Vulnerability - a faithful friend - truth - TRUST.

Last week I spent an evening with one of my oldest friends.  She has known me since I was 17
years old - 24 years of friendship.  Though we have not walked trough life together side by side as adults, we know each other inside and out - so much so that we can call out sin in one other after being apart for months.  We are totally alike in some ways, and completely opposites in others ... we drive each other crazy until we want to scream, but the phone number we dial first when there is a tragedy, is each other's.  We actually got into a fight while standing in line to receive our diplomas at our college graduation, and she was the first one I called when the doctor told me I had miscarried.  Our friendship is unique ... intense ... loyal ... and one I would never give up on without a fight.

And to keep our friendship intact the last time we were together, barely eight days ago, I had to fight.  And so did she.  She is always more willing to pick up her sword than I am ... it is not in her nature to run away.  Me?  I am not a runner either, but I am very good at hiding, and waiting out the person seeking to attack me.  I have been mastering this art since I was about eight years old.

And this 'skill' of mine is exactly what brought us to the wrestling mat last week.

It appears to most that I am completely transparent, open, and vulnerable - and for the most part I am.  But you see, the one doing the sharing is completely in control of WHAT is shared - and when. Writing/speaking about personal issues is quite different then being IN THE MOMENT ... feeling out of control, at the mercy of the words/attacks of others, intense emotions, embarrassment, shame, etc.  Talking about those emotions after they happen is not the same as exposing them while they happen.

Before our fight ensued, I was sharing my love for discipling and investing in the lives of young women.  I was animated and eagerly telling her about my girls and what we have been studying together.  I talked on and on about the joy I feel to be allowed into their lives and their desire to grow and learn from someone who has gone before.  (The one thing I wanted desperately when I was their age.)  When I finally finished she replied, "Of course you love it.  You are in control.  You get to choose when to be transparent, and they are not looking for a 'friend' in you.  They have friends. They need you to meet them where they are - encourage them, challenge them, push them where they don't want to go - and you can easily do that!  You are safe in a disciple/mentor relationship, Michelle, because you do not have to be vulnerable unless you want to be.  If they want you, they show up, and if they don't, a relationship is never built.  Your greatest fear never has to be considered because rejection is not a risk.  You are SAFE."

Umm ... wow.  I had to think about that.  Is my motive for discipling pure?  Am I honest and open with these girls?  Do I share the ugly parts of myself with them, or do I hide behind life experience and wisdom?  Do I feel safe?  Or would I be sad if one of them got angry with me and feel the old, familiar sting of rejection once again?  Lord?  I love these girls!  I enjoy every moment with them.  I am honest.  I do share my whole self, don't I?  I am not trying to appear as perfect or put together ... I am just me ... beautiful or ugly ... they see ME.  I suppose there is safety in the fact that our time together is always edifying and purposeful, whereas relationships with my peers present more opportunities for misunderstandings and hurt feelings.  But that is not my motive for discipleship.  I LOVE doing it!  I love pouring into others.  I love seeing the light go on when they understand a verse or discover a part of themselves they needed to see.  It is a JOY and a privilege, Lord!  But if I am missing something, please - please show me!

As you can imagine, I have spent days thinking about this and asking the Lord to reveal truth ... no matter what it might look like.  And so far - He has given me complete peace.

Before I had time to recover from this revealing insight, we were engaged in an entirely different topic that sent her whirling into frustration and anger, and made me want to call out, "Check, please!" and hightail it out of there.  (Okay, sometimes I want to run.  But I never do.  I just stand there and take it.  I never fight back.)

My friend was upset because she felt I was not honest with her about a specific hiccup in our friendship.  We disagree on many topics, and rather than engaging in an open and honest conversation, I drop it, thinking it is a waste of time because neither of us will change our thinking on the matter.  Once a situation becomes tense, I back off.  I will not bring it up again - even avoid it if possible.  But as you know - all this does is leave a gigantic, wheezing, cumbersome white elephant in the room that makes it impossible to "be at peace with one another."   My friend hates elephants.  I rather like them.

We went round and round, trying to explain our personal position on the matter and trying to understand each other.  It took a while, but finally, the frustration and anger ebbed, and was replaced with patience and vulnerability.

I cried.  She listened.  I cried more.  She cried with me.  And while I cried I revealed some things that took her by surprise and caused her to ask some more penetrating questions.

Why don't you ever talk about the 'bad', Michelle?  Why are you so afraid to burden others with your hurts?  You will sit for hours listening to the heart of another, showing great compassion and empathy, but will never ask someone to listen to YOU.  Why?

She is right - but not completely.  I am 100% open and authentic about my own personal struggles, sin, and battles.  When I clam up is when there is a problem between me and another person.  I just take it, internalize it and deal with it my own.  And there is a reason:  as a little girl I watched the devastated, crestfallen faces of people I dearly loved after being hurt by others, and I remember - with perfect accuracy - saying to myself, "I NEVER want to be responsible for that look on a person's face."  I was resolved.  And I did it.

The problem is, I spent the rest of my life apologizing for being me.  Taking the blame for things I did not do in order to protect someone or keep from hurting them.  I never shared my wounds with anyone after they hurt me because then they would feel bad.  I took the hits.  I cried alone in my room where no one could see me.  And I never, ever fought back.

Which brings us back to the question ... when do we overlook an offense, and when do we confront those who have hurt us?  There is no real answer.  It is a case-by-case basis that must be smothered, almost drowned, in prayer.

Finally, she challenged me with this thought:  When you do not tell someone close to you, someone you love, that they have hurt you, or you feel slighted/rejected/dismissed/offended - you are not showing any respect for the relationship, or any value for the person.

Hmmm ... this is something to spend time thinking about.

She continued:  Let THEM decide if they will reject you rather than assuming they will.  TRUST them with your feelings and hurts.  If they walk - they walk.  But if they stay?  You have just created another level of intimacy that will strengthen your foundation as friends for the future.  There will always be a hurdle to jump, whether it is large conflict or a silly one, and the stronger your base, the thicker the bond, the easier it will be to resolve the conflict and be restored to one another.  Loyalty is important to you, Michelle ... so let them prove their loyalty by trusting them enough to handle your emotions and your hurts, and show you that everyone does not run away just because Michelle says or does something they don't like.  Some may reject you.  They have before, and you survived.  You will survive again.

Whew.  It was a wonderful night spent with a dear friend.  It was also one of the hardest
conversations I have had in a long time.  But you know what?  She proved her own point!  We
went at it, the two of us, right there in the middle of the restaurant.  Both of us willing to fight to the death to preserve our position, both yielding at the end when we realized that the only thing at stake was our pride - not our friendship.  We left with it completely intact - stronger actually.  And her last words to me before we left?  "Thank you for engaging, Michelle.  You showed me that I am important enough for you to do something you hate doing ... fighting.  I needed to see that."

And the Lord used her to remind me how much I value the women in my life who are willing to wound me ... "faithful are the wounds of a friend" ... because they love me that much. And if I want to be faithful, I have to be willing to inflict wounds from time to time, even when the only thing I want to do,

is hide.

Lord, thank You that I am not walking this life alone.  Thank You that I do not have to walk as a Christian alone.  It is impossible!  The flesh always wants its own way - the Spirit only wants YOUR way ... and I so want to be bearing His fruit.  Keep teaching me, Lord.  Never stop showing me my weaknesses and sin.  It is hard to bear, and You know how many hurts I will carry on my back to avoid hurting someone else, but somewhere in the middle is balance.  Overlooking offenses and hurts - and facing them head on.  Keep me right in the center, Lord, with my eyes always fixed on You, the author and PERFECTER of my faith!

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