My closest friend in high school told me—on several occasions—that I was a “know-it-all.”
Today the most common tagline I might be given is “she’s so real and vulnerable.”
How did that happen?
How did I go from an attitude of pride and I know what’s best to being willing to admit and even share my mistakes, weaknesses, neediness, losses—all the hard things?
The answer, of course, is Jesus. And His Spirit.
But the process was long, painful…and humbling.
Showing Your Weakness
My online dictionary defines several different types of vulnerability, but what we are talking about is this one: willingness to show emotion or to allow one’s weakness to be seen or known; willingness to risk being hurt or attacked: The foundation for open communication consists of honesty, trust, and vulnerability.
Who wants to allow their weaknesses to be seen or known, and certainly, who wants to risk being hurt?
Or laughed at, mocked, shamed…or disliked and rejected.
A primary evidence of my pride was that I always wanted my own way. You could ask my sisters and they would agree: I always wanted, even demanded, my way growing up. And I usually got it.
That high-school friend who accused me of being a know-it-all was not wrong. My insistence that I knew what was right put a rift in our relationship that took months to heal.
But there was a turning point, a beginning of a more humble spirit. This occurred at the end of my first year working on the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru):
- I was pretty sure I was something special.
- I was the only official writer/editor in the ministry. I was the associate editor of Collegiate Challenge Magazine. My boss was Bill Bright.
- I loved my job! And, deep inside, I thought the ministry got a good deal when I said “yes” to God’s call.
However, apparently my arrogance was not buried so deeply inside me. Others could see my self-important attitude. And they were offended by it.
At the end of my first year on staff, Dr. Bright invited me into his office. After we talked about the magazine, he asked a penetrating question:
“Judy, are you walking in the Spirit?”
Pause. “I think so,” I stammered.
He responded, “Others are not so sure of that.” He elaborated on the pride that was evident to others working beside me.
Then he asked, “Are you sure this is where God wants you to serve?
“I am sure that God called me to this ministry,” I replied.
His next words were so like Jesus. Dr Bright said kindly, “Then go and walk in the Spirit.”
A sobering conversation, for sure. But transformational for me.
A Recognition of Pride
No, I haven’t always walked in the Spirit since then. But I am consistently conscious of the incredible grace God has extended to allow me to serve Him. I know I am unworthy and inadequate. Yet, as I live by His Spirit, He continues to give mercy, strength, wisdom, and ideas—and even fruitfulness.
I began to recognize that my pride, my insistence on my way, that I knew best, was not only dysfunctional (on many levels), but it was sin. The one who knew what was right was God, not me. That began a long (I’m a slow learner) journey toward more humility and less pride.
I could fill pages with journey stories. Gratefully, God accelerated my learning.
He helped me to see that my primary gift as a Kingdom builder is to encourage people. My primary tools for encouraging include listening and talking, writing and speaking. And probably the most effective agents are the stories of God working in my life.
When I thought I would be named director of publications, the job was given to a man who knew very little about publishing a magazine. I was ready to protest, but God said, “No, Judy, this is my plan.” That man and I forged a wonderful partnership. He learned publishing skills needed for his future assignments, and I learned management skills I would be needing.
When the man I was dating was in no hurry to get married, my friends said, “Give up on him.” When I went to the Lord, saying I was going to break it off, God said, “No, Judy. Stay.” My response: “But I don’t like this not knowing, not being in control.” And my gentle Lord said, “Exactly, Judy. We are working on your learning that you are not in control. Trust me.” So I waited—several more years. We have been married 46 years now, and he was worth waiting for.
When my first child was born, she cried. For months. She rarely slept and her tummy hurt all the time. I remember crying out to God that this was a mistake. I was not a good mother. I was sure I would not meet her needs, and I would never be in control of my life again. Again God, recognizing my slow learning, replied, “Judy, you are just right for this child, and she is just right for you. She will help you in the years ahead to remember that you are not in control. She will teach you to trust me.”
When God sent us a son from a traumatic situation, and his needs were clearly beyond our capacity, we cried out for help. As he grew older and made many destructive choices, we ignored the shame and revealed our needs—and God provided help for what was a long wilderness journey. And our story has helped many others.
And that is why vulnerability has been key to the ministry God has given me.
As I listen to people and the needs of their lives, I can also share a story of God’s work in my life. Of his weaning me from thinking I know it all, of wanting my own way. Or revealing to me over and over, in my weaknesses and failures, that he is with me and he is working out his much better ways for me.
God allowed me to taste humble pie for the beautiful dual purpose of growing me in Christlikeness and giving me open doors into the lives of other people in need.