The Courage to Show Up

I went to the bank to wire the next three months of rent to my landlord, as I had done successfully several times before. When I was finished, I sent a text to let him know to look for it in his account. Unlike the other times, he couldn’t see it immediately. He then told me his bank card number had changed in the last three months. I went back to the bank in a bit of a panic, and they said to wait until Monday and see if he got the money. Monday came: still no money.

I had a pit in my stomach as I went back to the bank, wondering if I had just lost thousands of others’ sacrificially given dollars or what sort of bureaucratic red tape I might have to wade through to get it back. I was feeling vulnerable. There were so many ways this could go wrong. I was not sure I had enough Chinese ability to deal with this problem.

In these overwhelming situations, I’ve borrowed a prayer from Brené Brown: “Give me the courage to show up and let myself be seen” (Daring Greatly, chapter 2). I read Daring Greatly during my first weeks in-country after hearing it recommended several times in discussions unrelated to living overseas. It isn’t specifically about living overseas. It isn’t even from a specifically Christian perspective (although Brown is Episcopalian). But it is one of the books that helped me the most as I navigate living in a context where my vulnerabilities are so obvious.

I generally want to do things perfectly (or at least well) or not do them at all. This is not the best mindset for learning a language or a culture. You can’t learn a language or participate in a new culture without making some mistakes or having some memorable moments. And that’s where I need the challenge to show up and let myself be seen.

When I show up and let myself be seen, I can enjoy giving my teachers an occasional laugh and learn from my language mistakes.

When I show up and let myself be seen, I take the risk to invite locals friends into my home and learn from what doesn’t work like I expected it would, like guests just standing around the counter and taking a little bit of food at a time instead of filling their plates and finding a seat in the living room. Buffets and cocktail style mingling are not the most natural ways to host events here, I’ve learned. But even when these events have felt awkward to me, my guests have enjoyed being invited into my home and trying something new.

When I show up and let myself be seen, I let local friends know some of my struggles and my vulnerability deepens our relationship.

When I show up and let myself be seen, I can better let my light shine, so that others will see it and glorify my Father in heaven (Matt. 5:16).

I went to the bank that day to show up and do what had to be done. I was ready to let myself be seen. Thankfully, the bank employee I dealt with was kind and helpful. She checked what was happening with the accounts and even talked to my landlord on the phone to explain it to him, because while I could understand the situation, I didn’t have enough language skills to explain it all on the phone. The solution was to wait three more days and the money would be returned to my account because there was no account on the other end. Once it was returned, I could wire it to my landlord’s new account. Those were a nervous few days for me, but it all happened as the bank said. I showed up and let myself be seen and received grace from a young bank employee.

Showing up and letting ourselves be seen doesn’t always have a happy ending or an easy resolution. Sometimes it is the way of the cross, dying to our own selves. But God invites us to participate in whatever we’ve been called to by showing up and letting ourselves be seen. And “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion” (Phil. 1:6).

Where do you struggle to show up and let yourself be seen?

How have you been living this way in your context?


  1. Jenilee March 16, 2017

    showing up and being seen. that is beautiful! Thank you!

    1. Ruth March 16, 2017

      You’re welcome! I really love the phrase.

  2. Michelle Wallace March 16, 2017

    Great post, Ruth! I’m a struggling perfectionist, too. It’s an awful trait when learning a new language and culture. And I love the simplicity of just showing up and allowing yourself to be seen- it’s so vulnerable, but so healthy. Thanks for the reminder! 🙂

    1. Ruth March 16, 2017

      You’re welcome! I am of course continuing to remind myself, even today, because I felt pretty vulnerable once this post went live :).

  3. Cecily March 16, 2017

    I’m totally with you on the perfectionism thing. I have not become fluent in the language after ten years because I refused to open my mouth unless I was absolutely sure that what came out was going to be right. Well, obviously, this has not served me well. So, after many years of just abandoning the whole language thing, I have started studying again with greater intensity than ever before. And that means I have to open my mouth and let the faltering language come out.

    1. Ruth March 16, 2017

      Language learning can be so hard, but it can also be so good. In Chinese we say, “jia you” which literally means “add oil” but is used as an encouraging, you can do it, sort of phrase. So in your language learning, “jia you”!

  4. Shelly March 17, 2017

    My showing up and being seen has been in the realm of emotional vulnerability. I find it hard to admit that it is still hard to face the fact that my mom is gone, and I am trying to be honest about that with others in my life. I am trying to not project on them the sentiment: “She just needs to move on.” I am trying to be open about the fears I have about going home this summer. And I am grateful that the Father has surrounded me with others who receive me in this place, as I am.

    1. Ruth March 18, 2017

      Emotional vulnerability is the hardest! And I think it is the easiest to bury. I pray you will be blessed as you grieve (for however many years that takes) and continue to be open with the people around you, and that those around you will have open hearts to listen and encourage you in your journey.

  5. Lauren March 18, 2017

    Love Brene Brown! Her work on vulnerability has made such an impact on me. Well done living in the arena!

    1. Lauren March 18, 2017

      Ha! Excuse the failed attempt to add a small bio picture…So it goes sometimes trying to engage and show up. ; )

    2. Ruth March 18, 2017

      I’m glad I’m not the only fan! And the only reason I have a photo is because it is somehow connected to being an author for this post. I can take no credit for it. Good job for trying, I like seeing your photo!

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