Jenny F. Call: Parenting: a spiritual practice in vulnerability

Along with 26 million other people, I first discovered Brené Brown through her TED talks on shame and vulnerability (if you have not seen them, I encourage you to stop reading and watch). She is a social work researcher with the gift of storytelling, sharing her research interspersed with relatable stories of personal struggle and insight. She gives language to the experiences I had growing up in a family culture of guilt, and a church culture that invoked shame in its subjugation of women.

I devoured her books: I Thought it Was Just Me (But It Isn’t), The Gifts of Imperfection, and Daring Greatly. Her focus on wholehearted living resonates with me as I believe this is what faith offers us–the understanding that we are all worthy of love and belonging just as we are. Brené often mentions faith in her work, and her research indicated spirituality as a tool of resiliency for those facing life’s challenges.

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Recently I drove to Nashville to attend a Random House Publishing event for the release of her latest book, Rising Strong. I arrived a couple hours early to get a good seat, and quickly was befriended by the handful of other Brené fangirls who were already waiting at the door. We passed the time sharing how her work had touched our lives and the ways we have used it in our various lines of work.

As women, we had all experienced the tension of vulnerability, knowing that it is a tool for connection and growth, while avoiding it because it feels so scary, and because it is seen as weakness. But Brené views vulnerability as strength. Wholehearted living involves having the courage and compassion to live from a place of worthiness. We can accept our faults and failures and still know that we are enough.

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Parenting and ministry have been my biggest vulnerability challenges. I understood that ministry required it, and yet parenthood has surprised me by the ways it has stripped me raw. It has been a place of great sacredness and great challenge. I have been pushed into uncomfortable spaces within myself when confronted by my selfishness, failures, and annoying quirks that are brought out and witnessed by the two little ones in my home.

I see myself in them, both to my pride and my chagrin. Our children are big feelers, and we work hard to teach them appropriate ways to express their emotions. But when I yell at them to control themselves, I realize that this is something we need to learn together.

The process of rising strong involves owning our stories, and being real about the stories we tell ourselves (“I’m not enough. I’m a failure. Everyone is judging me. Nothing will ever get better.”) Through “the reckoning” (engaging with our feelings and getting curious about why we feel that way), “the rumble” (confronting the stories we tell ourselves by writing down how we feel in the moment), and “the revolution” (making it a practice and integrating it in our lives), I am reminded again that parenting my children will be the greatest spiritual practice I ever take on.

As I come to terms with my own failings, I will be more equipped to help them learn and grow from theirs. Ultimately, I hope to exemplify God’s unconditional love, teaching them of their worthiness so that they can share God’s love with others.

It puts in mind my favorite Psalm, Psalm 139, that beautifully describes how completely God knows us, and yet this knowledge does not scare God off. God lovingly remains present with us wherever we may go. There are many moments in my life and ministry where I have felt this love and acceptance so clearly.

I want this gift for my children as well.

As we learn together in this practice of daring greatly and rising strong, I pray that they will also feel hemmed in, surrounded in a protective and unconditional love that sees them completely for who they are and embraces them wholeheartedly.

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Rev. Jenny Frazier Call is University Chaplain at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia, mom to two school-age children, and wife to John. Check out more of her writing at hopecalls.blogspot.com.

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