I wish I had learned earlier to trust others with the deepest parts of me. I wish I had understood that there are people who can know the worst about me and still love me, people who are willing to go to hard places and sit there with me as long as they need to, people who refuse to let me get stuck in my misery, who call out in me what is good. How different my life might have been.
For me, it took a crisis to plunge me, almost without my consent, into finally living vulnerably. It has been one of the great, good gifts in my life.
The same was true for my friend, Anne, though she got there much younger than me. She has written beautifully about that experience in her new book, Lean On Me.
Lean on Me is not a stale “how to” book with seven action points to automatically fix all your relationship woes. It is a story. A glorious, difficult, hope-filled story.
I am comforted in the idea that Jesus rarely instructed without parable. Truth is communicated through stories; they are principles that wear flesh and breathe air and feel pain and joy. Recalling a quote from Madeleine L’Engle, “Jesus was not a theologian. He was God who told stories.”
Like any good story, it will speak to different people in different ways. Here are some of the passages that were particularly poignant for me.
On Practicing Vulnerability:
A great misunderstanding in the world is that we must wait until we feel safe to be vulnerable with other people. They must earn our trust and show us they will not take our wounds and cause them to bleed more. We misconstrue the wisdom of guarding our hearts, our life’s wellspring, as a command to build a fortress around them.
We are never safe from pain, and safety has nothing to do with vulnerability.
Vulnerability will hurt…It is a paradox: once we realize being vulnerable is never safe, we are then free to be vulnerable. We guard our hearts by giving them to the Guardian. We accept the fact that hurt will come. We see wounds as gifts. When this dramatic shift in our spirit occurs, fear no longer controls us.
I love the chapter Persevering Through Pain. On the “slow and inefficient work of God”. On letting “the waters of grace slowly, moment by moment, smooth out my heart.” Her Holy Week reflections and her ruminations on the struggles of both Paul and Christ are powerful. But the poetic and evocative language defies reduction. You simply need to read the whole of it.
On Receiving and Returning:
I did not see myself worthy to be served like this, so unconditionally…Why do you still love me? I feel so helpless…I continued pushing away the love that was trying to envelop me, to be lavished upon me.
I choose faith, and it says go, love, and believe. Enter in where there is pain and love. Do not worry about if it’s enough. Believe it is enough for the moment.
From Circles or Spirals:
No kind of action ever stops with itself. One kind action leads to another. Good example is followed. A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees. The greatest work that kindness does to others is that it makes them kind themselves. ~Amelia Earhart
The principle that we cannot give what we do not first receive works in reverse as we cannot receive what we do not give…It is a constant circle of pouring out and being poured into.
From Big Challenges and Small Steps:
…Sometimes my relationship with him felt empty. God appeared silent. It was only over the course of time that I recognized the hope he was giving me was often expressed through my relationship with others, spirit to spirit.
We will always feel a complex, two-sided longing–the craving for relationships and the desire to be on our own–creep in as we pull our feet through the mud of the daily. When this comes, we must take a heavy breath and command our spirits to rejoice and reach out…We are children of the One who has loved us in the past for eons and will love us into forever for eternity. A Man died in our place, painting us pure and lovely, and nothing can steal this away from us. Not even our own selfishness.
It has been my privilege to know Anne for several years now, and to see her walk the portion of her life chronicled in the book. She is a radiant grace-bearer and truth-teller, with her words, and with her life. I highly commend this book to you, wherever you find yourself in the world of community and sharing life with others. It will nourish and challenge you.