to help any of you out there who might be struggling with emotional dishonesty too, here are some Bible passages that’ve helped me get better at being myself before God and before people.
- God always gave David renewed hope and peace when the warrior poured out his rawest feelings, even in complaint against Him. “I spill out my heart to you and tell you all my troubles.” (Ps. 142:2 TPT) These were the words that David, known for his tight relationship with God, once said to Him. David was a man who was never afraid to be vulnerable before the Lord. In fact, most of the Psalms read like a pretty emotional blog of David’s struggles. Isn’t it highly relatable and comforting to know that this man who walked alongside God so closely in the prime of his youth was also one who was so willing to spill his heart out before his King?
- God heard the groans of the Israelites oppressed in Egypt and delivered them to freedom. Who said it was weak to ask for help in times of distress and trouble?
- God personally drew near to prophet Elijah and comforted him when he was lost and in the pits of discouragement. And when Elijah cried out in despair, frustration and exhaustion, “Enough of this, God! Take my life—I’m ready to join my ancestors in the grave!”, God never answered his prayer, the man never died.
- God allowed His only Son to bear the crushing pain of loneliness in our place on the cross. There, God turned His back on Jesus as He carried the weight of our sin, and put loved one and friend far from Him, so we’d have bosom friends and loved ones today.
Today, you can be completely real with the One who knows everything you’re going to say even before you start speaking. And nothing is too small to tell God about, for His love for you is detailed and personal—He even numbers the hairs on your head! (Luke 12:7)
And when you’re able to be honest with the Lord about your weakness, that’s when He can truly become your help and strength.
If you’re struggling with vulnerability today, can I invite you to let God be the first friend whom you can safely #uglycry with? As you allow yourself to be authentic with the One who already loves you perfectly, you’ll find yourself better at being emotionally honest with others too (which can open doors to great friendships).
Know that you’re not alone in your hurts today. And share this article with someone who needs to hear this too.