I had finally done it — taken my first intentional personal retreat.
I’d packed all the books, papers, and food I’d need for three days and drove to Asheville, North Carolina. My desire was to spend time alone — away from everything and everyone — to make sense of what God had placed on my heart.
I sat in the middle of the bed, my notebooks and papers surrounding me like a horseshoe. Gazing out the window, I let my eyes wander up the hill until they rested on the 100-year-old inn that perched overlooking the valley. My mind reviewed the last year.
I’d felt drawn to make myself available to speak to women to encourage and challenge them to enter a mentoring relationship — a relationship of investing in and being invested in generationally. I found myself faced with overwhelming frustration as I grappled to make sense of it all. How could I compile all that I had learned about mentoring and the need for it into a presentation when public speaking wasn’t one of my natural gifts?
As I thought about it, I realized this wasn’t the first time I’d faced a daunting challenge such as this. My mind returned to another time and place.
It was 7 years ago when the gentle whisper of the Lord kindled in my heart a desire to invest in women a decade or more younger than myself. I felt unequipped. My perception was that these women needed someone who had the answers. I was painfully aware that I did not! But as I was obedient, I discovered that the gift I brought to these relationships was my ability and willingness to be disarmingly transparent.
But it took me some time to realize this.
At first, I believed it was humiliating for me to let my new friends see just how much I lacked. In my distorted thinking, I assumed that I needed to measure up to some hash mark on the Christian yard stick before I could deem myself “usable” by God in this type of relationship.
As I wrestled with the Lord, I told Him that because of my insufficiency I was the wrong person for the job. I was shocked when I saw that from His perspective — I was exactly what He wanted. I learned, perhaps for the first time in my life, that the very thing I viewed as a weakness was in fact what God considered a strength. He intended to use my imperfection as a gift to those I agreed to invest in.
Since then, I’ve learned an important truth: authenticity invites authenticity.
With any relationship I enter, whether with younger women, my peers, or older women, transparency keeps me humble. It continually prompts me to check myself at the door to make certain I’m bringing the “real” Karen to the table.
The real Karen isn’t always a pretty picture. At times my words are not so encouraging and my attitude isn’t always so grace giving. But even in those times I learn about conviction, repentance, and receiving and giving grace.
A friend told me recently that leaders in any given field agree to “grow in public” for all to see. I have found this to be true. As I watch others witness my flaws and thank me for being willing to grow in public it fuels my commitment to authenticity.
As I model authenticity, I have witnessed others be drawn to authenticity themselves. Real growth occurs in each of us as we become real with one another. It is when I peel back the layers I have in place to protect myself that others can see me as I really am. It’s then that they can come along side me as scripture instructs.
Returning to the present, I’m reminded that it’s authenticity and not great public speaking skills that I’ll bring to my new venture.
Starring out the window and up the hill one more time, I whisper “yes.” “Yes” to speaking to groups of women. “Yes” to asking them to be authentic with one another in relationships. I can ask them knowing they may well face the same fear that I have. The same feelings of insufficiency. I can face them hoping that in some way my story will encourage them.
After all, as I learned many years ago, authenticity invites authenticity.