When to Be Vulnerable
Behind the veneer of spiritual leadership, some of us carry deep struggles or dark secrets: pain from past abuse, guilt over sin, or a sense of spiritual failure. Should we tell others about our struggles? If so, how?
It can be difficult to know when we should share our struggles, sins, and failures in a public forum. There definitely is a time and place to talk about areas of brokenness in our lives, but it's not up to us to initiate. On the journey of transformation, God is the one who will prompt us and reveal to us when we should share with others what's been going on in our lives. It's our job to listen…and be obedient.
When God prompts us to go public, it's important to think about how to best communicate our story. When the focus is entirely on failure, it ends up being a story that can sensationalize sin. Instead, when we share, it's vital we focus on God's redeeming narrative, emphasizing what he has done and is doing in our lives.
Choosing to be vulnerable certainly means sharing our brokenness, but it also ought to always include communicating how God is restoring us. It is God's work—not the sin or failure we divulge—that truly inspires and encourages people. When our focus is on God's work, our story transforms from a confession of brokenness into a testimony of restoration.
One important principle to keep in mind is that we ought to keep some struggles private¬—only sharing them with close friends, a counselor, or mentors—until we've returned to a point of spiritual health and restoration. For example, in my late teens and early twenties, I struggled with a looking at porn and unhealthy relationships. It wasn't until three years after I'd recovered from that struggle that I shared about it in a public setting. I wrote an article for a magazine from a women's perspective; pointing out that sexual struggles are not just a "male problem"—women have many of the same temptations. I described what God has taught me through my past and explained what I do now in order to stay healthy.
Sharing about this part of my past publicly was healing for me, but a lot of other people also found hope in my story. She got through it so I can do this too, they think. It's something I like to call The Gift of Going Second. Confessing something first is always difficult, but in doing so, you're letting others know they're not alone and you give them the gift of following suit.
Ultimately it comes down to the motivation of your heart. If you desire to help people by sharing about personal demons, I definitely encourage you to do that. Just be prepared: As soon as you are vulnerable, you will also be criticized. As much as I would love to say that the church is the safest place in the world for people to confess their sins and failings, the reality is that inevitably there will be people who will judge you. So if you're going to open up publicly about something difficult, prepare yourself: Surround yourself with truth and supportive friends. Being obedient regardless of the outcome is what's important.
If God is prompting you to go public with a hidden pain or struggle, don't let fear stop you. Fear wants to keep the bad things hidden; fear wants you to live a life full of secret shame, lacking purpose, lacking holiness, and lacking purity. But that's not what God intended for you! It feels scary, but it's worth it to tell your story. The feelings of fear won't go away, but you can act courageously despite the fear. The world really needs you to.
Anne Jackson is a writer, speaker, and Clinical Psychology student based in Michigan. She is the author of Permission to Speak Freely: Essays and Art on Fear, Confession and Grace and Mad Church Disease: Overcoming the Burnout Epidemic. annejacksonwrites.com.