Bill Paxton vs. Vulnerability

I found myself getting a cup of coffee with a student the other day. It’s something that we try to do at Jubilee whenever we meet someone new.  No sales pitch. No agenda.  Just a cup of coffee.  Sometimes it’s awkward, sometimes its light-hearted and polite, and then sometimes it quickly becomes something much more than a cup of coffee.

We open with some regular filler conversation, and the conversation is great.  The student is intelligent, well-spoken, put together, and full of energy and enthusiasm.  Eventually I ask where she’s from.   She fondly mentions the town she grew up in, how much fun she had there, how many great memories she has growing up because it was a time when she had ‘rose colored glasses on, and didn’t realize how the world really is’.  Joy seems to be radiating from her when she’s talking…a bright smile, sparking eyes.

‘how the world really is’…

It’s subtle.  It’s thrown in so non-nonchalantly that it almost slips by unnoticed, like it must have done countless times in the past, covered up by a giddy laugh and a quick transition.  But it’s there.  So what do you do when you hear it…?

My first thought is to just to name it – ‘wait, what do you mean by how the world really is?’.   But…we’ve never met before…we have no built up trust or relational equity…no shared history or understanding between us…

I take a sip of coffee, and find myself sharing my own story about how the world really is… 

A story from my own past. A story about mistakes and slip-ups and poor decisions…but also one about finding God in the most unlikely of places.  A reminder that whatever road I take myself down…wherever I run to…I seem to keep finding God gently tapping me on the shoulder, asking if I’m lost and in need of a ride.  Would I like to go down a different road instead?

And then I just stopped talking.

And I waited…

And then her story began.  And not the PG made-for-tv version staring Bill Paxton as the smiling father and Selena Gomez as the earnest and sassy teen…the real story. The story about how the world really is. Or at least how it seems.

We’ve been so cultured and conditioned and trained to hide away our pain that it is difficult to know where to begin.  Some students have been judged and condemned in their home, by their friends, and all too often by the faith communities they used to be a part of.  What may have started as whispers and rumors in youth group, often ends in de-facto excommunication.

So how do we as leaders, or as people, build trust up?  Perhaps it is by trusting others with our own stories…

It doesn’t always work.  I’m sure there are times when you can risk vulnerability and scare off a student who might not be able to handle the idea of a pastoral presence that has made mistakes.  And I definitely don’t always guess correctly.  But I believe that healing can’t begin until we can start being honest and real.

*This story is shared with permission of the student I met with.






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