This is the third post in a series meant to be preceded by an introductory letter. Please read that here.
“Daring greatly means the courage to be vulnerable. It means to show up and be seen. To ask for what you need. To talk about how you’re feeling. To have the hard conversations.” ~ Brene Brown
“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” ~ 1 Corinthians 13: 12
“The greatest gift you ever give is your honest self.” ~ Mister Rogers
I took a psychology class in high school in which, among other things, we studied Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Perhaps you know it? It’s illustrated as a pyramid stratifying needs for human thriving.
I’m not sure where Abraham Maslow’s work stands today in the world of psychological theory, but his pyramid makes some sense to me. At the base: physiological needs. They must be met. A starving child will die no matter how much her devastated mother loves her. A person must eat, sleep, be clothed and sheltered in order to live.
The next level is the need for safety. In order to thrive, a person requires a measure of security and stability. We all do better with a fundamental freedom from fear.
Third is the need for love and belonging. This goes beyond mere walls and protection. This is what we hope to get from a home.
Interestingly, the home that protects us physically, that provides shelter from the elements and a secure residence, actually opens us to vulnerability in a new way, one based on proximity. We live with each other. We know one another’s weaknesses.
And this is why Maslow’s third level, love and belonging, makes sense to me as such. Within the physical safety of the home, one is safer still if one is loved.
Vulnerability and Love
The desire to be loved is fundamental.
And, in that context, the need to be known is essential. After all, if someone says they love you but they don’t really know you, then they love a projection, an idea, a notion of you. They can’t really love you at all.
So in order to be loved, we must be known, which means we must be vulnerable.
Again, a home and a family naturally provide us with some measure of vulnerability. Mere proximity exposes us–and our weaknesses. We know whose shoes stink and who farted during the movie, who scares easily and who gags at the thought of tomatoes.
What we want and need is to be safe within that vulnerability.
Sure, we could hide our shoes and avoid tomatoes, but how much better to be welcomed into the house along with our stinky shoes because we are so much loved and wanted at home that the shoes don’t really matter?
Being known and loved for who we are: that’s what we long for.
Home, Vulnerability, Safety
And that’s what the family should provide. Because we know one another so well–stinky shoes and all–we should love one another well. We may have a front-row seat to farting, but we have that same view onto sensitivity and sense of humor, and the penchants, habits, moles and freckles we talked about here.
Where we are truly and deeply loved, we don’t have to fear our failings and weaknesses. We can live in an honest familiarity that allows us to express our joy and own our guilt. It’s healthy intimacy.
Children reared in this kind of intimacy thrive. They have open communication about their thoughts and feelings without fear of shame. They are honored and protected as individuals. Their home becomes a source of strength even when they are not physically at home. Their confidence in themselves grows, and they can more readily accept and love others.
Intimacy is one of the most powerful and important parenting tools we get. In strongly intimate parent-child relationships, parents can help, support, and guide their children invaluably. This becomes even more profoundly important in the teenage years (blog series on that upcoming). And intimacy is best and most easily established by parents during childhood.
Vulnerability and the Gospel
A beauty of the gospel is that it is built on intimacy. The wise and omniscient God, creator of all life, knows every person individually. He revels in each one’s uniqueness. He knows each one’s faults. And he loves each one relentlessly.
He knows us intimately. By giving us Jesus, he made a way for us to know him, too.
We don’t have to be ashamed of our faults, guilt, or weaknesses because he knows them already and he loves us anyway.
We are all utterly vulnerable to God. In the grace and mercy of Jesus, we are also utterly safe.
Intimacy at Home
In light of these truths, a fundamental way to teach the gospel to our children is to foster intimacy in our homes.
There are lots of ways to do this, and enjoying each other is chief among them: we all feel safer with people who like us. But a few other specific ways also come to mind.
As I said earlier, intimacy is one of the most powerful and important tools we get as parents. In every way, it underscores the fundamental beauties of the gospel. And it lays groundwork that, maintained, can be priceless in helping your children navigate adolescence.
It is also one of the greatest potential gifts of being a family: to know and love deeply, to be deeply known and deeply loved.