In the first 8 years of our ministry at an established church, I didn’t have a friend to my name. In those same years, I gave birth to and stayed home with three children. I remember that I willed myself not to get sick because if I was sick, I didn’t know who I would call for help. Community was something I created for other people, not something I enjoyed myself. At least that’s how I felt.
When we prepared to plant out of that church, my husband gathered prospective core team members in our living room and asked, “When you dream of what church could be, what is it that you think of?” For me, the answer was simple, and I timidly said out loud what I’d held inside for so long: “I don’t want to feel as if I stand outside of community or help make it happen but not enjoy it myself. I want our church to be the kind where I get to enjoy the inside. I want to have friends.”
What I didn’t yet realize was that community isn’t something that comes to us; it’s something that we go toward. We make choices that either invite community or hinder the very thing we long for. The reasons I struggled with friendship were many: I lacked initiative, I had very specific parameters placed around what type of friend I wanted and how they would relate to me, and I used time constraints as an excuse. But primary among them was that I chose not to take the risk and be vulnerable with other women.
God gave me a do-over with the church plant because the difficult nature of the work made it nearly impossible to hide behind carefully maintained facades or self-sufficiency. My spiritual, physical, and emotional neediness pointed like arrows toward asking wise and faithful women for help. And so I did.
Vulnerability is the spark for us to enjoy and help cultivate true community. Only through vulnerability can we fulfill the “one anothers” of Scripture—pray for one another, confess to one another, forgive one another, bear one another’s burdens—because only then do we know the burdens of others and only then do they know ours.
Vulnerability is risky and must be done wisely. I learned to move slow toward vulnerability with others and pray for God to give me wisdom and discernment not only in who I am vulnerable with but in what I share. Who are wise women around me? Who holds my confidence well? Who speaks truth with grace to others around them? Who values me as a child of God and not just as the pastor’s wife?
When we discern what to share, it’s important to note that there are some things that pastor’s wives won’t be able to talk about with anyone in our church community. However, I can almost always share about myself. I can share how God is at work in my life, how God convicts me, and how I need prayer. I can even share how I struggle with church-related things while in the constraint of details that are inappropriate to share. Simply put, vulnerability has been key for me to develop community that is not one-sided but mutual and life-giving.
I look back at those first 8 years of ministry and I see that I did, in fact, have fledgling friendships. All those prayers I had prayed to God for a friend? He actually answered it with Kelly, Jamee, Ashley, and Niki. Yet I never took the risk of vulnerability with them. I was more concerned with how to impress them rather than with how to know them or let them know me. As a result, the friendships faltered before they even truly started. I was my own worst enemy all along.
Dear one, don’t be your own worst enemy. Resist the urge to make excuses or think of yourself as “other” because of your role within the church. Yes, be wise, but don’t let fear and severe self-protection hinder the very thing that you long for. Take that risk of vulnerability.