It was silent for a moment. Then a woman from my small group responded, “That’s why you probably don’t have many friends.” She was frank. To the point. And a little harsh. The conversation was interrupted by the leader pointing us to the next question. My jaw hung open in disbelief at what was just said.
It was a typical event at our church, a time of teaching and discussion that my small group was attending. The topic of the evening was on community and the question seemed simple: What keeps you from authentic friendships?
But, I sat there around the table not fully knowing how to respond. Some folks went around sharing that they often were too busy or too lazy to spend time with friends outside of work. I had a flexible job that was very relational. In fact, I spent a good amount of time with friends. But, I didn’t have a confident grasp on the word “authentic.”
As an internal processor, I thought long and hard about the question at hand. Were my friendships truly authentic when I still had bouts of loneliness? What keeps me from allowing someone to see me fully as I am? It wasn’t quite a light-bulb moment… it was more a consequence of my turn to say something enlightening so I finally blurted out, “I think it’s my perfectionism.”
I continued: “I…uh…I have always struggled with wanting people to see me as perfect, all-together. So, I don’t tend to let people in on the real things going on. I have often felt lonely even in a crowd of people and maybe this perfect image thing is keeping me from real connection.”
That’s when this woman so kindly chimed in and said one of the most important things I have ever learned about myself… “that’s why you probably don’t have many friends.”
This wasn’t a complete stranger. This woman had seen me every single week. She watched me in community, in bible study, in prayer time. She saw my friendliness, but she also saw my inability to share myself with other people. She had witnessed the damage my perfectionism caused in our community.
I believed I was really great at sharing all parts of me, but when I thought back over a lifetime of friendships I realized my image was shaped by mostly shared joys and only occasionally surface-level struggles—the struggles that are safe to share without people thinking you’re messed up.
And that’s exactly the problem—please, don’t think I’m messed up. I can’t share the real ugly, dark issues because we won’t be friends anymore. You won’t be able to deal with me. You will see that I am really evil on the inside.
Those fears kept me from growth and connection in my friendships.
When you don’t share the real parts of you, you aren’t truly being a good friend.
People want to know you and deep down you really want them to. When people know you, they can see God work in you and through you. They can celebrate and mourn all parts of your life. Plus, they have messy parts also and I think one of the most beautiful acts of friendship is saying “me too.” Don’t withhold that from your community. Instead, practice checking in with yourself and being honest with your community about all parts of your life.
Within the next week, ask some trusted friends if they think you practice vulnerability in your friendships. This could lead to some really great conversations about what fears keep us from sharing all parts of ourselves with our communities.