Get in the arena this Advent – Be vulnerable

{Thoughts for Advent and from Brené Brown’s book, Rising Strong}


If you haven’t read this 1910 excerpt about the man in the arena from Theodore Roosevelt’s “Citizenship in a Republic” speech, read it now:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; . . . who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

Brené Brown uses this often in her talks and writings. She uses it again expertly in her latest book, Rising Strong.

Where is your arena? Brown says,

“Arenas often conjure up grandeur, but an arena is any moment when or place where we have risked showing up and being seen.

As we begin the season of Advent, a season of making more room in our hearts for Jesus’ presence there, let’s not only wait for Jesus to show up, let’s show up, too—in our own arenas, in our relationships.

Here’s one way to show up in your arena:


It’s hard to do. It’s not easy to believe the best in other people, when our instincts tell us to believe the worst. We might get taken advantage of. We might get hurt. We might fail.

Okay, yes.
We might.

We all tell ourselves stories, tales that help us make sense of why things are happening.

“In the absence of data, we will always make up stories. . . . Stories are patterns. The brain recognizes the familiar beginning-middle-end structure of a story and rewards us for clearing up the ambiguity. Unfortunately, we don’t need to be accurate, just certain.

We make up hidden stories that tell us who is against us and who is with us. . . . Conspiracy thinking is all about fear-based self-protection and our intolerance for uncertainty.”

So what if . . .  instead of making up bad stories (they just don’t like me; nobody really cares; I’m not smart enough/good enough/strong enough to do this or that), why not tell ourselves God’s story? That we are faithfully held in the palm of his hand; that we are lavishly loved in his Spirit; that he really will work all things out for our good, regardless of our circumstances.

With a truer sense of who we are and with sensible boundaries in place, we can more fully step into the arena of life, trusting that maybe, just maybe . . .

  • that spouse really is doing the best he can with what he has,
  • that the co-worker really isn’t out to get us, but is just having a bad day,
  • that the car breaking down and the oven going out and the long wait in line isn’t Satan’s evil plan to ensnare us, but is just life happening around us like it happens to everyone else.

Don’t we all want someone to believe in us? To give us another chance when we mess up? To assume we have good intentions, even when we fail in actuality? God does that for us.

Can we be brave enough to do that for others?

“One of the most vulnerable parts of loving someone is trusting that they love you back, and I need to be generous in my assumptions.”

When we assume the best about people instead of the worst, not only are they happier, but we are happier, too.

And if we do occasionally get duped, then okay: Give it to God, learn a lesson, and rise again in a different way.

By making room in our hearts for Jesus to come more fully, we can extend his same generosity to come more fully to others.

This Advent let’s come into our arenas with more vulnerability, more grace, and more love.

~ * ~ * ~


To help us with this, Brené Brown shares seven elements in Rising Strong that can help us appropriately trust others (and ourselves), using the acronym BRAVING:

  • Boundaries—You respect my boundaries, and when you’re not clear about what’s okay and not okay, you ask. You’re willing to say no.
  • Reliability—You do what you say you’ll do.
  • Accountability—You own your mistakes, apologize, and make amends.
  • Vault—You don’t share information or experiences that are not yours to share.
  • Integrity—You choose courage over comfort. You choose what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy.
  • Nonjudgment—I can ask for what I need, and you can ask for what you need. We can talk about how we feel without judgment.
  • Generosity—You extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words, and actions of others.

* * *

When has someone given you the benefit of the doubt when you didn’t expect it? How did it make you feel? Please share in the comments.

38 thoughts on “Get in the arena this Advent – Be vulnerable

  1. Linda Stoll

    I so loved this book … I need to pick it up and savor it again in the new year.

    So much richness in every bite!

    I hope your Thanksgiving proved to be a feast of love and joy and peace, dear Lisa!


  2. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    Agreed on all points.

    I can’t be vulnerable now, though. I can’t afford it. I’m fighting for my life, and all I can be is hard, hard, hard – especially on myself.

    Survival is not pretty, and survivors are not necessarily the nicest people to be around. I may be doing it wrong, but it is all I have.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I imagine that vulnerability looks different for each person, in each stage of life. We each do the best we can with the personality we’re given, and if your can’t afford vulnerability right now, then you do what is right for you, Andrew.

  3. Bill (cycleguy)

    I read the first quote and said to myself, “Of course. Everybody loves me.” Then I blew up. 🙂 Isn’t that what many of us think? If I only knew how many I have offended I would have to wonder how God could have put up with me. Thankfully, He shows GRACE. Sounds like an interesting book Lisa.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, I’m sure there’s a lot of people who assume everyone loves them. 🙂 And then there are those who assume no one loves them. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, right? ha. Thankful for GRACE–yes!–for whichever category we fall into.

