You've had this nightmare, I know you have: You walk into an office meeting (or your study hall room, depending on your life stage), sit down, and smile. You glance around the room from face to horrified face, and suddenly gasp as it occurs to you that you've forgotten your clothing and have arrived naked. Utterly, completely, birthday-suit naked.
Usually, this is when you awaken in a cold sweat and begin mentally conducting your heart back into its normal rhythm: ONE two three four, ONE two three four... (Or, if you don't awaken, this could also be the part of the dream when the phone in your hand turns into a banana and you peel it and feed it to your boss who is now a monkey sitting in the office chair beside you and is wearing lipstick and clapping along to "We Are the Champions." But, usually, it's the former.)
I'm sure some people like being naked in front of a crowd, and some of them make darn good money performing on the VMA awards. But for most of us, it's a horrifying prospect. It is, in fact, one of the most popular reasons for wearing clothes. But there are different kinds of 'naked', of course. There is the physical, literal sense of nakedness, as we so courageously imagined in the previous paragraphs, but there is also the sense of nakedness that comes from sharing our hearts, speaking our truth, and letting down our guard (and sometimes our hair). It is that vulnerability, that sense of being so very exposed, that can be not only horrifying but healing as well.
I've written a memoir, which is old news to some who will read this. It has a release date of May 1st, 2010, and I am only now becoming aware of how my life will change after that date on my timeline. If it accomplishes what memoirs are intended to accomplish, it will let people -- strangers, mostly -- into parts of my private world, my theretofore-private past, and even a few of my private thoughts. How's that for feeling naked in front of the world?
And it's okay. I'm cool with it. Go figure. I, who brings a sweatshirt with me everywhere I go so I can drape it over my legs whenever I sit down and thereby have something to hide behind, am cool with it. I who make a beeline for my towel the very nano-second I get out of the pool lest anyone see me, for Pete's sake, am cool with this. I actually think I can suck it up, for the glory of God, and deal.
Why? Because I seem to be discovering that only when I become vulnerable do I become truly effective as an encourager. Life is one big show-and-tell, but showing is ever more effective than telling alone.
When my kid was struggling to form his letters correctly in kindergarten, I told him about how I struggled with dyslexia when I was little, and I showed him one of my old papers from school. And I watched his face as he stared at my backward letters a minute, possibly thinking, "Huh. She can write now..."
I distinctly remember the day when the shame of being a divorced Christian woman left me. I read an article written by someone whose situation had been similar to mine. She shared her heart and her story in those 350 words, and suddenly I wasn't alone. It was like my self-affixed scarlet letter peeled off of my chest and fell to the floor. And I thought, "Huh. She's okay now..."
No one likes the idea of becoming vulnerable, at least not at first. But as I prepare myself to stand before friends and strangers alike, with nothing to hide behind, I get a little excited at the thought of how God might choose to use my vulnerability to reach people. I might even have to learn to leave my sweatshirt at home.