By Lindsay Hufford
“Community arises where the sharing of pain takes place, not as a stifling form of self-complaint, but as a recognition of God’s saving promises.” ~Henri Nouwen
During a recent talk, Dallas pastor Matt Chandler described the difference between transparency and vulnerability. Transparency is letting people see what we are not afraid to share. Vulnerability is sharing what’s hard, painful, and embarrassing.
I had always thought of myself as someone who valued vulnerability. That changed one afternoon when a friend called EMS for me during a playdate. I was dizzy, my chest hurt, hot flashes left me sweating, and my legs trembled. I sat on my couch while strangers placed electrodes under my shirt and my friend kept our kids calm in another room. I tried to hide my fear and embarrassment. I had no choice but to accept the help of my friend and the paramedics. My vitals were normal, thank goodness, and I assured everyone I was fine.
A few days later, I was forced to let a few more friends in on the secret that I was, in fact, not fine. My leg tremors and panic returned, and I had to go lie down during a dinner party. These events left me feeling weak and embarrassed because others witnessed them.
The physical symptoms I experienced subsided, but they were replaced by crippling anxiety. Routine errands like grocery shopping left me hyperventilating, abandoning carts of food in the store. I couldn’t keep my emotions in check. Fearful thoughts raced through my mind day and night, making sleep impossible.
I felt as though I was losing control and, swallowing my pride, I hesitantly confided in a few close friends. These women gently began a discussion that would serve as a model of vulnerability to me. They shared their struggles with depression and anxiety, recommended therapists, and spoke honestly about the ups and downs of medication.
As my friends shared their struggles, I did not see them as weak. They radiated strength and gave me hope that I was not alone in my suffering. Through their examples, I gained the courage to move from transparency to vulnerability.
I began to share my anxiety struggle with our circles of friends. It was hard to let the words slip past my lips the first few times. But I felt God prompting me to share my struggle with our small group, the mom in front of me in line at a local pool, friends in the church lobby, and eventually with my entire Facebook friend list.
God revealed a priceless gift when I obeyed his call to be open about my brokenness: true, deep community. Friends called and texted daily to check in with me. One friend refused to wait for me to ask for assistance and brought us several meals over the course of two weeks. Offers of child care poured in. Groceries arrived at our door. Our church pastors and countless others prayed over us. I found small gifts and encouraging notes in my mailbox.
God also gave me a new community as I confessed my hardship. I received dozens of emails and messages from people close to me, revealing their struggles with mental health. Knowing I am not alone in this fight keeps me going on the bad days.
This has been an incredibly hard season as I have come to terms with my anxiety and sought treatment. I never wished for anxiety and depression to enter my life, but God has shown grace after grace I would never have experienced had I not faced hardship. This trial has left me feeling more loved and connected than at any other time I can remember. God has also given me a model of how I can support those in my community who are also going through hard times.
If you are facing a difficult or frightening trial, I challenge you to share it boldly with your community. You may find you are not alone and learn the true extent to which God will use those around you to care and minister to you.
Our shared airbrushed lives are not what connect us as the body of Christ. What binds us together is our common brokenness and his never-ending goodness. He is the “God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those in any affliction” (2 Corinthians 1:3–4 ESV). In his great mercy, he gave us each other to hold one another up when we cannot stand alone—and that is true community.
Lindsay is a happy wife and homeschooling mom to three kids. Whether she is reading, running, gardening, teaching, cooking, dancing, writing, or chasing hens, she counts it all as joy. Lindsay writes about this beautiful life at searchforthesimple.com.
Photograph © Ben White, used with permission