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May 24, 2012

When to Be Vulnerable

God can use your brokenness to help others.


Behind the veneer of spiritual leadership, some of us carry deep struggles or dark secrets: pain from past abuse, guilt over sin, or a sense of spiritual failure. Should we tell others about our struggles? If so, how?

It can be difficult to know when we should share our struggles, sins, and failures in a public forum. There definitely is a time and place to talk about areas of brokenness in our lives, but it’s not up to us to initiate. On the journey of transformation, God is the one who will prompt us and reveal to us when we should share with others what’s been going on in our lives. It’s our job to listen…and be obedient.

When God prompts us to go public, it’s important to think about how to best communicate our story. When the focus is entirely on failure, it ends up being a story that can sensationalize sin. Instead, when we share, it’s vital we focus on God’s redeeming narrative, emphasizing what he has done and is doing in our lives.

Choosing to be vulnerable certainly means sharing our brokenness, but it also ought to always include communicating how God is restoring us. It is God’s work—not the sin or failure we divulge—that truly inspires and encourages people. When our focus is on God’s work, our story transforms from a confession of brokenness into a testimony of restoration.

One important principle to keep in mind is that we ought to keep some struggles private¬—only sharing them with close friends, a counselor, or mentors—until we’ve returned to a point of spiritual health and restoration. For example, in my late teens and early twenties, I struggled with a looking at porn and unhealthy relationships. It wasn’t until three years after I’d recovered from that struggle that I shared about it in a public setting. I wrote an article for a magazine from a women’s perspective; pointing out that sexual struggles are not just a “male problem”—women have many of the same temptations. I described what God has taught me through my past and explained what I do now in order to stay healthy.

Sharing about this part of my past publicly was healing for me, but a lot of other people also found hope in my story. She got through it so I can do this too, they think. It’s something I like to call The Gift of Going Second. Confessing something first is always difficult, but in doing so, you’re letting others know they’re not alone and you give them the gift of following suit.

Ultimately it comes down to the motivation of your heart. If you desire to help people by sharing about personal demons, I definitely encourage you to do that. Just be prepared: As soon as you are vulnerable, you will also be criticized. As much as I would love to say that the church is the safest place in the world for people to confess their sins and failings, the reality is that inevitably there will be people who will judge you. So if you’re going to open up publicly about something difficult, prepare yourself: Surround yourself with truth and supportive friends. Being obedient regardless of the outcome is what’s important.

If God is prompting you to go public with a hidden pain or struggle, don’t let fear stop you. Fear wants to keep the bad things hidden; fear wants you to live a life full of secret shame, lacking purpose, lacking holiness, and lacking purity. But that’s not what God intended for you! It feels scary, but it’s worth it to tell your story. The feelings of fear won’t go away, but you can act courageously despite the fear. The world really needs you to.

Anne Jackson is a writer, speaker, and Clinical Psychology student based in Michigan. She is the author of Permission to Speak Freely: Essays and Art on Fear, Confession and Grace and Mad Church Disease: Overcoming the Burnout Epidemic.

Related Tags: brokeness, guilt, healing, leadership, pain, secrets


Dear Anne,
You are an answered prayer for me this morning.. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom on this subject. I have recently been doing a Bible Study and was reminded that God wants us to use our past experiences to show others His truth and grace. I was scared to death that he was asking me to tell my experience. You are one of several in the last few days that has confirmed "there is a place and a time" and as long as I am following His instructions, I will know! May God continue to use you as His messenger.


Thank you, Anne, for addressing this issue. There is a fine line between being vulnerable and obedient in sharing our struggles and how God is working in our lives to heal us and in exposing that which needs to be kept between our heart and God's.

There have been many times that I have been shocked and embarrassed by the revelations made in public forums in the name of being transparent. It has been at times like seeing someone undressed in public or inadvertently walking into an intimate setting meant for no one else to see or hear. I also often wonder at the amount of information given when sharing a prayer need...almost too much, certainly way more that I need to hear in order to lift someone up to the throne of grace.

We must also beware of those who insist that every detail of our sin and failings must be shared with everyone in order for us to be in line with Scripture. I have yet to find the passages which tell me this is what I am required/supposed to do. Rather there are passages which instruct me to go to the one whom I may have injured by word or deed and settle the issue there.

Many times I have heard someone share intimate details of what is going on in another person's life or marriage in the guise of a prayer request or a praise. This is not their testimony to share, but in actuality is disguised gossip. There have been times when someone has asked me to pray prefaced with "she asked me not to tell this but I'm so worried and concerned..." Needless to say that person will never be one to whom I will trust my personal struggles.

These may seem like different issues, but I think they are connected. Transparency and vulnerability must be governed by the leading of the Holy Spirit.

We must also be mindful of others who are part of our situations as well. We must be careful not to give away other names and share a testimony that belongs to someone else, including our children and spouses. Relationships can be harmed, perhaps severed by the careless use of our testimony.

I have been amazed by how the Holy Spirit has made it clear
how and when to share my testimony, even changing the what and how depending upon the group to whom I was speaking.

Thanks you again for reminding us there is a big difference in airing our dirty laundry in public and sharing what God has and is doing in our lives. We can trust God to make it clear when, what, and to whom we share. If we are obedient to His leading there will be blessing and healing for all, including the one giving the testimony.

Thank you again for addressing this issue in such an insightful way.

Thank you for sharing this article today. I recently returned from a writer's conference where a publisher offered to take the devotion I had written and make it into a book. The devotion was about my emotionally abusive father and the miraculous reconciliation of our family after my brother and I confronted him. I did not share any details of the abuse and the publisher asked for more specifics in order for the reader to better identify with my situation. After all of the healing God has done in our family, I don't want to do anything at all to hurt my father, or my mom for that matter. I have truly forgiven him and believe my story will give hope to others. I am planning on going to my dad to ask if he will allow me to share more of our story. If he is uncomfortable I will not share and will hope God can use our story in another way to reach others.Your guidelines for sharing truly gave me more insight.
Thank you

i really liked this. thanks for your words of motivation.

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