Faith Identity

Courageous Vulnerability

Abbott sat across the table. This 19-year-old college student was visibly shaken. Confused. Almost in tears. As I listened to him recount his struggles, I couldn’t help but think about how nothing truly changes until we get to the point of total vulnerability. Exposing his darkest struggles wasn’t easy, it was courageous. 

Growing Up 

Abbott came from a good, church-going family. Dad worked hard but wrestled with his own issues. Anger filled the home. Abbott recalled a time when he was in sixth grade. He tried to surprise his dad by doing a yard work chore before he got home from work. Abbott ran out to meet his dad, hoping to get some much-needed affirmation from his dad. Instead, he got condemnation. “Can’t you do anything right, son?” Talk about crushing a boy’s heart.

Depression Dive

Middle and High School years were increasingly dark for Abbott. Pornography and masturbation were his secret outlets for all the pressure he was handling on his own. He knew that if his parents found out what he was doing in his bedroom, he’d never hear the end of it. Sundays came around and everyone was all smiling. As soon as church was over, things went right back to dark and dismal ways.  By the time Abbott was 17, his mind was filled with suicidal thoughts. Jesus seemed far away; distant. “Will anyone miss me when I am gone?”

False Narrative

As Abbott’s story unfolded, it became evident he was wrestling through three lies:

  1. I am in the way
  2. I am an inconvenience
  3. I am not worth knowing

All, frankly, perpetuated by an angry father dealing with his own struggles. By the time Abbott was at university, his walk with Jesus was at best token and at worst non-existent. He stuck to his dorm room, barely hung out with his roommate, and sat alone in the cafeteria. He loved biking and often took solo 100 mile bike trips on weekends, just to escape.

His isolation was a way to hide his shame. “If I hide, then no one can condemn me.”  And yet, his soul longed to be known, to be loved. 

Campus Connection

The poster caught his eye. Free food at a come-and-go event sponsored by a campus ministry. Slipping in line, Abbott was greeted and introduced to several others in the ministry. Through those connections, Abbott found a group of Jesus-loving people that had this uncanny way of accepting him. They truly wanted to know him and went out of their way to make room for him at the table. 

Legalism is Weakness

Abbott heard the Gospel growing up. In fact, during church camp one summer, he makes a faith commitment to Jesus. No one discipled him other than to say that now that he was a Christian young man, there are certain things he should never do. Drink, dance, have sex before marriage and get tattoos and piercings.  “No fine Christian young man in my home would ever do such!” Abbott heard that more than once growing up. That type of faith was lifeless. Rules, not relationships. Love was cold in his home. 

Different Perspective

Hanging out with the campus ministry friends he saw an entirely different perspective. They worshipped God with unrestrained joy. There was an uncanny degree of authenticity. Abbott heard guys in his Bible Study group share their own struggles with things like lust, women, and just being a man who lives by the power of the Spirit. So much of their stories paralleled Abbott’s, and yet he was fearful to be known. “I’m the exception. If they truly knew me, all of their welcoming spirits would turn to shun me.” 

Full Circle

That’s what led to our conversation. I assured him that no matter what he said, Christ was there to welcome him with open arms.  “Any moral failures (sin) or mistakes (weaknesses) he had, Jesus was more than sufficient to cover and restore. And, those who walk with the Spirit will welcome you as well.”

We talked about this short passage in the Bible.

“But he (Jesus) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ESV

Vulnerability is not Weakness

Somewhere along the way, we men got this strange idea that to be vulnerable is a sign of weakness. Shame tries to convince us that to let people know about our struggles, our shortcomings is to prove we are a failure; that we are the very lies we believe.  Truth is, vulnerability is courageous.  When Abbott revealed that his first exposure to porn was at age nine with a neighbor kid and how that contributed to his sexual stronghold, it was as if a huge dam had broken and all the emotions came rushing to the table. Napkins are makeshift tissues for tears, but at that point, who cared?

No More Posing

Abbott was done with the lies he grew up with. “You are not in the way. You are here for a reason and a purpose. You are not an inconvenience. You showing up at the food event was no accident. And you are definitely worth knowing.” I said.  “I’ve never had anyone tell me that before,”  Abbott replied amidst his tears. 

“Here’s the deal, Abbott. Christ lives his life through you. Every need you have is fully met in God. The fear you have lived with for 19 years trying to please others is gone. In Christ, you are totally loved and accepted. And, the cool thing is he wants to father you as you grow in your manhood. There will be hardships, insults, calamities along the way; guaranteed.  But, you do not have to be shaken by then because Christ in you is not rocked or shaken. In fact, He is your sufficiency. He is all you need.”

Abbott’s face lit up! “So, I don’t have to live in this shell anymore?”  “Nope,” I replied. “Abbott, your willingness to let me see inside you is courageously vulnerable. Don’t hide. Live out of the power of Christ in you and your life, your world will expand exponentially.”

My Story

It was uncanny how much of Abbott’s story parallelled mine. All those inhibitions growing up held me back from experiencing manhood in all its fullness. If you truly knew me would you love me unconditionally?  It’s amazing how much of our adulthood is influenced by such childhood unanswered questions.

In what ways do you need to be courageously vulnerable?

Warrior On!

David Riffel is the Founder and Executive Director of Having gone through his warrior years (18-30) essentially without a mentor, God has placed in him a heart for warriors, to come alongside them in various ways as they figure out life. David’s newly released book, Mentoring Warriors: Coming Alongside Young Men 18-30, outlines principles for mentoring and gives advice for warriors in six key areas of life: self-management, life skills, education/career, relationships, faith, and identity.

Comments are closed.