I remember the first moment I knew I loved my wife. We had been dating about a month and a half and, one day, we went to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery to spend some time together.
Up until that point, I had played the part of a guy who pretty much had it all together, and it was really beginning to stress me out. As I mentioned in my article, “Single, White Train Wreck – Any Takers?,” rather than having it all together, I was, in fact, a complete mess at the time. And the more I grew to like this beautiful woman, the more I grew increasingly uncomfortable with the knowledge that, at some point, she was going to figure out that she was dating a fake, a wannabe Super Christian.
That day in the cemetery, with clear skies overhead and tombstones in every direction, I finally cracked open the vault and told her about all the stuff that had been going on in my life just before meeting her. I felt like I owed it to her to let her know whom she was really dealing with.
After finishing sharing my painful confession, I coolly said, “I just figured I would put all of that out there so you could make an informed decision about how far you want to go with this relationship.” And then I took a deep breath and braced myself for the worst, though, to be honest, deep inside I had grown to trust her to the point that I knew she wouldn’t cut me loose.
She looked up at me with unspeakable kindness in her eyes and said, “Joshua, first of all, I’m not going to run away. And second, I want you to know how much I respect you being willing to share your struggles with me. I know it was hard for you to tell me that, but I don’t think you’re any less of a godly man for it.” Then she paused and said, “Can I pray for you right now?”
She did, and I didn’t have much more to say for a while, because I was too choked up to say much of anything at all. I walked away from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier that day holding her hand, feeling more free than ever, and thinking, “I love this woman.”
I shared my garbage that day, in part, because I find it easier to be vulnerable and, in part, because of a conversation I had with my buddy Shon earlier that day. Shon knew I was very uncomfortable with the idea of sharing the sordid details of my life story with my then-girlfriend and, as usual, he managed to speak directly to the issue after I reluctantly brought it up.
Shon said, “You know the story of how I came to Jesus is pretty messy, and I had to share all that with my wife at one point. Even though I know that must have been hard for her to hear, I feel like if someone is going to love you, they’re going to have to love the things – even the painful things – that God used to make you who you are today. That’s why I think it’s good for us to know each other’s redemption stories.”
As it turns out, my wife wasn’t afraid of my story, and I wasn’t afraid of hers when she later shared it with me. But generally speaking, in the Church, I find that we really struggle to find appropriate, but authentic, ways of sharing our stories. It’s not that unbelievers are any better at it, but with the theme of our religion being total redemption, you’d think we’d at least believe it enough to share the broken parts of our stories with our fellow-Christians.
It’s especially sad that we’re so afraid to be vulnerable when our very own book of scriptures “is not a book in which authors tried to hide anything,” Donald Miller points out. “If somebody got drunk and slept with their daughter, it’s in there. If the king of Israel had a man killed and slept with his wife, it’s in there. If somebody doubted God’s love, it’s right there in the book.”
There are so many different reasons Christians are afraid to open up to fellow believers about their brokenness – reasons like our sometimes-legitimate fear of being judged and rejected, which is rooted in shame. We’re also embarrassed to admit that, at times, we secretly long to return to our former, messed up lives.
But more than anything, the reason I think we, as believers, don’t share our brokenness with one another is due to a lack of God-centered relationships – and I’m not talking about your friendships with the people in your Sunday School class. I’m talking about relationships that come from simply taking the time to build trust with someone else, someone with whom we can bravely and mutually open up our lives. These relationships are the only place where we are actually safe enough to share our awkward selves and receive healing prayer.
Fortunately, in my life, I’ve not only been gifted with a wife with whom I can open up in humbling vulnerability, but I’ve also been blessed with a number of guys with whom I have been able to do the same. In these priceless friendships, I have found a safe place where I can be totally frank – not just about my struggles – but about my secret hopes and visions for myself and my family.
These relationships share a few common elements, including the following:
- A graciousness by at least one of the parties to be the initiator, even if the other party is really bad about staying in touch;
- A knowledge that everything said will be held in the strictest of confidence;
- A general understanding that we shouldn’t give advice to one another unless we’re asked for it;
- An unquestionable understanding that we’ve all done screwy things and thought screwy thoughts, and there will be no judgment passed on those brave enough to share their junk; and
- A firm commitment to get together on a regular basis for conversation, confession, casting vision for our lives, and serious prayer.
Relationships like this will change your life, one conversation at a time, as long as they stay grounded in a sense of Christ-centered purpose. These relationships are the kind which are still making me who I am today – years-long relationships with a list of people who include my wife (most importantly), Shon, Caleb, Aaron, Nick, Paul, Andy, Scott, and so many others.
God has used us in each other’s lives in differing degrees over the years, but that bond is still there, regardless of time or distance. And how could it not be? These are the people who, with Christ-infused souls, have led me to Jesus by manifesting His presence in my life at various, critical moments when I needed Him (and them) most, and I oftentimes didn’t even realize it.
When I told my wife about this article, she pointed out that there are many people out there who simply do not know how to reach out to others and connect with them in this way. With my personality, it comes more naturally. She’s right, and to those who identify with that struggle, all you can do is ask God to either send someone along with whom you can be fully vulnerable or give you the courage to seek out and find a person like that (if you’re married, you might not have to look any further than your own house).
Doing so is a daring – even terrifying – adventure, but it allows Christ to be glorified as we minister to one another’s souls, releasing unknown soldiers from their tombs who, in the strength of Christ, are able to walk further and more freely in God’s purposes for them.