By: Bailey T. Hurley
A lot of us put up caution tape around our hearts when we hear the word vulnerability because somewhere down the friendship road, someone abused our vulnerability. Maybe a tender truth we shared was used against us. Or perhaps someone shamed us when we told them about our struggle. Instead of receiving the love and forgiveness we hoped for, we were punished and manipulated. When vulnerability is used as a weapon, we often vow to never share our heart again.
Your vulnerability is precious and should never be used against you. But deep and meaningful relationships cannot be formed without it. Is there a way to determine how to offer vulnerability in ways that will lead to life and encouragement?
Yes. Vulnerability is a gift that should be freely given, but you get to choose when, how, and to whom you give it. First, to understand what kind of friend deserves this right, consider what qualities you need to have in a friendship in order to break down your wall and show up fully.
Second, lean on the Holy Spirit, who provides us with discernment “to distinguish good from evil.” Yes, I am using the word evil here. Some women make mistakes in friendship but are still on your side; other women act in evil ways and are actively against you.
We must be prayerful about who we can trust to invite into the deep end of the friendship pool—because when you find yourself in seasons where you are drowning, some women will grab your hand to keep you from sinking, and others will enjoy watching you flail.
And third, ask yourself: Has this person earned the right to know? Does she mutually share real struggles? Is she “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger”? Is she attentive and compassionate when you confess sin, or is she withdrawn and harsh with her words? Proverbs 18:24 says, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” This is who we are looking for—the person who is willing to stick around when things heat up and you can no longer hide your sweat stains.
Not everyone—not even wonderful, nice people—needs to know your sin and speak into it. That’s not a right every person should have. Nor is it healthy. Inviting people to speak into your life is a privilege. Select wisely, pray for guidance, and take baby steps into vulnerability if you need to.
And as your friend shares her heart in return, know that you are responsible to protect what she shares. Nothing separates friends faster than gossip. Guard your friend’s words the way you want your words to be guarded.
The real goal of vulnerability is cultivating space for transformation. As followers of Jesus, we are called to spur one another on toward becoming more like Christ. God uses our friendships to help us see our faults, receive instruction, be strengthened by His Word, and find accountability.
Paul describes this relationship amid the community of Jesus in Ephesians 4. As he describes unity in the body of Christ, Paul says that gifts are given to each believer so we can all attain a oneness of faith and knowledge of Jesus, so that
…we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:14-16)
Speaking the truth in love, we will all grow together—and upward toward Jesus. Mutual maturation is good for the whole body. Years ago our small group’s mission statement was, “You matter here.” We wanted to remind people that we can only go as far as every person is willing to go. If we wanted to experience spiritual transformation, then each person needed to commit to being vulnerable. Each person’s input mattered to the growth of the entire community. We each have to show up in our friendships for vulnerability to really work its magic.
If we do everything we can to conceal all the less-than-shiny things about us, then no one can walk alongside us and encourage us along the way.
But when we expose our weaknesses and allow our friends to stand alongside us, then we no longer are tossed by the winds of false truth and the schemes of people who will prey on our vulnerabilities. We will be strong because our friendships—which are guided by Jesus—will hold us up.
My church used to call friends like these “transformation partners”: two to three people whom you met with regularly to ask and answer the tough questions. Everyone agreed beforehand that this was not a casual get-together but a divine appointment where love and accountability were expected. It was a comfortable environment to confess sin and receive love and instruction.
As intimidating as accountability and confession may sound, these types of relationships are where I have seen some of the best growth in my life. Our meetings healed wounds, made me take responsibility for my sin, and gave me the extra nudge when I was too afraid to right wrongs otherwise.
We would also pray together, and I felt like I had two warriors beside me, fighting my battles with their words.
James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
A weekly habit of confession and prayer with these friends was powerful—but only because I was honest, only because I allowed these friends to see me.
You may or may not venture into a formal transformation-partner relationship, but every meaningful friendship should have the qualities of this intimate relationship. Vulnerability is key to caring for our friends in the most important areas of their lives—and key to allowing our friends to care for us in our most important areas.
We can’t love our friends if we don’t know them.
Taken from Together Is a Beautiful Place: Finding, Keeping, and Loving Our Friends by Bailey T. Hurley. Copyright ©2022. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries.
Bailey T. Hurley is everyone’s favorite community cheerleader. She encourages women to pursue a faithful relationship with God so they can build fruitful friendships in their corner of the world. She has written on the topic of friendship and faith for publications like She Reads Truth, Salvation Army’s Peer Magazine and Grit and Virtue. She also loves podcasts! You can find her chatting all about friendship on Sally Clarkson’s podcast Life with Sally, Kristin Schell’s podcast At the Turquoise Table, and a dozen more.