“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
The more a human being has been hurt, the more natural it is to be self-protecting and to believe that the only person you can count on is yourself. But many great philosophers, spiritual leaders, artists, therapists and social scientist have come to the same conclusion: relationships are what heal. Even more specifically: vulnerable, risk-taking relationships heal people. If we have been hurt or if we feel insecure, everything inside of us gravitates towards self-protection. Ironically, it is in vulnerability and relationship that we can be most dramatically hurt, but these kinds of relationships are the only path towards real healing.
Do you want to be a teacher? Brene Brown, a social scientist who has studied and written about vulnerability and relational risk writes, “The real questions for parents should be: ‘Are you engaged? Are you paying attention?’ If so, plan to make lots of mistakes and bad decisions. Imperfect parenting moments turn into gifts as our children watch us try to figure out what went wrong and how we can do better next time. The mandate is not to be perfect and raise happy children. Perfection doesn't exist, and I've found what makes children happy doesn't always prepare them to be courageous, engaged adults.” As Brene points out, your children will learn from your mistakes as well as your successes.
Do you want to be a healer? Dr. Karyn Purvis of Texas Christian University explains it like this, “You cannot lead a child to a place of healing if you do not know the way yourself.” Your ability to reveal your own imperfection without having it devastate or crush you, is the first step in showing others that you can handle their imperfections without shame, judgment or abandoning them. This requires work on your part. Your system of beliefs about yourself, your self-talk, your reactions to your triumphs and failings, will greatly impact the way you deal with those you seek to love. This is especially true of your intimate relationships such as spouses, children, family and close friends. If you treat yourself with love, grace and respect, this attitude will overflow to your loved ones. If you berate yourself with expectations, point out all the ways others are better than you and shame yourself when you make a mistake- these attitudes will spill out as well.. Healers must be able to hang out in places that are emotionally messy without needing to fix or control. They must make peace with imperfection and need.
Are you seeking to love a child or young adult who has come from a difficult place such as foster care, adoption, abuse, trauma or addiction? Do you ever find that your skills and abilities do not match your heart’s desire to love and heal your child? Practice giving yourself the same love, grace, time and nurturing your child needs. Become willing to look at your own pain, hurt, rejection and imperfection and give yourself time and space to heal. Studies have shown that a parent’s attachment style is the number one factor in their ability to successfully parent a child who struggles with issues of attachment. If you are secure and healthy, your child’s chaos will not have the same ability to obsess you and suck you under. To become a healing force, you must do the personal work that will allow you to live around the chaos without “becoming” the chaos, and approach the fire without being burnt down.
How can you build trust with a hurting child? As parents, partners, loved ones and mentors, we must practice the authentic life--children know.
- Authenticity requires self-awareness.
- Authenticity requires honesty, grace and love with both ourselves and others.
- Authenticity requires humbly asking for help and recieving it when given.
- Authenticity means actively letting go of our need to be right and releasing control and perfection.
- Authenticity means being willing to accept the feedback we get back from our kids, family and friends.
- Authenticity means leaning into spiritual and relational pillars for support outside of our exhaustible human ways and means.
- Authenticity means knowing that we are on a journey, and the destination is love, not perfection.
You may read all this and feel exhausted or afraid. Yes, real, down and dirty, authentic love is hard work. While the risks may seem great, so is the reward. You may have some days or months where you feel like you are giving without receiving anything in return, but this kind of love is never wasted; and in fact, it has a beautiful, reciprocal nature. So go out in your imperfect, honest, teachable, messy way to give and receive love today! You will be forever changed in the process.