My first experience with vulnerability was in sixth grade.Â It was the first time I extended myself towards someone.Â Her name was Mary.Â Mary, Mary, Mary, at the time I thought you ruined my life the day I met you.Â Mary liked me.Â A lot.Â So it should have been easy.Â But I was terrified.Â A girl had never blatantly expressed her interest in me, and I didnâ€™t know what to do with that power.Â Through a friend of a friend, she asked me to be her boyfriendâ€”what exactly that consists of in the sixth grade I cannot entirely recall.Â Phone calls.Â Passing notes in class.Â Writing her name on the back of your hand as an act of public declaration.
The same things I do today as a functioning adult.
I was so terrified to let her in, I kept her waiting for three weeks.
She was approaching me, and I was still terrified of rejection.Â What would happen when she got to know the real twelve-year-old Max? The one obsessed with dinosaurs and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.Â The nonathletic-picked-on-by-the-jocks-Max who went through a growth spurt so awkward that summer, he was three sizes too big for himself and still learning what to do with all that extra arm and leg.Â I couldnâ€™t figure out why she was attracted to me.Â In the end, I finally said, “Yes.”Â And I was still alive.
Then she wanted to kiss me, and I died.
I mean really kiss me.Â This would have been fine except Mary was experienced.Â I wasnâ€™t her first.Â Sheâ€™d already locked lips with her ex-boyfriend, Ianâ€”dangerous, bad boy, wavy locks of hair, Ian.Â How was I supposed to compete with that?
I put it off for three months, but I couldnâ€™t avoid it any longer.Â Mary, along with the rest of the sixth grade class, was beginning to question my masculinity. Â It was time to put myself out there.Â I wasnâ€™t good at anything else.Â I wasnâ€™t known for anything.Â Yet, all the bullies who picked on me werenâ€™t kissing any girls. Â This was my chance to prove myself as a man. Â I extended myself to her, risked everything, and engaged in what is still one of the most horrifying experiences of my lifeâ€”my first kiss.
The next day at school I was a hero.
Three days later at school Mary broke up with me, and I hid in the bathroom.*
I tell you this because that fear of vulnerability and risk doesnâ€™t change whether youâ€™re 12 or 112.
On Thursday night I shot into downtown with nothing but a couple of bucks and some loose change kicking around in my pockets.Â I was off to meet a woman for coffee and food, and just like in sixth grade, I couldnâ€™t figure out why she was expressing interest in me.Â Thank goodness I was unfamiliar with the downtown area and choose to meet up at The Down And Out, a bar suitable for any respectful criminalâ€™s first day of parole. The place is positively charming if your wifeâ€™s just left you, or youâ€™ve recently stabbed someone and you need to lay low.Â But as far as dates go, itâ€™s not exactly an establishment conducive for exchanging pleasantries unless youâ€™re trying to hide all your scars and tattoos in the shadowsâ€”or fidgety nerves.
We all know heartbreak and rejection.Â Itâ€™s universal.Â We feel it because God feels it too.Â He made us in His likeness.Â And we reject him day after day after day.Â Yet He remains persistent, unmoved, and still in love with you just as much as He was yesterday.Â He takes endless risks with us, letting us know how much He loves us, yet never asking us to love Him in return.
Then why is it so hard for us to risk? Because we live at the mercy of each others choices.Â We have no control over what the other person will say when we ask them to dance, for a date, out for a cup of coffee; if these skinny jeans look good.
The thing is, I donâ€™t believe it should be hard.Â Risk is a part of life.Â God does it every day so we do it too.Â Making a decision not to risk is making a decision never to live, never to love.
Worse, by not risking, weâ€™ll never experience Godâ€™s love.Â A love so powerful and consuming it never runs out.
Mary destroyed my confidence in being a man in the sixth grade, and subconsciously I still carry it around with me after all these years. Â Â Today I am taking a climb well aware I may have to jump when I get to the topâ€”to take the risk of not knowing whatâ€™s at the bottom.Â It doesnâ€™t make a difference if Iâ€™m landing in a swimming pool or shark-infested waters.Â Either way, I still know how to swim.
Now, Iâ€™m not saying we should live a life of reckless climbing and carefree jumping.Â What makes the difference, what makes the rejection easy to handle, and what strengthens our vulnerability is listening when we get to the top. Not jumping for our own satisfaction and adrenaline rushâ€”that will always end in deathâ€”but jumping because God says itâ€™s okay, â€śGo ahead.Â Iâ€™ve got you.â€ť
Even though He may not tell you whatâ€™s at the bottom, He knows you still know how to swim.
*Odds are those two incidents are directly related, and if youâ€™re reading this right now please donâ€™t judge me on my sixth grade kissing abilitiesâ€”Iâ€™ve learned a lot since then.
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