Pastor Todd Buegler
February 20-21, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church
Grace and peace to you from God our creator, and from Jesus Christ, our Lord and savior. Amen.
Back in my elementary school days, I took piano lessons. Truth be told, I wasn’t a very good piano student. Actually, I was terrible. When I started out, my Mom, who had been a piano teacher, tried to teach me. (That lasted exactly one lesson. She was then quickly on the phone to sign me up with someone else.) Piano was hard…the whole “using all ten fingers at the same time” thing, and occasionally throwing in a foot pedal, it was complicated.
And to be honest, I didn’t like to practice. That was probably the biggest problem.
You see, the trouble was I loved the idea of being able to play the piano. But I hated not being able to do something well the first time I tried. And I hated even more to admit that I couldn’t do it. And beyond that, my pride was such that I refused to let anyone, even my Mom, help me. Let me just say, this was not a recipe for success.
I was so fixated on controlling my own experience that I made myself miserable and after five painful years, I just quit. To this day, it is one of my regrets. I realize now, that even when I was just 8 or 9, I’d already learned to put up my defenses and to try and to look better than I knew I really was. If I would have just accepted the fact that I would be imperfect, I would still be an imperfect piano player, but at least I’d be playing the piano!
I’ve learned over time that it takes courage to admit that you don’t know something; and more poignantly it takes courage to admit that no matter how much you try, perfection just isn’t part of life. Some lessons are more painful to learn than others. How often we are unwilling or afraid to receive help in a time of need, or to expose a vulnerable place in our lives. How often we are unwilling to relent to God’s ways, even when they may to lead to new life.
Dr. Brene Brown is a sociologist, teacher, speaker and author. She is one of my favorites. I highly recommend her books. She studies vulnerability. She has discovered that people she calls “whole hearted” are people who have the courage to work through the fear and shame of being imperfect and claim their vulnerability. She says that out of a willingness to be vulnerable comes a willingness to be authentic and that authenticity breeds compassion and connection to the world around them. She has discovered that these people tend to live fuller more meaningful lives.
She didn’t set out to be an expert in this topic. If you asked her, she would tell you that she has a hard time being open and vulnerable. She said “I kept learning things about how I should live…but don’t. It drove me kind of crazy!”
Brene Brown loves to do research. She loves the process of controlling and predicting outcomes based on what she is observing and measuring. She’s a self-admitted control freak. In her research, up to this point, things were measured, analyzed and packaged into neat categories and data sets. Yet her discoveries on the role of vulnerability led her to a paradox that taught her that the more people embraced the messiness of life, the happier they were.
She didn’t like this answer. It made no sense. It actually sent her into therapy. She tells how her life was turned upside down when she discovered that her observations about shame and fear were only half the equation of how people experienced vulnerability. There was a flip side to it. That same vulnerable experience was also the birth place of joy, belonging, creativity and faith.
She discovered that those who have the capacity to be vulnerable about the fear and shame of their own imperfections and failures are the same people who find a deep connection to family, community, purpose in life, and God. That’s why she calls these people “whole hearted.”
It is the season of Lent in the church. The season when we embrace vulnerability. It’s time when Christians reflect and tell the truth about the reality that we are not perfect, nor is it the objective of life to become perfect. Rather, we fess up to the reality that our actions have consequences for ourselves and others and often we can’t control them. It is a time when we tell the truth about our lives. It is a time when we turn away from our culture’s infatuation with consumption, and competition and a need for utter self-reliance and we step into the paradoxical place of letting go of control and gaining a glimpse of God’s redeeming work in midst of an imperfect world.
Brene Brown discovered another interesting thing about these “whole hearted” people who were willing to be vulnerable about their imperfections. They also believed that in spite of the ways they fell short in life, they felt worthy of love and belonging. They were able to let go of the notion that their value was based on attaining perfection. This is a huge finding! Whole-hearted people’s self-esteem is not based on their ability to perform.
This is the exact opposite of what our culture teaches. The messages we hear on a daily basis ooze with the myth of perfection:
- We need perfect hair
- We need perfect teeth
- We need perfect clothes
- Perfect bodies
- Perfect educations
- Perfect kids
- Cars, homes, the list goes on and on.
Brene Brown’s research shows clearly that to become wholehearted, vulnerable people, we need to let go of this need to be perfect. I’ll be honest, we may be able to do this, but we resist. Letting go can be a hard thing. We actually want to believe that our value should be based on how we perform…on how we appear….because then we maintain this sense of control. And so we resist letting go…we resist doing what needs to be done.
Jesus says, “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often I have desired to gather you together, as a mother hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” This sounds a lot like resisting to me. There Jesus is, ready to provide comfort, belonging and protection and we say, “No thanks Jesus, I got this.” We resist.
I still remember a conversation with my father, probably about 8 or 9 months before he died. He had a degenerative lung disease that was complicated by the fact that he had been a 30 year (plus) smoker. He was having all sorts of health issues, he had been in and out of the hospital, he was on an oxygen tank…it had been a hard time for him…for all of us.
He was in his study. I was heading home and I went in to say good-bye, And this crusty, type-A, independent, self-reliant businessman and former US Marine, in a moment that kind of shocked me said: “Todd, I’m sorry about all this…” “All of what?” And he pointed at his oxygen tank. “All the trouble this is causing. I wish I had it to do over again. I would have made some different choices.”
At that moment, I don’t think I really understood what he was saying. But in hindsight, I realize that he was opening up and admitting to mistakes he’d made, and to errors in judgment that he knew were going to create pain and grief. I think he knew that his time was limited, and he was admitting how fragile he was. He was being vulnerable. That moment meant a lot to me. And it made us closer in the time we had left.
This is what vulnerability does: It draws us close…like a hen draws its chicks. It deepens relationships.
In the frailty of our imperfect world is a God who meets us at the cross – a most vulnerable place – to show us the depths of God’s love for imperfect people. At the cross, God opens up and is vulnerable for us. God calls us close.
And God calls us to let go of perfection and control; to admit and embrace our flaws and imperfections. This time of year, this season of Lent allows us to take the long view and follow Jesus to the ultimate place of vulnerability: the cross.
But it’s here at the cross that we can trust in Jesus’ willingness to be vulnerable for us and allow God to work mysterious wonders that turn death around once again. It’s here where we are able to remain imperfect, yet changed people, able to experience joy and love and belonging and peace.
It’s here at the cross, that you are drawn close to Jesus, to witness the vulnerability, the grace, and the love he has for you. Let us follow in that path.