June 23, 2013 by Alex Johannigman
I just got back from spending my weekend with an awesome group of young adults on Dallas’ first Charis retreat. We grew close as a group this weekend and I got to meet a lot of great people (and spend quality time with people I am already good friends with) who are looking for opportunities to deepen their faith and serve Christ in ways they haven’t been able to before. I left the retreat completely overwhelmed by grace, and hope that many of those who attended had an experience similar to mine.
One powerful thing that I took with me from this weekend was how grace enters us when we are open to it and when we allow ourselves to become vulnerable. For years I’ve struggled with the weight of my imperfections and the mistakes I’ve made in the past. I’ve been my own worst critic for as long as I can remember, and that’s made it hard to be honest with others about myself when I’m not happy with myself in the first place. After all, why would I want others to have the opportunity to judge me as harshly as I judge myself?
Yet despite that, I felt called to give a talk this weekend on the subject of allowing Christ to be your Lord and your God. This may seem fairly generic for a Christian retreat, but it was a subject that I think most people struggle with and one that I had a very hard time with in college. Because of that, I knew in order to speak on the subject I’d have to talk about my own past struggles and how I moved past them, which was something I was totally not comfortable with. Opening up about things I had still not completely forgiven myself for would only give others the chance to judge me like I have judged myself. As the retreat drew nearer the temptation to present my life like it was a perfect journey of growing closer and closer to God over time grew stronger, and so I prayed more and more for God to give me the courage to share it with others. By the time the retreat arrived, I was ready to be totally honest, with the hope that my experiences would help others struggling with similar issues, and I can say that I was not anticipating the grace that came with that openness. Towards the end of the retreat, several people thanked me for sharing my experiences in that talk. A friend of mine approached me as I was packing my things and thanked me for my vulnerability. And as I was driving home today I finally felt ready to forgive myself for sins that God had forgiven me for long ago and I experienced a peace I’d been longing for for years.
But this experience wasn’t limited to me. I heard from other friends who experienced great peace from opening up with their own struggles during spiritual direction and confession. Members of my small group and others that I talked to one on one shared parts of their life that they’ve been holding back from God or wanting to ignore for as long as possible. They had struggles very similar to mine ranging from not knowing where God was calling them or what their life’s purpose was, to difficulties accepting certain church teachings, to uneasiness about upcoming or recent changes in their lives, and many more. It seemed like everyone came to the retreat looking for answers of some kind, and many of them were only able to get them once they allowed themselves to be very vulnerable in front of another.
I’ve learned over time that the truest friendships spring from moments of vulnerability. We need to learn to be less concerned about what others may think about our own imperfections, and more concerned with how Christ works through others to heal us of those anxieties and issues that we are dealing with. It is at that point when we can truly find what we are seeking, whether that is direction, healing, peace, or something else.