I believe this character's name is Lowly Worm. Read on.

Vulnerability Exercises

A friend writes self-help books full of useful tips and insights I wouldn’t have thought of myself. They sell well and help many. Several years back, her publisher tasked her with writing one that touched on her own divorce. Ever compliant, she ponied up another list of to-do’s and to-don’t’s, the kind of thing she could write while watching a movie and stirring the soup. Her daughter, looking over the manuscript, offered advice: “Mom, for this to help anybody, you’re gonna have to open a vein and bleed.”

Much of this post draws life-advice from wise kids.

“Open a vein and bleed.” Dig deeper. Go out on a limb.  Take a risk. Be vulnerable.

During a solo-camping exercise at a rock climbing school in New Mexico, I got a glimpse of vulnerability’s twin sister, honesty. On my own for two or three days in the mountains, I did something I’d neglected in my journey with Jesus: sat down and read the gospels, straight through. I was dumbfounded by His interactions. He did not, it struck me, give so much as the time of day to a virtue to which I had devoted my callow twenty-four years: niceness. He spoke trenchant truth into people’s lives, tempered with love and mercy (unless He was talking to the Pharisees). He was kind, but He was not nice. Lots of times nice is a bad substitute for honest.

Neither the honesty nor the vulnerability come easy to me. You see, in fourth grade, my strategy, in life and in dodgeball, was hiding in the back of the playing field until everyone else was put out. Play it sneaky-safe and win by default. I’ve tried to outgrow this ingrained tendency, alerted to its awfulness by my younger son’s reaction, spoken with disdain: “You were that kid?!?”

Course-correction from a ten-year-old.

Yeah, I was that kid. Conflict-avoidant, reality-ducking, people-pleasing. The type of person who never gets close enough to the action to get cut, let alone bleed. So I’m on a life-long journey toward getting real enough to be of any use to anyone.

Let me share three exercises I sometimes remember to use, warm-up exercises for the race of life. They’re useful in stretching the humility muscle and the honesty tendon, keeping them pliant and ready for when life serves up bigger challenges, which it surely will. They won’t get you a medal, they’ll just prime the pump of your heart with readiness for the Spirit of Truth to flow through it.

    • Don’t default to polite and meaningless lies: Instead, Yes, you have spinach stuck in your teeth, and, actually, no, I’m not fine, but thanks for asking. That kind of thing. Admitting I chose not to answer the phone, instead of pretending I was in the shower when it rang. The habit of speaking the most trivial of truths moves me toward greater honesty.

    • Embrace lowliness in minor things: gathering my courage to admit I didn’t get a joke, or foresee the consequence of an action, or that I was the one who left the ice cream on the counter, thus running the risk of looking stupid. When I do this, looks on nearby faces often surprise me – I see it wasn’t just me.
    • Another exercise – giving and facilitating appreciation. Biting my lip when I want so badly to tell my own exploits after someone shares theirs. That lip-bite lets them be the best cook, the smartest pundit, even the more accomplished writer, by not shoe-horning my own accomplishments into the conversation. I stop protecting my brains, my dignity, my housekeeping, my self. By going lower in my interactions, instead of trying to come out on top. Giving the exact compliment I wanted for myself. Let me now repeat praise for my friend Tina, (praise I wish I merited), from that same younger son: “You think she’s just this nice woman, until you’ve talked for a while and realize she’s been a step ahead of you the whole time.” Tina keeps her brilliant self in the background and lets others shine. Years later, I’m still tickled her excellence got noticed by a teenager.

Warning: done with an agenda, this is just conversational jujitsu, using praise of the other person to make myself look noble. In that case, I’m a sleazy conversational politician. Please, may I never be like Jane Austen’s Mr. Collins, the clergyman who practices inane flatteries in private to trot out later in company. The vulnerability and the praise must be genuine, based on deep and kindhearted observation.

Because going lower is the point, whether by admitting my shortcomings or vaunting someone else’s long suits. Down low is where community lives, but to get there I must step down into vulnerability and honesty. This is not about building alliances on weaknesses, little whiny fellowships of agreed-upon complaints, but on building acceptance through recognition that we’re on this journey together. Acceptance is at the heart of kindness, and kindness, that divine magnet, draws us to each other and gives us strength to rise above our weaknesses. Most of us think we’re the only one. The only one who can’t open a combination lock, who thought Fred Astaire was one word, who turn the map upside down heading south, who had eighth grade acne. Who didn’t get the joke. Who think everyone else has their act together. Well, let me tell you, it isn’t just you, you’re not alone, and we need you, warts and all.

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As always, thanks for reading.

Philippians 2:7,8