When we are acting competent, we may look calm and capable on the surface, while underneath we are paddling frantically to keep moving forward in the right direction. (Thanks to Sarah Richards for this image of a duck swimming in the water—useful metaphor for teachers and other humans in leadership roles!) For those of us in leadership roles at First Church or elsewhere, we may appear unflappable on the surface while underneath we may at times feel uncertain, anxious, wishing we had the courage to ask for help. Yet spiritual community is precisely the place where we can risk showing our uncertainty, in essence—practice being vulnerable in a place of trust.
It doesn’t happen in a flash. We work up to it incrementally. We practice saying “I don’t know. Let’s find someone who does.” Or “Can you help me get onto Zoom?” Or “Where are the all-gender restrooms?” Or “How do I make this hearing assist device work properly?” Or “Please don’t hug me, I have fragrance sensitivities.” Or “I’m exhausted from caregiving my spouse who has dementia, can you come over and give me an hour of respite?”
If we have small experiences of showing our vulnerable side that are met with understanding and compassion, we build our capacity to risk bigger experiences of tender connection. Every human has a vulnerable side, and everyone has their own process of discovering the conditions they need in order to show it.
After 25 years of officiating memorial services and funerals, I know that at some point in the ceremony, my eyes will fill with tears and my voice will get choked up – especially if I knew the deceased. But tearing up so much that I can’t speak is an experience of public vulnerability that feels so raw it borders on not being OK. At least in my judgment. But not in yours. The most recent time this happened to me, after the service people thanked me for crying because it showed that I cared. That I loved. That I was with you and not removed.
Dear Ones, I am with you, and I know that you are with me. I wish that experience for everyone.
Rev. Dena McPhetres, Associate Minister