Wineskins Archive

February 12, 2014

Harbour Lights: Vulnerability & the Art of Friendship (Sep-Oct 2002)

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By Michael Harbour
September-October 2002

You are somebody.  Have you ever doubted that?  Maybe all of the time?  We wear certain clothing in order to be somebody.  Do I wear clothes that say something about who I am?  What about the truck that I drive?  What about the choice of the house that the bank lets me live in?  Is that about being somebody?  When you enter a room full of strangers, what do you seek to do?  You make connections.  People will ask you about your work, about where you are from, about your ambitions.  Relationships, connections, and reputations make us somebody.

Henri Nouwen writes about giving up his sense of grounding when he left his relevant academic life as a teacher and author in the late 1980’s.  He had written a number of famous books, at least they were famous in certain circles (such as the Wounded Healer and The Way of the Heart).  Now he was working as a priest in service to the mentally troubled.  What he discovered was that the people that he now served were not impressed with his credentials.  They had not read his books.  They were not impressed with his twenty years teaching at Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard.  His usual way of being somebody no longer held much clout.  A lesson that he learned was that it was okay that he was not so impressive.  He learned that he had to be real in a whole new way.  Could he practice some things that he had learned in his religious training?  Could he come to grips with the truth that God loves people regardless of their accomplishments?  All of the things that we think signify that we have won some significance hardly impresses God.  The author educator said, “These broken, wounded, and completely unpretentious people forced me to let go of my relevant self – the self that can do things, show things, prove things, build things – and forced me to reclaim that unadorned self in which I am completely vulnerable, open to receive and give love regardless…”(In the Name of Jesus, 16).

It is this unadorned self that is equipped to give and receive friendship.  I think of some of my favorite friends.  They have public personas.  Hugging and punching and loving a dentist or a homiletics professor or a doctor of psychiatry sounds kind of strange, doesn’t it?  Singing and praying with a computer network guru, or playing army golf (you know… right, left, right, left) with a preacher is an amazing thing.  However the truly amazing thing is getting beyond those surface activities to the real self, to the vulnerable places.  With our friends we do not have to win anything anymore.  We dare to be ourselves.  They love us, knowing us.  That is never a license for bad behavior.  We love them and we seek what is best for them, but we do not have to hide our wounds, our weaknesses, or our deficiencies. 

Our vulnerability is mutual.  They can speak their minds and pour out their hearts and find encouragement, find a loving place.  It is not that we do not challenge our friends at the right moment.  We do hold each other accountable in our genuineness.  The difference that we experience with out friends is that we are never loved less and we never love them less.  Our real friends are the embodiment of the love of God in the flesh.  They are steadfast.

Our hidden fear is that if we lost all of the trappings of life, if we were no longer a librarian, or a soft drink computer specialist, or an event coordinator, or an interior decorator, living with our fine families in neatly ordered lives, that we would still be loved.  If we are afraid of that, it is because we are under-practiced in our exercise of vulnerability.  Our unadorned self is an amazing gift.  Friends treasure those gifts.

I could be wrong about this, but I think that every one in the world is insecure.  Test this out.  Have your eyes open for opportunities to encourage people.  See if they are open to your genuine gift of encouragement.  What if someone was to encourage you, to see the good that is in you and to actually point it out?  What if they were fairly regular in their giving?  Would you be annoyed?  Friendship could be born in those interactions.  You might find yourself, as the opportunities grow, being the embodiment of the love of God for this person, or these people.

God intends for you to have friends.  Sometimes he sends them to you.  Sometimes he sends you to them.  Every time, the friendship will be born in your vulnerability, in your irrelevant (according to the world) self.  You are somebody in God’s eyes, and God is very impressed with you.  When he made your parents he said, behold it is very good (Gen. 1:31)!  You come from good people.  Bring your unadorned self, and let’s be friends.   

Michael Harbour is preaching minister at the Southeast Church of Christ in Houston, Texas.

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