Vulnerability

I went on a camping trip with some friends a couple weeks ago, which I wrote about at that time. I wanted to dive a little deeper into part of that trip; to be vulnerable regarding what I experienced in that moment now that I have processed it more fully.

A few days leading up to the trip God was REALLY driving home being vulnerable and I was feeling so frustrated because I felt like I had grown a lot in that space. For a little background, I’d also been having some lung problems because of my allergies for about a month. All this happened leading up to me on a hike in Hocking hills. We were going to do a 3 mile loop but some of my friends wanted to add another loop (ultimately around 7 miles). I tried to dissuade them but I didn’t want to look weak in front of people I really admired so ahead I plowed, not mentioning to them that it already hurt to breathe. My lungs felt like fists clenching tighter and tighter, and this continued for maybe two hours. I got to the point where I’d lean my body forward and force my legs to respond by catching me. I continue to try to act like everything is okay. Mask the pain. I told myself, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Then, suddenly, no more air. I see my friend beckoning to me and I can’t speak. I gasp and still, no air. A young couple passes me by and I make eye contact with the woman and wonder if she can see my panic.

This is the first time during the entire hike I actually begin to pray. It’s suddenly so quiet. I look up in awe at the tall trees surrounding me and I see spots of light dancing around me and I ask God, “Is this really my time? Will I really die from lack of oxygen surrounded by the very things you created that make oxygen? My God, where is your breathe of life now? I don’t have it. Help me, Abba. I need you.” Tears swell in my eyes and I’m torn between my plea to God and my desire, still, to hide my struggle so that my friends don’t see my weakness.

Suddenly, there is a woman in front of me, the one who had walked by before. She says something about also getting asthma attacks and my brain responds, “Yes! Asthma attack! I’m not dying.” I imitate what she does, following her instructions and slowly, deliciously, air begins to fill my lungs. And as I breathed in I felt not judgment but love from God, paired with what could maybe be described as a mildly disapproving sigh.

After a short rest and a very slow final climb, we made it to the parking lot. As I reached the car all I wanted to do was cry. To break down. To acknowledge the moment and all that came with it. But I locked it down, pulled it together. I laughed and ate Mexican, occasionally wondering if my friends now saw me differently because of this experience and if they would like me less because of it.

As I prayed about it later I felt how silly God thought it was that I would rather LITERALLY run out of air than tell my friends my lungs hurt. That we had talked about this and because I put my fear of rejection ahead of God’s call to be vulnerable with my community, I had to suffer and he had to send someone to teach me how to breath. Later I was talking to someone and they remarked at how lucky I was; that they had known of several people who had died from these kinds of attacks. That they were dangerous and should be taken seriously. It was at that moment I remembered a text someone had sent me at the end of May describing a picture they’d received for me:

…a picture of you rowing a boat with these really wide oars that were like fish fins so you had to do a lot of work to row but when you did you went far. He felt the Lord was saying you were in a season for the next eight weeks of heavy work but it would propel you far. Then on the oars he saw 1) 2) and 3), like there are three areas of focus and a small 4), like maybe you could do a little in 4) but 1.2.3 were the focus. The words behind those were self, health and safety…

I realized how much I had endangered my safety with my unwillingness to be vulnerable. After the trip I went and got allergy medicine and an inhaler and it was amazing the difference this made to my health and even my attitude! And so a big area that God has impacted through this is my health and safety, in learning to listen to my body better and to take care of it. But the third that came with it is my ongoing struggle with rejection.

I shared this struggle with my small group as well as with my co-workers, a moment of sharing my current “mess” that felt both exhausting and encouraging. I have known for a while that my greatest desire is to feel known, and not just known but to still be loved when I am known. This is also the thing I most fear, and the thing God has been working with me to overcome these last few months. Because of my background (particularly with my two longest running relationships), I have this undercurrent in my heart that whispers, “If they really know you, they won’t love you. People don’t stay for people like you.”

I know this probably sounds like a super depressing place to be but it isn’t, it’s just hard. I can continually remind myself that I am already known and loved by a King who adores me, and that if I remain authentic to my God and myself, then the rejection or acceptance by others will not influence the love I have for myself. And so, I am in this eight week season of working on the self, health and safety. Self, that I would become even more free of rejection and the ways that it influences me, making me an emotionally healthier person and leader. Health, in that I am learning to listen and respond to my body and what it is telling me. And safety, not that I would begin operating out of fear but rather that I would truly appreciate how fragile life is and what a blessing it is to be able to experience the moments I do. Lastly, within all these things I need to seek God and listen rather than believe that I can do this on my own.

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Clay Scroggins: Health and Fellowship (Notes from Catalyst)

Clay Scroggins is the lead pastor at North Point Community Church (and works for Andy Stanley). What he spoke about brought to mind the person I report to and how excellent she is at keeping health (mental, spiritual, physical and social) at the forefront. She is so effective at reminding people of their worth and the necessity to care for themselves well if they are to care for others well. But I digress…

Clay Scroggins began with the idea that uncommon fellowship rarely happens with unhealthy people. This doesn’t mean that we should only be in relationship with healthy people, but it does acknowledge the fact that people who aren’t emotionally healthy are unable to build truly healthy relationships. This is why, as a leader, the best thing that we can actually do for our team is to work on our own health.

Unhealthiness is a barrier, and we witness that in teams all the time. He joked that, if you don’t know who the person on your team is that has a toxic attitude, it’s very likely that it is you (maybe not so much of a joke). This is why, for leaders, EQ is more important than IQ. We are the emotional guide for our team, and it’s HARD to do for others what you cannot do for yourself.

Emotional health is the ability to recognize and manasge our emotions as well as control our own emotions. In order to become emotionally healthy, you must first become aware. You can’t grow if you don’t know. And nothing distracts us from trending toward emotional health than white noise. White noise is a tool to mask unwanted sound and we all use white noise to mask unwanted emotion. This can look like disengaging and retreating to your phone, being more of a presence online than in life, earbuds being a permanent fixture in your attire, or maybe it’s even pills, or a few glasses of wine, etc. This masking of our emotions numbs our senses and disconnects us from reality.

The Keystone Habits of Emotionally Healthy Leaders

  1. Turn the white noise down low enough, long enough, to be ruthlessly curious of our own emotions.
    1. White noise is devastating to our curiosity
    2. In a study of 35 CEO’s in Atlanta, there were only a few traits shared across ALL of them:
      1. Get up early
      2. Have a regular rhythm of reflection/prayer; times of unplugging & solitude
  2. Recognize that your emotions are messengers.
    1.  When the white noise gets too loud, we miss what our emotions are attempting to tell us
      1. Think about the idea that “Silence can be deafening;” there’s things to be heard in that space
      2. Experiment with white noise (make margin to hear from God and yourself)
        1. Learn to identify the emotion. Men are often seen as either being “fine” or being “mad.” There’s a wide spectrum of emotions we feel that help us to understand what we are experiencing and what is happing around us

In Summary…

  1. Experiment with reducing white noise. Psalm 26:2 “Examine me, O LORD, and try me; Test my mind and my heart.”
  2. Identify the emotion your feeling. Psalm 139:23-24 “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
  3. Interrogate the emotion. 2 Corinthians 10:5 “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Ask:
    1. When did I first notice this emotion?
    2. What exactly is driving this emotion?
    3. How should I respond to this emotion?
  4. Determine what you are going to do about the emotion. James 1:19 “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,”

What is ultimately at stake if we fail to turn down the white noise? Uncommon fellowship, marriages, friendships, partnerships and transformation. The more emotionally healthy we become, the more uncommon the fellowship we will experience.