Every week this year, I’ve been opening notes from my sister – each one of 52 thoughts she sent me for Christmas. I open one each Sunday (provided I’m home to do it then), which is why – as most of my regular readers will have noticed – most Mondays my blog becomes a love note to back to her.
This one feels a little different, but of course the love-love-love is still all there.
One of those thoughts recently read:
The more you open up and be yourself, the more I really like you.
This is a very touching message, because I love my sister for who she is, too. And I love knowing more and more of who that is.
But beyond that, it is also more broadly encouraging and yet deeply challenging message for me. My natural bent is toward high walls and thick armor and the maintenance of a firm facade. They aren’t needed as much as I think they are, my sister’s note reminds me, but nevertheless too often all the defenses are in place, and I have built them to be strong.
Here in the blogosphere that’s somewhat less apparent. The beautiful anonymity of it can be very freeing, in much the same way that going to a new place and interacting with people I may never see again is liberating. My sister has read some things I’ve posted that have made her make a surprised gesture, to indicate I was unzipping my chest and letting everyone stare at my heart.
Yet even here, I often filter. I disguise. I dissemble. I feel myself do it. I weigh reactions. I stop to wonder what this one or that one will think. I can’t say that, what if he were to ever read it? or What if my mom did? As open as I am here at times, I sometimes leave out what is too revealing, too personal, too… me.
And it seems strange that idea that people I actually know will read this is what most unsettles me. Not enemies (if indeed I even have any), mind you… not people who would use something against me. No, the people I can be most afraid of actually knowing me are the people who know me already… sometimes the people who know me better than anyone.
My sister and I have talked about this before. It’s a backwards thing, but (having spoken with another friend of mine on the topic) apparently not an uncommon one. The very people we should most be able to trust with our true inner selves… our parents, our siblings, our best friends and spouses… are sometimes also the people who are too important to us to risk. Not because our families are more dysfunctional than the national average. But simply because they matter so much to us. The potential cost feels too high for the risk-averse: If they reject us… if we lose their good opinion… then what will we have left?
But why? How is having half a relationship and keeping the most important people in our world at arm’s length a workable alternative? What is it costing us, to keep up the walls that we think protect us but actually only serve to separate us?
For those of us who are introverts; who are naturally quiet; who tend to be more reserved in expressing our emotions anyway… we already can come across as cold and unemotional to those who don’t get close enough to be allowed into the inner circle of our lives. Must we put up additional barriers, even with the trusted few?
How healing it is, to realize we have family and friends with whom we can be truly ourselves – who can see us clearly for both our best and worst qualities – and love us anyway! In spite of… or even because of the things we see as weaknesses.
It’s not everyone, of course. But there are some.
Gifts from heaven, each one.
But we can’t really know that until we trust them enough to let down our guard and let them show us.
And even knowing that, it’s not easy. It’s hard to trust our hearts to someone else… to acknowledge the cracks in the facade and the reveal the real, flawed person behind them. Like Brené Brown in her (surprisingly funny, in light of the topic) TED talk entitled The Power of Vulnerability (use the link or see the embedded video below), I struggle with this. Even though vulnerability is the key to what Brené describes as “wholeheartedness.” Even though my faith calls me to let go of fear and step out… in Christ, in faith, in boldness, in His power… to let Him transform and soften the heart I would so easily let be stone. Even though I know I have received worth and value and an eternal source of security that should make that so much easier.
No, despite all that, I’m too rarely willing to risk my heart to the unknown, despite knowing that it’s impossible to be truly open to love if we aren’t also open to the possibility of hurt and loss. I would so often rather feel safe within myself than be drawn out. I would rather pretend that I am hardened and healed than admit that my heart can be and even still is a bit broken in places. (And even now, that is as close as I am willing to get to actually saying it.) I would rather tell myself – and anyone else I can fool into believing it – that I am strong than acknowledge that sometimes (often) I am weak. Oh no, I don’t want you to see the sinful, struggling person that I am.
Which is funny. Because usually the only person I’m fooling is me, anyway.