Nine years ago, when Lee* was being treated for a heart condition, his three-year-old granddaughter asked him, “Abuelo, how’s your heart?” At the time, the question was relevant in a physical sense. But over the years, Lee and his wife Julie* have used this question with each other, and their friends, to check in on a deeper level.
Lee and Julie, who have worked with Rosedale International for twenty-five years, have made vulnerability their ministry. In Spain, where people are less likely to be attracted to the typical church model, Lee and Julie are building church by creating spaces of sharing and listening. They have learned a lot about how to foster honest connection with those around them and see it as a vital step to bringing people closer to Jesus.
Vulnerability is not just important in Spain. In an era where we have shifted much of our face-to-face communication to screen-to-screen, many of us are craving deep human connection. Our decade’s popular expert on vulnerability, Brené Brown, says in her book, Daring Greatly: “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.” Exposing our honest selves can transform our relationships, our ministry, and our churches. But how do we make that happen? Lee and Julie share some of what they have learned here.
Vulnerability is slow
Lee and Julie have been living in Spain for the past twelve years and are just beginning to see breakthroughs in their relationships. Julie explained that this is because “Spaniards are very careful who they open their hearts to and you just have to spend lots of time with them.” Now, after hours of coffee-drinking, hiking, shopping, and sharing their lives, Lee and Julie are seeing these friendships reach a deeper level.
In Lee and Julie’s experience, sharing Jesus with people is not a sprint or a marathon – it is a long walk. Lee has spent many hours and miles walking and hiking with friends. These slow steps and accompanying conversations have promoted relationships that are unhurried, present, and embodied.
Lee wants his friends to know Jesus the same way God wanted the world to know Jesus: in the flesh. He hopes that through walking and talking, his friends would see not only Lee’s heart, but Jesus’ heart as well. Lee is always honest about the influence of God in his life, but he tries not to be pushy or overbearing. He simply invites his friends to join him and Jesus as they walk together.
Vulnerability is a two-way street
Some of us struggle with letting vulnerability come out of our own mouths and bodies, while others struggle with listening to others be vulnerable. But for relationships to be healthy and healing, vulnerability has to be both given and received by all parties.
Julie shared that moments of deep connection often occur after her own opening up. She told the story of one woman who she has been friends with for a long time, Maria*. When Julie shared with Maria about a struggle she was having, it opened the door for Maria to share about her own struggles. “When I told her that I identified with her and knew how she felt, I encouraged her to search for God… that doesn’t always happen in big church settings,” Julie said.
Lee and Julie recently started a gathering in their house to sing hymns and eat together. In their last night together before a break for the summer, Lee and Julie gave each person the opportunity to share their favorite hymn and why they liked it. “It was amazing how some of them opened up,” Julie said, “one man gave his testimony of a really difficult time in his life, and what our relationship as Christians meant to him. And that’s all it took. When one starts it, they are all quick to follow being vulnerable.”
Lee and Julie hope that this group’s vulnerability will lead to more and more real conversation and relationship. They see this as an ideal space to share about their own struggles and how healing comes through their relationship with Jesus.
Vulnerability is informal
“It’s in these informal, small group settings where church really happens,” Julie said. “It’s not sitting behind someone with their back turned to you, it’s sitting face-to-face over a cup of coffee and just saying, “how are you doing?””
Lee and Julie have found that vulnerability often happens outside of formal gatherings and “religious” buildings – which often promote fear and rigidity rather than openness to those who have not grown up going to church. Vulnerability cannot necessarily be planned for, but one way to encourage it is to simply live life with those around you. “I walk with a couple of friends frequently, and sometimes we just talk about everything and nothing, you know. But sometimes it gets real,” Lee said.
“It’s in these informal, small group settings where church really happens. It’s not sitting behind someone with their back turned to you, it’s sitting face-to-face over a cup of coffee and just saying, ‘how are you doing?'”
Vulnerability is free of judgement
One important lesson Lee and Julie have learned is to take a non-judgmental stance in their relationships. Lee says it is important that his friends know he loves them and that he wants to listen to them. “I think vulnerability is the key to connection. Being vulnerable and feeling safe and feeling like you are being heard and that the other person is not going to tell you what you need to do or not do,” Lee said. He knows that this is the kind of vulnerability that allows someone to say “I really don’t have this faith, but maybe it’s something I could or should look into a little bit more.”
Vulnerability is messy
“We stopped trying to put on a good front a long time ago,” Julie said. “We used to think that we needed to set an example and be perfect, so people know how Jesus is working in our lives, and how he’s doing it.” Julie shared that she has often been told to be a good testimony, but she said, “anymore I don’t know if I believe that so much as saying, “you know I’m really struggling with that.””
Lee and Julie have both found that life is not easy, and being honest about that can be the most powerful testimony. Julie said, “I couldn’t do this without having the Lord in my life – that’s where it all begins.”
While vulnerability has been crucial in building relationships with their Spanish neighbors, Lee and Julie realize that it does not stop there. Lee said, “Spaniards are not quick to be vulnerable. They are personal, reserved, and private, for the most part. But what happens after you have gotten over all of that? Once the stuff has come out, then where do you go with it?”
These are the questions they are currently grappling with. They believe that through the vulnerability they have experienced, they can bring people into a deeper awareness of God’s love, and its transformational power.
Please pray for Lee and Julie as they continue to serve in Spain. Pray that they would have the right tools and attitude as they listen to God and take these relationships even deeper.
*names changed for security