The smell of freshly pressed beans laid thick in the air as the coffee shop door swung shut behind me. Across the sun-drenched room, my friend waved a cheerful hello, and I walked over, pulling out a chair. We ordered coffee and made small talk while we waited. Moments later, steaming mugs were placed carefully down along with sweeteners and cream. We talked, stirred, and settled back in that way that coffee and good company beckons you to do.
She asked how my week was going. I smiled brightly, nodded my head, and offered the typical response to this kind of question, “Good. Things have been busy, but good. And you?” I quickly tilted the conversation back in her direction. She talked of her children’s antics at school, and her plans for Fall. She asked about my kids, and I too relayed some of their recent milestones and funny moments. We had a good visit. We enjoyed each other’s company. We left knowing we’ll pull up these chairs again in the not too distant future.
But here is what we didn’t do.
We didn’t divulge that the days at home with our children, now that we are no longer working, can feel unbearably long and lonely. We didn’t discuss the new and unnerving distance growing within our marriage that’s creating a chasm we aren’t sure how to cross. We didn’t say that raising our children to be kind souls is brutally hard some days because, if we’re honest, we aren’t always kind ourselves. We didn’t say that sitting in the nursing home with our loved one, watching her drift away to a place we can’t reach, is one of the most heart-wrenching things we’ve ever endured. We didn’t say that our prayers have gone unanswered for so long that the weight of the sheer silence feels bone deep. We didn’t say that our faith feels fragmented at best and obsolete at worse these days.
No, we didn’t say these things.
We may not have settled for the typical small talk of acquaintances; we’re better friends than that. But we didn’t dive down into the depths of our true selves either. That place that flows down deep at the soul level where anxiety, fear, worry, doubt, grief, and humiliation live. We all have it, and the waters there are dark, murky, and hard to navigate.
No, we didn’t go there.
It’s easier to tread water here on the surface, or better yet, just splash around at the water’s edge. To go much deeper than this requires vulnerability and that kind of openness unnerves us. What do we fear? Why don’t we share our innermost self? Is it our shame? Is it guilt from the past? Perhaps, but at the core, I think that many of us are genuinely afraid of not being loved if we are fully known.
Through the years, we learn to cover up the scars. We learn along the way that broken is not beautiful, and that struggles are not popular. Instead, we learn to wrap up all of our hurts, fears, and shortcomings in a shiny package so that we will be well received.
As an introverted person, it’s difficult for me to share my heart. I was well into my twenties before I found a couple of close friends with whom I felt I could share my deepest hurts, and know they were safe there with them. And you know, those friends are still friends today. They didn’t turn away when the topics got hard. They didn’t gossip about my frailties to other people. They just listened, and through the years, I’ve tried to do the same for them.
It has taken years, but I’ve finally learned that one of the greatest gifts we can give the world is our authentic selves. Not some shinier version, smarter version, prettier version, wittier version, skinnier version, or more religious version: just the truest version. For here is the truth: we are all children of God, fearfully and wonderfully made. We don’t have to be perfect. God knows our struggles, our battles, our disappointments, our brokenness, and extends His hand of agape love anyway. The wild and extravagant freedom God gives assures us that we are already fully known, and we are fully loved. We have nothing to fear.
So why not be bold in conversation? Why not show our hidden scars? Why not invite someone past arm’s length? I long for more than coffee shop friendship, don’t you? But for us to have it, we must be willing to chance it.