When I was little, I used to spend my summers at the outreach English camps that my parents led in Eastern Europe. During the evening program, the local youth group would act out skits and there was one, in particular, that really stuck with me through the years.
It was about a girl who held her beautifully raw heart in outstretched hands. Unashamed, she gave it to different people, but they were just that - people who mishandled it and broke it. In response, she began to hold her heart closer to her chest and protect it more fiercely. She put up walls, vowing to never make her heart accessible again.
In those walls she was held hostage, desperate to be fully known and deeply loved.
Then Jesus came and asked her to open up her hands and entrust her heart - open, raw, and vulnerable - to Him. He held her heart so gently and tenderly; He treasured her and found her vulnerable heart beautiful.
As long as he was holding her heart, she could share it with others because she was confident it was safe with him and worth being seen by others.
I used to think that girl was foolish to make her heart so vulnerable. She should have protected it from the beginning. She should have done what I was so good at doing - holding my heart close and only sharing pieces of it to ensure it stayed safe and intact.
Now I see the beauty in her story. She didn’t keep her heart enclosed while she carefully decided what pieces she would share with others. Instead, she laid it out bare to be seen in all of its beauty and ugliness. That is such a brave thing to do and so scary when we do it alone.
But when Jesus is the one holding and protecting our raw and vulnerable hearts; when we experience being fully known and fully loved by Him, we can courageously make our raw hearts accessible to others too.
We don’t have to keep pieces hidden or share only the good parts of our stories wrapped up with a pretty bow. We can offer the people in our lives a pen, hold out our hearts, and let them into the mess of our process.
We can invite them to co-write our stories with us.
The first time I did this is ingrained in my mind because it forever changed the way I engage in relationships.
It was several years ago when I was in my senior year of college. I had been interested in a guy for about a year, but he had no clue. Because being interested in him opened up the possibility of being rejected, I spiraled into familiar self-protective patterns. In the wake of a heartbreak I had experienced as a teenager, I vowed I would never let it happen again; I would not give others the opportunity to receive me in my vulnerability.
I kept myself at arm’s length from people. Acting untouchable, strong, and unreadable to the people around me allowed relationships to develop on my terms. The pen was in my hand and I was the one writing the story.
I prided myself in being “mysterious” - which, in my case, was a fancy way of saying “unapproachable”. But, really, the fear I thought I was conquering by enclosing and protecting my heart, was actually holding me hostage. I didn’t give others the opportunity to receive me in my vulnerability.
I believed if I didn’t show all my cards, I could somehow avoid ever being rejected. I was honest, but never vulnerable. And that cost me the experience of being fully known and fully loved as I was.
I began to sense God inviting me into freedom from my fear of being rejected when I risked being vulnerable. I knew I needed to show up raw, in process. It meant holding out my raw heart in one hand and the pen to my story in the other, risking that in his hands that pen could turn into a weapon but could also become a healing balm.
I had to believe that my beauty and worth weren't defined by his response.
Eyes closed, I breathed deep and willed my body to still and my spirit to take heart. Tears slipped down my face onto my pillow case and in that silent, painfully raw moment, I laid my heart bare before my Father. This day felt sacred somehow - like I was stepping onto holy ground as I let down my protective walls and trusted His protection. I chose to live free and made my heart fully open to this guy.
And you know what? It was one of the best choices I've ever made. It wasn’t because I got the outcome I hoped for (I didn't). In fact, it wasn’t even about the guy anymore. I showed up as me - already fully known, fully loved, and fully accepted by my Father - and found true freedom.
Something happened that night. Though I didn’t receive affirmation from the guy, I felt more beautiful following that conversation than I ever had. I could winsomely make my heart accessible to this guy because it was being held by the One who made it and who gave of Himself for it.
With my heart out in front of me and a newfound freedom, I felt confident in who I was, what I had to say, and what I had to offer. I learned that beauty is found in being a woman who vulnerably places her heart into God’s hands, allowing Him to protect it as she steps out in faith - towards freedom, through fear.
When I see myself through His eyes, and find myself in Him, I can begin to claim being His image-bearer and His beloved as my core truth. His favor rests on me.
I am enough, because He says I am enough.
The experience of moving beyond honesty and laying yourself bare before God, making yourself completely vulnerable in the midst of your mess and finding you are fully loved, is incomparable to anything else. We were created to live in relationship - in community. Offering others the pen to co-write your story feels scary, but I have found that the stories we write together are rich and beautiful.
They are the stories worth telling.
“And hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” - Romans 5:5
Bio: Hannah Ellenwood was born in the Northwoods of America and raised in the heart of Europe. She recently relocated to Chicago after graduating from Biola University last year as a Marketing major. Hannah currently works at Listen Ventures, investing capital brand expertise into early stage startups and innovative entrepreneurs. As evident in this article, Hannah has learned that the best way to impact others is to be courageous in her vulnerability, and seek each circumstance as an opportunity to take risks, step into the uncomfortable, and love others. Connect with Hannah on her blog.