Tips  on spiritual growth, emotional health, and relational healing.


Incredible Friendships Come Through Weakness, Not Strength

Jun 13, 2017

Have you ever been the new guy or the new girl?

You started at a new job. All of these people are watching you, trying to figure you out. A kind one reaches out and asks if you want to grab coffee or lunch. You’re not sure how much to share, but you would love to make friends.

You moved into a new neighborhood or apartment complex. You’re wondering who lives behind all of those immaculate yards and brick fences. Who watches Netflix and eats takeout behind all those doors? Are there any friends in there? Would any of them water your plants while you’re gone and grab your mail?

You check out a new church. You shake hands during the welcome time. Linger after the service ends, you look for a friendly face. Maybe you check out a class or get information on a home group near your house. What do you share? How much information do you give away? Who do you “let in”?

I don’t know about you, but when I’m in a new environment, the last thing I want to share are my weaknesses. It feels scary to give people I barely know the raw material they could use to hurt me.

During this month, I’ll be sharing a series of posts on the theme of weakness. We live in a culture which seeks to minimize weakness, maximize strength, hide deficiencies, and augment imperfections. However, what if we’ve lost something in running from or trying to fix all of our weaknesses? If you’d like to receive these articles or future hopeful posts in your inbox, enter your email address in the box below.


friendships weakness group of people bonfire woods camping trip

Vulnerability is Different for You Than Me

To be truly human, we need other people.

I find it ironic how often we bemoan the fakeness and filtered nature of social media. We talk about how a beautiful picture of a kitchen or living room doesn’t include the mess just out of the frame. We mention that a shot of a beautiful vacation doesn’t include the argument which happened just before or after the video.

But in response to these critiques, do we share our weaknesses? Do we share our messy photos? Do we tell the full story of our lives or do we filter the same way when the opportunity is given? I think we know deep down those posts might not get as many likes or comments or shares, so we complain about the game and then play on.

Have you ever considered how the way we approach vulnerability with our weakness differs greatly from how we approach vulnerability in others?

Brené Brown describes this in her best-selling book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Changes the Way We Live, Love, and Parent.

“During my talk, I asked the audience two questions that reveal so much about the many paradoxes that define vulnerability. First I asked, ‘How many of you struggle to be vulnerable because you think of vulnerability as weakness?’ Hands shot up across the room. Then I asked, ‘When you watched people on this stage being vulnerable, how many of you thought it was courageous?’ Again, hands shot up across the room…(The paradox is) I want to experience your vulnerability but I don’t want to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is courage in you and inadequacy in me. I’m drawn to your vulnerability and repelled by mine.

Crazy, right? We’re contradictions. We admire it vulnerability and weakness in others, but we avoid it ourselves.

Weakness is a Better Bridge

I think, deep down, we know vulnerability about our weaknesses is the path to true connection, but we’re scared of it. So we stick with the safe stuff – superficial topics, our strengths, and common interests.

Those subjects are safe, but they offer “weak” connections. Sure, we can discuss the weather, upcoming vacations, sports, a trending topic on Twitter, or even the latest viral video. But what kind of bonds do those create? Certainly not the kinds of bonds which lead to thriving friendships which celebrate life’s highest highs and lowest lows.

Sheila Walsh writes, “Our brokenness is a better bridge to others than our pretend wholeness will ever be.” Weakness bonds us in ways strengths never will. Whether it’s a strength to a weakness (that’s a subject for a future post in this series) or weakness to weakness, there’s something about a bond through weakness which leads to strength.

I wonder if it’s because when we’re weak, we need to depend on each other. In strength, we are self-reliant and can convince ourselves we don’t need another. But in weakness, we admit our insufficiency and embrace the support of another.

A lot of us avoid weakness and insufficiency because those invite the risk of being hurt by others. And because many of us have been hurt by those around us, we’ve made a pact with ourselves to never go there again. And as someone who has spent his life around the church (a place where a lot of people have gotten hurt), I get it.

In his book, The Sacred Journey, Frederich Buechner writes, “You can survive on your own. You can grow strong on your own. You can prevail on your own. But you cannot become human on your own.”

To become the people we were created to be, we need other people. We cannot become fully ourselves on our own. We cannot be safe without other people, but we also cannot become fully human without them. It’s risky, but what’s our other option?

And when we think about it, we’ve watched people surprise us when they learn about our weaknesses. People admire our strengths, but they can connect to our weaknesses. And when we admit our weaknesses, people don’t run away – they often run to us.

