Dare to be vulnerable

It seems as if it was only yesterday that I met with Lyndon Bowring, the chair of CARE, in his London office to talk about starting Care for the Family. I had just resigned as a partner in my legal practice and Lyndon was very instrumental in getting us launched ? we began as a department of CARE. I remember well a conversation we had that day: ‘You and Dianne will be able to tour the country telling people how to build strong marriages,’ he said. ‘Ah,’ I’d replied. ‘There’s a bit of a problem with that.’ Lyndon had raised an eyebrow. ‘What kind of problem?’ ‘Well,’ I’d said, ‘we’ve been married for over 15 years, but we’ve been through some very tough times ? times when we didn’t feel much in love.’ Lyndon had answered in a heartbeat. ‘Alright,’ he said. ‘Then tell people about that.’ And so one of the foundation blocks of Care for the Family was laid:vulnerability.

Vulnerability remains one of our core values 25 years later. Some time ago, I was addressing 20 people who were interested in speaking on behalf of Care for the Family. This is part of what I said to them that day: ‘If you have the perfect marriage, have never had a row, spend most evenings gazing into each other’s eyes, and you can’t wait to share your pearls of wisdom with struggling couples…you probably aren’t our kind of person. And if your children do the washing up every night, complain that church services aren’t long enough, ask their teacher for extra homework, and you’ve already drafted your “12 Steps to Perfect Parenting” ready to share with less able parents… then you, too, probably aren’t our kind of person. The people we need towork with us are those who have cried a little ? or who could, at least, imagine crying a little.’

A youth leader rang me a few years ago. ‘I have 30 teenagers in my youth group,’ she said. ‘29 of them are doing fine, but the mother of one of them has just discovered a joint of marijuana in his bedroom.’ She paused and then went on, ‘The problem is ? I’m that mother. Do you think I should give up being a youth leader?’ I urged her with all my heart to keep going and told her that the day would surely come when she would sit down with another mother going through that same situation and whisper, ‘Me, too.’

I have discovered that whether it’s simply trying to cope with the terrible toddler stage, dealing with the fallout of an affair or living with crushing debt, often the first need of people going through a difficult or painful time is not answers, but the realisation that they are not alone. For that reason, the local church can be a wonderful place to find comfort, support and help. But for this to happen, we have to be prepared to be vulnerable. The apostle Paul recognised that ‘When I am weak, then I am strong’ (1 Corinthians 12:10). Weakness causes us to feel our need of God ? and of each other.

The idea is not that we all sit down and depress each other. (I have some sympathy with the atheist who said to the Christian, ‘Tell me your certainties ? I have enough doubts of my own.’) It is rather that, as well as sharing our successes and joys, we also need to allow others to see a little of our pain. When we do this it can be incredibly freeing for people ? it is easier for them to lower their defences a little and share their hearts with us. And it is then that we begin, in the words of the New Testament,to ‘Carry one another’s burdens’ and, often, to find answers and hope together.

I know we can’t wear our hearts on our sleeves with everybody, but none of us ? even leaders ? need be condemned to what someone has called ‘the Sunday lie-in’…

‘Oh, fine, thanks.’