Think of your favorite television show character or your favorite character from a novel. Just name someone. Why do you like that character so much? There are all sorts of reasons why people identify with fictional characters, and, as a novelist, it’s fascinating for me to understand why. But one thing I’ve discovered in most character studies is that people respond to vulnerabilities.
You could have a character in a book or movie that has no weakness, never screws up, never makes enemies, but I’m not sure anyone would like him. He’d be boring. At a writer’s conference I was just at, one of the speakers explained that the human brain’s favorite story is a story of struggle. Those are the tales we love, and, by extension, those are the characters we love too.
If you identify a favorite fictional character that you’ve seen or read about, just think for a moment about what kind of vulnerabilities that character has. And I’m not talking about weaknesses. I mean the bits and pieces of their lives that humanize them. The dust on their bookshelves, the disordered chaos of their spaceship, the wrinkles in their superhero cape, and their willingness to share it with others or hide it.
I’d be willing to bet that your favorite character has some quirks and tics that make him or her vulnerable, because that’s what makes a character likable. And in real life, it’s also what makes a person real.
Today’s verses are 1 Peter 3:3-4.
Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.
This verse is mainly directed at women, but I think the context is relevant to both genders. We live in world that’s obsessed with appearances. We’re told every moment of every day how we should look, and if we don’t conform, there’s something wrong with us. We’re instructed to fill in all the gaps, to fix all the cracks, and to patch up the dents by whatever means necessary so that we don’t give people the idea that we’re unprofessional or uneducated or unpopular.
Dye your hair. Bleach your teeth. Pluck your eyebrows. And there’s nothing wrong with any of that, but don’t you ever get tired of not being real? Don’t you ever wonder if the face of the person sitting across from you is their actual face? Or is it a mask they’ve applied to keep people from getting too close?
Being vulnerable isn’t about being weak. It’s about admitting that you don’t have it all together. It’s knowing that your bookshelves are dusty and your trash cans are full and your workspace is messy and still being okay if other people see it. That’s hard to do. It’s difficult to open yourself up to criticism that way, because people are critical. People like to poke fun at others for a variety of reasons, and if you open your heart to another human being, you’re always taking the risk that it will backfire.
You can look perfect on the outside and be a wreck inside. You can give the appearance of having it all together but in reality your world is falling apart. When you’re out in the world or at work or at church, you just slip your mask on and pretend like everything is fine, until you get home, and there’s no one to face the darkness by your side. Why would there be? You’ve convinced everyone that there is no darkness.
No one is strong enough to get through life alone. And it is absolutely possible to make people think you’re fine when you really aren’t. And, sure, it’s scary to wear your heart on your sleeve. It’s terrifying to open your life to someone else’s scrutiny, but it’s what’s inside you that matters the most. The person you are in your soul is the person who will live forever, not the made-up, all-together fashion plate on the outside.
Instead of worrying about whether or not you look like you’ve got life figured out, spend some time actually figuring life out by reading the Bible and listening to what God says. He’ll tell you how to live. He’ll tell you what’s important.
So let’s get vulnerable. Let’s get real. That doesn’t mean you walk around telling everyone your troubles and your sorrows. But it does mean that you aren’t ashamed of them.