Meet Maddie. She’s a sixth-grade girl who, several years ago, taught me an important lesson about vulnerability in friendships. Her story impacted me so much, that I included it in The Happiness Dare. On Saturday, Maddie showed up at the library for my book signing. She bought a book, asked me to sign in, and then she asked for a photo.
But before the photo, she opened up her backpack and pulled out an old “lovie” that she’s loved her whole life.
The lovie is part of Maddie’s story, and it helped me learn how a person can boost her happiness by risking vulnerability.
Let me tell you more, and let’s start here:
Vulnerability is scary, isn’t it?
Vulnerability is intimidating because the more you expose your soul, the more you strip away your defenses. And without your defenses, how will you protect yourself?
When we slip out of our self-protective armor, we’re saying, “Here is all of me. The parts where you can love me and the parts where you can hurt me.” But when it comes to long-term happiness, the risk is worth the payoff.
I saw how this played out when our daughter Anna hosted a sleepover for several of her friends, including Maddie. Maddie’s mom informed me that her daughter would be bringing along her “lovie” and was worried that the other girls might tease her for sleeping with a ragged blanket—the same blanket that she’d slept with for ten years straight. It had moved with her from her crib to her toddler bed to her “big girl” bed. The blanket had taken long car rides with her, and it had soothed her when she felt lonely or hurt or afraid of the dark.
When this girl was around the people who knew her and loved her best, she was never afraid to bring the lovie into the light. But as she grew older, she began to keep it hidden from everyone else. She couldn’t quite put a finger on the reason why. Why did something she loved so much feel like it had to be hidden? Somehow, the blanket had become a bit of a secret. Admitting that she slept with a lovie made her feel vulnerable, and maybe a bit ashamed.
As night came, I dimmed the lights in the family room, where Anna and her friends would sleep. All the girls snuggled under blankets for a late-night movie. I pushed play on the remote. But Maddie? She wanted her blanket. I could see how she was fighting a quiet battle on her insides.
This battle was about the risk of vulnerability. If she’s like most of us, Maddie was asking herself the most paralyzing question in the universe: What will people think of me?
She made her choice. I watched as she walked to the bedroom, unzipped her bag, and quietly pawed through her belongings to find the love-worn blanket. From my seat in the family room, I saw what happened next.
The girl walked back into the room with her blanket tucked under her arm. One of the girls saw what she had retrieved from the bag. Maddie had been found out.
“What’s that?” asked the friend, pointing a finger at the lovie.
I was so proud of Maddie, because here’s what she did next: She lifted her chin, mustered her voice, and took the first step toward authentic relationship. She sat cross-legged on the couch and told her room of friends the truth. She told them how her mom’s friend had made the blanket for her when she was a newborn, how it had traveled with her on a hundred car rides, how she once lost it at the park, and how it fell apart a few years ago so Grandma had to sew it back together. She showed everyone the long stitch mark, and it looked like a scar.
Everyone listened. No one laughed at her. No one judged. And then the most beautiful thing happened. One by one, each of the girls pushed back the covers, walked into the bedroom, and unzipped her own duffel bag. Out came the ragged blankets, a bear with a missing eye, a plush doll. Every girl in the room was hiding a secret lovie in her bag.
That was the Night of the Great Unzipping.
Each girl dragged her own lovie into the living room, and then they took turns telling their stories—about lovies loved, lovies lost, and lovies found again.
Everyone slept better that night. Because someone had the guts to go first.
There’s a C.S. Lewis quote that goes like this: “Friendship begins in that moment when one person says to another: What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”
The first step toward friendship — deep friendship — is vulnerability. True friendship requires a terrific amount of emotional exposure. With it, comes risk and possible rejection. But it also comes with the likelihood that someone else knows exactly what you’re feeling.
Deep friendship grows only when we are deeply known, and that is what the Relaters teach us.
The only way to be deeply known, is to allow yourself to be deeply seen.
Portions of this were excerpted from my book, The Happiness Dare. Copyright 2016. Tyndale Publishing House.
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