My vulnerable heart in a post-lockdown world

by Maranda Ellis

I was asked a question in life group a few weeks ago—several weeks ago, in fact.

"What are your feelings about returning to church, returning to gathering together as a church body?”

At first I struggled to understand why this question would be asked. It seemed to be a simple answer, but the more I thought about it, the more complex that question became, and it’s taken me a while to work it out. The short answer is, I don’t know if I’m completely ready, and returning to gathering together again kind of terrifies me.


It’s been over three months, so how could I possibly not feel ready? I feel ready to worship together, and to hear God’s word, and even to wear a mask while it’s required. But I wasn’t ready for the feeling of reluctance I felt about interacting with people again, specifically, interacting authentically and vulnerably with them. What if they ask me how I am? How do I begin to answer that? And can I trust them with my answer?

Three months.

Three months “away” from people. Three months without in-person church. Three months of continuous stress and my less-than-stellar handling of it. Three months of time confronting and avoiding heart issues revealed through various stressors (global pandemic, job loss, social justice concerns, economic worries, family and loved one separation, emotional overload, and the minefield that is social media). Three months of refining fire exposing character flaws, false securities, and un-surrendered anxieties in my life. It’s a lot to fit into a Sunday morning, how have you been? response.

I’m overwhelmed. Authenticity seems like a lot, and trusting people with my vulnerability is scary.

No one really wants to admit they don’t have it handled, least of all me. But I don’t, and that’s where I’m at, and it feels messy. Am I brave enough to be less than ‘good’ when people ask how I am? Will I allow them to be? Will there be grace and patience and Jesus on the other end of that Sunday morning question?  Will I approach them with the same compassion and love I hope to find? If perfection isn’t possible this side of heaven, why do I feel this need to get it together before Sunday morning?

Authenticity and vulnerability usually require trust, and although I know the heart of my church family is good, trusting people can be so hard. Lately, places or conversations where I feel genuinely safe to share my heart are few and far between. But of all places, of all people, shouldn’t the spiritual body of Christ be a safe place to bring my heart? This is my struggle. This is my fear. That I will not find unity and love in the place I expect it most. That is my fear, but I recognize that it is also a lie from the enemy to keep me away from the church body.

If I am part of a spiritual body built on Christ, shouldn’t our unity in Him be stronger than anything that divides us? I know people are imperfect and humanly flawed (myself included), with many differences in opinion and experience, but if we agree on Jesus, shouldn’t that be enough to provide an atmosphere of compassion and a safe place for being ‘in-process’ and sharing struggles? Yes. A thousand times yes. But if I hide my struggles or pain and insist I’m fine when I’m not, how does that affect the body of Christ that I am a part of? What if everyone did that? Would we be a functional body running the race well, or a body insisting nothing’s wrong as it attempts to run the race on blisters and sprained ankles? I know what happens when I ignore pain in my own body and it usually leads to extended damage down the road.

All this to say, the last three months have resulted in a lot of reflection, and one thing I’ve realized is I owe you, my church, an apology.

I’m sorry for hiding where I’m really at a lot of the time. For fearing man’s judgment more than I trust God’s leading in a conversation. For dismissing the in-process nature of my life, and the lives of others. For choosing what is easier in the moment, instead of sitting in pain and discomfort with people as they seek God. If when “one part [of the body] suffers, every part [of the body] suffers with it,” then I realize just how important it is for me to support and fight for others (1 Corinthians 12:26). I know there will be times I don’t want to share, times where I am processing something and don’t know what to say, but my desire is to work towards vulnerability in that, and I pray as part of the body of Christ I can extend life and grace to others in that same position.

So how am I feeling about returning to church, returning to gathering together as a church body?

Honestly, still nervous. But I know God is good, and that He will not leave me alone in this. Fear may still creep in and override my desire to be authentic, and I know without a doubt I won’t do this perfectly, but I still want to try. Maybe my messy emotional process will free others to express theirs too, or they may just look at me weird, but my hope is that through small measures of vulnerability, God will grow me and strengthen me in how I love the greater body of his church, to be “rooted and established” in that love (Colossians 2:7), and to grasp in new ways “how wide and long and high and deep” the love of Christ can be (Ephesians 3:18).