Authors: Jennie Allen
Start the conversation by saying, “I know this may be a little awkward, but I am new to this level of honesty and being vulnerable. Can you please be honest with me if I share too much too quickly? Your honesty will help me know how to share and grow in this.”
If you really do this right, then at times you will share too much and sometimes you may get hurt by the response of others. That’s okay. Sometimes people don’t know what to do with difficulty. Give them grace and maybe slow down a little in how much you’re sharing. But also don’t assume you’ve overwhelmed them. Maybe they weren’t sure how to respond but are incredibly grateful for how deep you just went. Remember, I told you this is a risk, and risky things feel uncomfortable.
The fact that it feels uncomfortable doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. In fact, it probably means you’re doing it right.
Absolutely, this will happen. I’ve warned you, so don’t be surprised. This is part of the process of finding the right people. You risk sharing a little with someone and decide if it’s safe to share a little more. Remember to be clear about how you need
her to show up for you. Be sure to turn the tables and let her share as well.
Without a doubt, there are unsafe people. But part of finding the safe ones is risking and possibly being hurt by the unsafe ones.
Great question. Scripture says, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation.”
The apostle Paul, who penned those words, must have known that, while complaining feels good in the short term, it rarely solves the problem we’re complaining about.
Complaining is usually centered on others rather than acknowledging our own role in the situation. Vulnerability, in comparison, requires humility and an eagerness to grow. Being truly (and appropriately) vulnerable begins with a heart that desires change, a heart that wants to break the bondage of a negative thought pattern and instead seek and walk in truth.
Complaining seeks relief. Vulnerability seeks transformation and connection.
I WANT OTHERS TO NEED ME, BUT I DON’T WANT TO HAVE TO NEED OTHERS.
PEOPLE DON’T UNDERSTAND ME.
I JUST CAN’T SEEM TO AGREE WITH PEOPLE.
I’M AFRAID IF I AM VULNERABLE, I MIGHT BE REJECTED.
I’M TOO MUCH FOR HER.
I DON’T WANT PEOPLE TO JUDGE ME WHEN I LET MY WALLS DOWN.
SEVERAL WEEKS AGO, LINDSEY, ASHLEY,
Callie, and my new getting-closer-by-the-minute friend Jennie E. came over to the house. We chatted for a while, and then the conversation took a weird turn. I don’t remember exactly what comment I made, but Ashley looked at me and said, “Jennie, it seems like you have a hard heart right now.”
Ashley is not only my sister-in-law but my ask-the-hard-question, encourage-me-with-truth, pray-bolder-and-bigger prayers-than-I-am-comfortable-praying friend. And she’s not afraid to tell it like it is. We all need an Ashley in our lives.
She had asked for an update about something sensitive, a struggle I was having in one of my relationships, and something about the way I’d answered sent a red flag flying high.
I sat there, stunned. “Really?” I said. “You’re getting that from me?”
Lindsey chimed in. “I hate to say it, Jennie, but I agree.”
I’m pretty sure I rolled my eyes at them as the following thoughts raced through my brain:
Don’t bug me right now.
I just want to have fun.
Leave me alone.
This isn’t a big deal.
I’m not the one who is wrong in this situation between that friend and me. Or I’m not
wrong. Maybe a little wrong but still,
not in the mood.
Meanwhile, they continued to explain what they were sensing from me. “It feels like you’re closed off somehow to your part in this whole thing,” one of them said.
I was getting hot. I wasn’t all that interested in going there, but
is exactly where we were going. “You’re probably right,” I said. “Honestly. I’m listening to what you’re saying, and I probably have closed myself off to this situation.”
My friends looked at me, silent for a moment. “Is that how you…
to be?” one of them finally asked with a smirk, knowing that I was writing this book.
What came next brought tears to my eyes, and my
walled-off, hardened heart went soft. In the middle of our fun night together, they prayed for me and the situation. Later, as they each drove away, I smiled with raw cried-out eyes. I slept better that night than I had in days. I prayed better too. I lived freer, fuller, more at peace.
