After an on-a-whim online purchase last week, I spent a solid portion of my weekend devouring Anne Marie Miller‘s most recent (though almost a year old) book, Lean on Me. (You can read my full review of the book on Amazon here.)
The book’s main challenge is this:
“Start small, be faithful, and see what God will do when you are intentional, vulnerable, and committed to consistently living and loving and serving in relationships with others.” (p. 154)
While my first read-through was really quick, and while there is still a great deal that I am processing, there was one really practical visual explanation of relationships that has really helped me to frame the understanding of community I have been developing lately. On p. 13, Miller offers a chart like the one shown here, saying, “If you look at how relationships within community function, there are four general categories: (1) Not Vulnerable and Not Committed; (2) Vulnerable and Not Committed; (3) Committed and Not Vulnerable; and (4) Committed and Vulnerable.”
For me, this framework is worth the cost of the book itself–though I still recommend picking up a copy of the book. Anne’s story is full of grace, and vulnerability, and encouragement wherever you might find yourself in the search for belonging and/or community. And, as Anne says herself as a sort of disclaimer, “it’s likely that we don’t fit neatly into any one particular category, but instead have tiny pieces of ourselves scattered across all of them; and where we are fluctuates and falls into many midranges rather than one extreme.” (p. 15)
We all have tendencies. We are all most comfortable in certain areas. I imagine some of those tendencies can be attributed to personality temperaments. For example, many of the extroverts I know might land more comfortably in being committed and not vulnerable, enjoying the commitment and social aspects of spending time with people on a regular basis, but avoiding the depth involved in vulnerability.
In much the same way, my fellow introverts may experience relationships in the way I find myself being most comfortable–let’s skip the “small talk” and get straight to the good stuff. When I spend time with people I often choose vulnerability first and foremost because I don’t like to “waste” my relational energy on “small talk” that will quickly deplete my relational energy. As I processed these differences on Saturday with my fellow-introverted soul friend Megan, we really recognized this in the beginnings of our deep friendship.
Personally, I find it really comfortable to live straddling those two categories, being vulnerable and not committed in some relationships and committed and not vulnerable in others. In fact, a number of particular people come to mind. These are not bad relationships–in fact, there are many relationships I have in those two categories that I deeply value. At the same time, I have found myself in a place of really leaning into some key relationships and seeking to move them from one of those two quadrants into that most healthy place of being committed and vulnerable. Here’s how Anne describes this final category:
“Out of the four groups, those who are committed and vulnerable are generally in the healthiest relationships. They are open about the realities of life with a consistent group of people. Because of the trust built by being committed, the ability to be vulnerable is easier. People in this category can celebrate the good things in life, mourn the losses, and help carry each other as they grow closer to God and to each other. These are the vital relationships every person needs in place. Not every relationship can or should be committed and vulnerable, but we need at least one or two people in order to have healthy, thriving community.” (p. 14-15)
So, as I continue to process all of this, I am cautious of a couple of things. I don’t want to put any of my friends or relationships into “boxes,” with the assumption that relationships will always be in one of those boxes. In fact, I am reminded that as Anne says herself in the book, “The richest relationships bloom only through time, commitment & a wide-open mind about who [they] might be with.” I’m learning to trust God’s plan and timing in building community. I am learning that sometimes God surprises us with the people He puts into our closest community. And, I’m learning that though these deepest relationships take time, they also take intentionality. They require us to lean in, to ask and be asked the hardest questions, and to have the courage to pursue some relationships that are both committed and vulnerable.