Tuesday night, I sat on the floor of my friend’s living room and ate pretzels and carrots and drank coffee (broke-kid meals, amiright?) with three of the people I love the most. These friends. The people I walk most closely through life with. It was one of those moments where you feel infinite and ethereal, like everything is right in the world just because you’re belly-laughing and sharing a meal with people you love. It’s these moments that I’ve cherished most about my time in Knoxville and the kind of moments I want more in my life.

And while I was sitting there, sharing and listening as we discussed what’s been going on in our lives, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with gratefulness. Because these friends know me. They know my mess. They know I’m so incredibly flawed, and yet they continue to love me over and over again with more care and encouragement than I could ever imagine.

And while, of course, life is not perfect and these moments are rarer than I wish they would be, the thing that struck me about this time with my friends is that it is so worth it to be known. It’s so worth it to let people in.

There were so many times over the past several years of friendship when I could have run, where I did try to run. I wanted to hide my sin and imperfection; I wanted to keep my distance and pretend and keep my friends at arm’s length for the sake of appearing to have it all together. But really, in the end, who wants that? I would just have ended up alone. And that’s not where I want to be.

The quote that has marked my life over the last two years is by the dear C.S. Lewis. It goes like this: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

Beautiful, isn’t it?

If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that we’re all a little broken. We’re all a little frayed around the edges, carrying the wear and tear of our own stories. And I kind of love that. I think when we allow ourselves to be broken in the face of others, when we finally let go of pretense and take off our masks, everyone else around us is free to stop holding their breath too. Our realness makes space for others to be real.

By sharing our struggles and freedom, we allow others to get real and get free. Often times we forget that everyone else is dealing with their own mess, just like we are dealing with ours. We’re under the impression that no one else could possibly understand our pain, and that if we were to really share what we’re dealing with, everyone would turn and run as fast as possible in the opposite direction. But do we know that for certain? Have we even tried to be honest and real with the people we love most? Have we fought for connection or have we bought into the lie that people won’t really care and don’t really want to know?

I mean, of course, there will always be people who don’t understand, who don’t want to be let in or who don’t want to let you in. But so often, I think we’re all waiting around for someone to open up, someone to step into realness so that we can let our guard down and experience realness too. Since college, I’ve seen the power of being real. And, honestly, it’s changed everything.

Another one of my favorite quotes about friendship is also by good ole’ Mr. Lewis as he says in his book The Four Loves, “Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .””  Isn’t that delightful? And so deeply true? There’s power in people. And there’s power in telling our stories, getting real, and letting others love us.

So what’s stopping us?

What if we became people who were not afraid to stare shame or fear in the face? What if we were brave enough to admit and even celebrate the realization that we are a mess? What if our willingness to be real became a way for others to experience freedom and the love of Jesus?

It’s worth it to be real. It’s worth it to let others in and enter into the lives of others too.

May our love and lives be messy; full of celebration, tears, dinners on the floor, and freedom through the love of Christ.