I am a professional heart hardener. I hate feeling pain, so I close myself off. These friends know this about me and love me anyway. Also, they love me too much to leave me there. They lasso me and pull me in, not only to themselves but to Jesus as well.
I hate it. And then I love it.
What is it about accountability that makes us squirm?
At its core,
accountability calls us to who we were meant to be,
through truth mixed with grace.
Yet our generation’s declaration of personal independence has pushed this away.
We resent being challenged on our behavior.
But what if that missing element is exactly why we all feel like our relationships don’t run deep?
I first met my friend Jey through some mutual friends. He is young and smart and joyful, and as he started filling in the blanks on his upbringing for me, I remember thinking,
It absolutely doesn’t seem possible that this person and this story go together.
Jey’s childhood in the slums of Nairobi was rough. I mean,
Rough, as in being born into generational poverty and forced to sell bootlegged liquor at age eight just to help keep the family afloat. Rough, as in waking up each day having no clue where his next meal was coming from, if there would even be a meal that day. Rough, as in being imprisoned at age nine for having stolen food that his single mom and siblings desperately needed to avoid utterly wasting away.
“When I was in prison,” Jey told me, “I prayed to God for two things. I hadn’t talked to Him before, but I sure was talking to Him now. So, the two requests: First, I wanted to get out of prison. And second, I wanted to get out of poverty. Which was just another form of prison, I guess.”
Here’s the funny thing about Jey: When you get him talking about his childhood, he smiles. He smiles a
He told me stories about the norm in Kenya of “holding each other’s hands.”
“Kids would show up at our little house because we didn’t have doors or locks on our little hut,” he said, “and my grandmother who lived with us would have no idea when they’d last eaten.” She was barely keeping her own kids alive, you remember. But still, she’d usher those kids inside, she’d sit them at the table, and she’d feed them like they were her own.
He told me about how they shared. “There was no concept of ‘mine,’ or of privacy, or of ownership. Everything we had was ours.”
Though Nairobi is a city of millions, within Jey’s neighborhood his grandmother and others served as a village-sized community. He said, “I would be running on the other side of the slum, goofing off with friends, and would hear my name because ‘the elders’ were everywhere! And those elders would
grab me by the collar right then and there and punish me, and, of course, my grandmother would hear about it.”
Jey’s life radically changed when in prison he got word that a family in the United States wanted to sponsor him through Compassion International, which meant that not only would he be freed from prison, but also that he and his siblings and mom would receive food, clean water, medical attention, and spiritual guidance each month, no thievery required. For the next decade, Jey worked hard in school and found work that eventually took him to the United States, where he lives now in Atlanta.
He’d spent a lifetime dreaming of getting to America, and now he was here. People weren’t as destitute in Atlanta as in Nairobi, and Jey felt sure their abundance would make them even more open to the gospel. “When you aren’t worried about food,” he reasoned, “you can think about higher aims.”
What Jey couldn’t have anticipated was that, while life back in Kenya had been rough all those years, he’d enjoyed a type of prosperity that he didn’t recognize until it was gone. “I miss the community, Jennie,” he said. “Yeah, the people in my hometown were poor. But we were poor together.” By contrast, in America, “everyone is very, very independent,” Jey said. “They own their own houses, their own cars, their own lives.”
When he spoke about what he missed about Nairobi, about the slums, he said, “I miss everyone being in and out of our lives. I wish that were true here. It’s so different. I’m grateful for all we have here, but I wish my kids were growing up with tribal elders in their ears. I wish we could be part of a village here.”
When we don’t have a village of interconnected, consistent
teammates in our lives, we feel invisible, and
when we are left alone and unbothered, we become the worst version of ourselves.
Whether it is neighbors, or mentors, or grandparents, or our closest friends, we need people who see us. Who call us up and out.
But we hate words like…
We find the idea of answering to others so uncomfortable that we want to run from it. What if we are running from what we most need—namely, to be caught? To be named, seen, noticed, and corrected is not the norm in our culture, but the Bible talks about it a lot:
“If anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.”