Our Weaknesses: Admitting What Everyone Else Already Knew

I walked my staff through an exercise recently. We watched a video from Patrick Lencioni, a best-selling author and popular speaker on leadership who focuses on making organizations healthier. In one of his newest books, The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate Three Essential Virtues, Lencioni describes how the presence of three virtues makes or breaks teams and teammates.

After watching the video, we came back one week later and discussed the content. We talked about how these virtues applied to the teams we lead and our own self-leadership. At the end of the discussion, I asked each person on our team to reflect on Lencioni’s 3 qualities and determine which was their weakest and something they could do to develop it. I went first and ultimately each person shared around the circle.

When we finished, I reflected on what we shared by pointing out that no one protested the conclusion of each person. In fact, a couple times the group broke out in nervous laughter as the person commented on their weakness. I noted that the people around us normally know what our weaknesses are. They’re just waiting for us to admit them.

What’s funny is that when we admit our weakness, those people don’t run away; they lean in. They trust us more, not less, when we openly admit our weaknesses. People know what we don’t and are waiting for us to finally see what they do.

We deceive ourselves when we think our weakness will be a burden to others, especially those closest to us. Those who love us the most already know our weakness. If they’re still in our lives, embracing our weaknesses is a step towards greater connection.

friendships weakness connections two girls laying down on hood of car

She Thought She Was a Burden and She Was Wrong

Michelle Stepp is one of my heroes. I was so proud of Michelle when she wrote a guest post for To Write Love on Her Arms earlier this year. Michelle attended my church in Arizona for some time before her family moved to the Midwest. One Sunday morning, she stood on our platform and courageously shared her story of battling depression and suicidal thoughts. In her piece for TWLOHA, she wrote these powerful words.

Depression is a liar.

It twists your thoughts against you.

It makes the ground you stand on seem unstable.

The illogical becomes the truth.

I know that now. And now that I do, I want you to understand this: If you are in the pits of depression, if you are suicidal, if any of the above spoke to you, depression is lying.

Love is real.

You are not a burden.

You are needed.

You are wanted.

You can read her full piece here, but suffice it to say, depression deceived her into thinking her weakness made her life not worth living, nor worth sharing with others.

Vulnerability and Weakness Create Stronger Connections

We admire vulnerability in others but resist it in ourselves. When Michelle shared her story at our church, people leaned in; they didn’t run away.

We often feel alone in our weaknesses but it’s the stories of others which give us solidarity, strength, and courage.

One of my favorite Scripture verses about friendships lies within the Apostle Paul’s letters to the Galatians. In a section where he talks about how to respond to those who are struggling, he writes, “Carry each other’s burdens and in this way, you will fulfill the law of the Christ.”

Our burdens don’t condemn us. Our weaknesses don’t sentence us to a life of isolation. When shared, our burdens connect us to each other and to Jesus. Yes, we’ve all had experiences where others rejected or shamed us for our imperfections. And we’re tempted to believe that everyone responds in a similar way. But that’s the voice of our Enemy who deceives us.

friendships weaknesses crowd of people

The Power of “Me Too”

Several years ago, I went to hear author Rob Bell on a speaking tour promoting his book on suffering, Drops Like Stars. He was performing that night at an arts center in my city. When we walked into the venue, we found a little golf pencil and an index card underneath our chairs.

Midway through the talk, Bell had each of us write the words “me too” on the card with our non-dominant hand. He made a joke about the ambidextrous folks cheating at this activity.

With our crookedly written card in hand, he then proceeded to invite people to stand who had been affected by cancer. Once those folks stood, he invited them to exchange cards. And then, he asked them to be seated.

Bell continued this exercise with other points of connection. Mental health, divorce, financial crisis, doubts with their faith, etc. By the end of the time, each of us couldn’t know whose card we had or who had ours. But what we did know was that the vibe in the room had drastically changed.

Bell talked about how often we size up others when we enter the room, judging them based upon their appearance, clothing or conversation and posturing ourselves as a result. He talked about how we look for others who are like us, in order to feel more comfortable. Reflecting on the tour so far, Bell noted how the point in the night when his audiences feel most connected is not when they find people in the room who are fans of the same teams or who make the same amount of money. He shared the strongest connections come when we find out we’ve been through the same suffering and pain.

He noted, “Suffering unites in a way success cannot.”

Now It’s Your Turn…

How have you seen suffering, vulnerability, and weakness connect you with others? What makes this approach to connection and friendship difficult or scary? What friendships do you have which were forged in suffering, not success? Who do you need to open up with about your weaknesses?

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