by Abby Accetura
I had been living in Paris for about two months before the weight of it finally caught up to me.
I was studying abroad, finishing my French minor through a program at another university. I’d gone alone—determined to prove my independence, my self-sufficiency. I wanted to see the world, and I wanted the people at home to watch me do it, successful and proud and on my own.
By all accounts, I was thriving. My Facebook was a constant stream of pictures, historical sites, and museums and cathedrals. Every status and blog post recounted my adventures. I was happier than ever, exploring one of the greatest cities in the world with total confidence, eager to show off my discoveries.
Reality told a very different story.
In the city of love, I found myself lonelier than ever—separated from my friends and family and isolated by a language barrier I wasn’t skilled enough to breach. In the gastronomic capital of the world, I found myself losing pounds by the day—too embarrassed to order food in my obvious American accent, too anxious to eat anything I managed to find. In a country famed for its beauty, the February rains washed everything a dull grey that made my insides ache and my throat tighten.
I struggled to keep up the image of perfection, convinced that by cultivating a version of myself that was happy and successful, I would eventually become her.
Two months into my semester, I finally cracked.
I was living in a dormitory, the Fondation des États-Unis, where the walls were thin at best. I’d spent my first two months struggling to be invisible, listening for movement in the halls before sneaking to the bathroom, avoiding contact with strangers who might see me in my living space, in the ruins that weren’t masked by the makeup and the smile I took outside. That night, I was too broken to care. The sadness, the loneliness, the terrible aimless void that was my life in this new place—it came out in a howl. I sat on my bed sobbing, my whole body shuddering, my voice battering against the windows and the walls. I cried so loudly that when the knock on my door came, I almost didn’t hear it.
The rap of knuckles on wood stopped my crying mid-wail. I froze. For a horrifying second, I thought the door would open—that somehow, for the first, most ironically inopportune time, I’d left the door unlocked, and any second the face of some well-intentioned stranger would appear in the doorway and shatter the glass of the funhouse mirror I’d been using to warp and twist my weakest, most pathetic, most vulnerable self into something presentable.
But a face never came. Instead, a single sheet of paper slipped in through the crack under the door. “You’ve sounded upset lately. If there’s any way I can help, let me know.” —Your next door neighbor.
Acknowledging my fear
The word “vulnerability” genuinely twists my stomach. Even the thought of allowing the world to see me at less than my best, my most put-together, my most competent, makes a knot of anxiety tighten inside me, and I have to breathe through my nose to shake it off.
In many ways, I think that today’s social media networks allow me to coddle that fear. Through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr, I can show the world exactly the version of myself I want to be. I can curate an image of my life that makes me seem a product of only my best experiences and highest achievements.
I can bury the parts of me that are ugly. I can hide my failures. I can edit out my mistakes.
That kind of curation comes at a price. Vulnerability and authenticity share many of the same traits. But for a long time, that was fine with me. It seemed like a decent bargain—to be beautiful and less-than-real, rather than pathetic and myself.
But even unreality has weight. Masks grow heavier the longer we bear them, and without the tether of our own humanity, the vast chaos of the world can bury us.
Jesus, our anchor
One of my favorite images of Jesus is the cornerstone. “Therefore thus says the Lord God: ‘See, I am laying in Zion a foundation stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation: One who trusts will not panic’” (Isaiah 28:16).
I love that picture. I love the idea that Jesus is an anchor, a fixed point—a steady, unchanging pillar. It’s a comforting image in the storm of my own humanity, when my weaknesses sink pits in my own foundations.
And it’s supposed to be a comfort. We’re supposed to take solace in God’s perfection, in God’s immobility. We’re supposed to rely on the idea that the things we lack are made up for by God.
The biggest step, I think, is learning to actually rely on that, instead of clinging to the idea that we can make up the difference ourselves.
I fall into that trap constantly. I am obsessed with the idea that I can do and be everything at once. The way I cull my life down to the highlights and publish them for the world to see—among so many other things, my Facebook page is a testament to my own mistrust, my refusal to rely on God.
Yet Jesus’ life on earth gives us a perfect model for that kind of faith. Jesus in the Gospels is the epitome of vulnerability—from a human baby in the wilderness to a broken man on a cross. His total acceptance of his human form and his reliance on God for guidance—Jesus’ example teaches us how to be vulnerable and how to rely on God for the strength we don’t have ourselves.
When we refuse to acknowledge our own weaknesses, we refuse the comfort and the stability that God wants to provide. When we reject our own vulnerability, we distance ourselves from the anchor that’s already been given.
Vulnerable and authentic
The boy who lived next door to me in Paris wrote me notes every day for a week before I actually met him in person. He let me hide in my room and slip notes back under his door for seven whole days before I had to face him.
And when I finally did meet him, all he did was smile and say hello.
The sky didn’t fall. The earth didn’t open up and swallow me. Someone heard me crying, saw my face knowing that I’d made those sounds, understood that I was weak and scared and homesick. Someone saw me at my most vulnerable, and the world didn’t stop turning.
Jesus offers us a chance to be vulnerable. To be authentic. To be ourselves—our ugly, flawed, broken selves—and still be safe and loved and protected. He teaches us to have faith in the strength and certainty of God without taking on the burden of impossible imitation. God, through Jesus, extends grace so that we can be what we are—less than perfect and no less loved.
Abby Accettura is currently pursuing a Masters of Fine Arts in screenwriting at DePaul University in Chicago.
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