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.”
“Let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.”
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.”
“Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.”
“[Submit] to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
These are only a few of the dozens and dozens of Bible verses that speak to the importance of submission, accountability, and both receiving and giving loving correction.
Our move to Dallas situated our home within a few blocks of extended family members, and our kids started attending school with their cousins. They were greeted at the school door on the first day by their grandfather, who works for the school and happens to be the famous and second winningest head football coach in Texas, which makes him something of a celebrity here. Being known as the grandkids of Coach Allen the minute they walked on campus was a huge asset at first. Everyone was nice to them, teachers had some context for who they were, and they reaped the benefits of the built-in favor that comes with such a relationship.
Then Kate slept through an important cross-country meeting, which, by team policy, meant she would not be allowed to participate in the next meet. She came home ghost white with fear and told us what had happened. Looking up from her puddle of shame, she said, “Now I have to tell Coach.”
That’s what all the grandkids call their grandad—Coach.
I smiled, and she cried. Am I cruel? Not at all. I just recognize the benefits of living accountable. My kids now have a new layer of accountability in their lives. No longer are they
just answering to Mom and Dad, but they also have to face their grandparents and their aunt and uncle, who live across the street from the school and also keep tabs on them now.
“As iron sharpens iron,” Proverbs says, “so one person sharpens another.”
Iron on iron: the symbolism is taken from the ancient process that still happens in my kitchen today. Whenever a knife (or sword, if that’s your thing) gets dull, you run it across another sharp metal surface, and soon two useless dull pieces of metal become useful sharpening tools, each one refined by the other for mutual good.
I lost my knife sharpener for years and finally picked one up recently. I had no idea how dull and ineffective my knives had become until I vigorously pulled their blades against that metal rod and then sliced through a tomato.
It flew through the tomato in one slash. My jaw dropped. My knife was so happy! It was finally serving its purpose again! Why had I left it sitting there, dull, boring, and inefficient for so long? It was meant to be sharp.
When you add accountability to the necessary proximity and transparency we’ve addressed, you unleash a new level of potency in your life. You grow sharper, more effective. You change. As we will talk about in the next chapter, healthy relationships thrive when they are connected to a shared mission and purpose. But if you skip this practice of accountability, you miss the whole point. You miss being sharpened and made more effective for that purpose.
Choose friends who have the potential to make you better.
Then allow them to do just that.
This might be the most radical thing I’ve said so far: all over the world and in all other generations, living a life of accountability is considered not the exception but the rule. It’s the thing Jey missed about living in Kenya—someone to catch him. And someone to catch his daughters, to love them enough to help them become the best possible version of themselves.
If you are a follower of Christ, your new self longs to be caught. We aren’t comfortable in our sin. We are a “new creation,” remember? “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
And when our old selves are gone, we are never again at home in our sin.
We were wired to live in the light, to be known, seen, and challenged to live better lives.
When I recently took Cooper back to Rwanda for over a week, his aunties and surrogate tribal elders took it upon themselves to parent him. Auntie Alice and Pastor Fred were always with us and always correcting him and instructing him, teaching him, exhorting him to be his best.
When Cooper was showing off to a slew of street kids who were visibly impressed with him, Pastor Fred pulled him aside, knelt in front of him, and put his hands on my kid’s
shoulders. Gently he said, “Cooper, you are missing a great opportunity to ask these boys questions about their lives too. I know it feels good to be treated as though you are special, but these children are special as well. You have a responsibility to see them and to take an interest in them, just as Jesus would do, to show that you know how to engage with them, and listen to them, and care.”
My jaw dropped. I hadn’t asked Pastor Fred to coparent with me that week. He was just doing what
in his culture does. Believers in Rwanda collaborate, holding each other and anyone they love to the standard of Jesus and letting them know when they fall short. Whether aunties and uncles by blood or by choice, accountability is the language of village life.