Do you remember the first time you felt like a failure? Your very first red-faced encounter with humiliation and self-doubt?
I do. I was taking the big test to make the transition from preschool to kindergarten. I’d been practicing drawing shapes and naming colors like it was my job, and as far as I was concerned, I was the most qualified 4-year-old in Linden, Michigan.
But I wasn’t prepared for what happened with the blocks. What probably was the equivalent of stacking them up like a tower felt to me like constructing the Sistine Chapel by hand. I can’t recall exactly what I was asked to do, but I very clearly remember the feeling of shame that washed over me when the test moderators tried to stifle their laughter at my inability to accomplish it.
To this very much later day, I flash right back to that scene with the blocks, and the panic, and the laughing people when presented with an opportunity to complete some kind of mechanical task.
These seemingly trivial encounters with inadequacy as children can impact our lives all the way into adulthood. Why? Because children without the reasoning or emotional development to make sense of their experiences do the only thing they can think of to cope with pain — they bury it.
And the problem with burying our weakness is that it opens the door for shame, which is the single most toxic emotion to our physical and mental health.
The more convinced we are that our weakness undermines our worth, the more power it has to control our lives. Shame of weakness stunts our growth and locks away critical parts of our personalities where they can never grow up or heal.
In this way, many of us still carry a small child inside who was humiliated into hiding, and if we have any hope of healing, we first have to let this child out into the light.
We will have to say we’re sorry for locking him or her away for so many years and that we hope they weren’t very claustrophobic. We will have to let them into our lives, our counseling sessions, and our closest relationships. We will have to let them awkwardly reacquaint themselves with the world.
When we finally stop trying so hard to transform our weakness, we may find it ends up transforming us.
Weakness is vulnerable, but fertile ground. It is the place where true acceptance and belonging are born. It is the force that drives us deeper into meaningful relationships and straight into the heart of God.
Years ago, a friend directed my attention to an oak tree in my yard and casually said something that changed my life. She explained that it was the tree’s need for water and nutrients that drove its roots further into the ground, making it taller, stronger, and more beautiful. It was what the tree was unable to produce on its own that ultimately made it thrive.
“And the same goes for us,” she brilliantly concluded.
Our weakness can either drive us into fear and isolation or it can drive us deeper into life-giving relationships. It can cause us to become frail and lifeless or it can force our roots deeper into the fertile soil of acceptance and belonging.
Even though I still experience the same irrational fear when confronted with certain types of tasks, I now recognize this uncomfortable feeling as an opportunity—a chance to first accept myself as I am, and secondly, to open the door for vulnerability and true connection with those around me.
Unflattering though it may seem, voicing our weakness is the only way to usher in the kind of connection we're made to experience.
What if the very weakness you think is keeping you from love and acceptance is actually the path to receiving it?