  4. Joanne Viola

    Lisa, thank you for sharing this today. Earlier this morning, I realized to remind a loved one to give the benefit of the doubt. It doesn’t mean we necessarily deny their faults & wrongdoings, but that we are willing to offer them grace. His grace. Your post so confirmed what I had stated & I so needed to know that it was the right thing to say. Blessings!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m glad this word about giving the benefit of the doubt came at just the right time for you, Joanne! I love how God sends us both guidance ahead of time and confirmation after the fact. 🙂

  5. Mari-Anna Stalnacke

    Wise, wise words here. I always enjoyed hearing Brené Brown but never actually read her books. Maybe that should change and soon. Thanks for introducing this book. By God’s grace I will be braving. That’s what I want. More vulnerability and more graciousness all around. Advent Blessings to you, Lisa!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I love hearing Brené Brown’s talks too. So good. I may delve even deeper into some of her stuff in 2016, depending on where I land for my one word choice. God is still working with me on that. 🙂 I think you would love her books if you enjoy her talks.

  6. Beth

    I LOVE this, Lisa! In fact, I was just reading the other day in my quiet time Philippians 4:1ff and my thought was that Paul was so good about giving people the benefit of the doubt and acknowledging how they were “trying”–albeit imperfectly. I think that’s important to keep in mind all the time when we think, do I need to confront this? Well, more times than not, if the person is trying I think it’s better to encourage than confront. Great thoughts as always, my friend!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’d never thought about that, Beth—that Paul was good at giving people the benefit of the doubt—but now I do see that. Thanks for sharing! Encourage first, confront second—that’s a philosophy I want others to use on me. 🙂

  7. Sharon

    I’m gonna have to re-read this one again later, because there is so much good stuff to ponder. We are a sports-loving family, and so I enjoyed the *arena* imagery. Yes to “putting on our game faces” and getting out there in the fray. We are needed for the team!


    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, there’s so much good stuff in this book, Sharon. I’ll need to re-read it again, too. I had borrowed the library’s copy so I did a pretty quick read-through before having to turn it back in.

  8. Jean Wise

    am slowly savoring this book too. Love how you incorporated Advent into her thoughts too. nice tie to the seasons. It can be difficult to stay in Advent when pulled by the world – to stay in the arena is a powerful image.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, Jean, I agree—it is difficult to stay in an Advent frame of mind when the world rushes and pushes us through December so greedily. 🙁 I haven’t done any shopping yet and I know I need to get on that. Does “waiting” to do that count as an Advent practice? ha. No? didn’t think so.

  9. Dolly@Soulstops

    What a great book review; thank you!

    It really does make a difference to give people the benefit of the doubt and I always appreciate when my husband or a friend does the same for me…wishing you much joy this Advent 🙂

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Life can be rough with us at times, I agree, Beverley. It can be hard to even *want* to stay open when we’ve been pushed down. But your heart is right: we still try not to judge everyone as we may have been judged ourselves. One relationship at a time….

  10. Tai East

    Incredible post, Lisa! It has truly been a blessing to visit with you this morning! Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful message, Love! GOD bless you, beautiful friend! 🙂

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thank you, Tai. I love being able to hop around to each other’s blogs in our wide world of the blogosphere and grab encouragement from so many different sisters, including you!

      1. Tai East

        You are most welcome, Love! … And me too! It’s like we have our own little community of love and encouragement. To GOD be the glory! I’ve only been blogging for a year and a few months and I have met and become friends with some of the most amazing people on the planet. … I really look forward to getting to know you better! GOD bless you! 🙂

  11. Kelly Chripczuk

    That book is so good, but difficult when it comes to deeply wounded people. I need reminders that giving the benefit of the doubt doesn’t mean I can’t keep boundaries, only that I don’t assume bad motives for poor or hurtful behavior. Thanks for sharing, Lisa.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You make a valid and necessary point, Kelly: deep wounds can’t be treated with a one-size-fits-all approach, and boundaries are always necessary in every single relationship, but especially in ones that are hurtful. Thanks for adding this to the conversation.

  12. Alecia Simersky

    I love this! Loving others and believing I am loved in return, showing up, being intentional, are my prayers this holiday season as I’m surrounded by family who can make the season difficult…if I let them! This year I refuse to bothered by negativity and misperceived notions of others. I choose to LOVE, no matter how hard. Pray for me? 🙂

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, praying your holiday season won’t be too stress-filled with family that is difficult! Overall I’ve been overly blessed with family that gets along, but we have had particular seasons that have been extremely tense over certain issues, and it made me extra melancholy about Christmas instead of extra excited about it. 🙁 But yes, choosing to love! I pray that for all of us. Thanks, Alecia.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’ve been very appreciative also of people who have put things in the vault for me through the years! Makes us more aware of how important it is to do it for others. Thanks, Anita.

  13. Lois Flowers

    Oh, Lisa! There is so much good stuff here, and the book sounds wonderful too! I especially love this: “When we assume the best about people instead of the worst, not only are they happier, but we are happier, too.” Wishing you comfort and joy this week …

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I thought her insight on being happier with positive assumptions was very good too! It’s something I definitely want to work on because it does prove true: when I assume the best instead of the worst, my attitude is better. And even when we do occasionally get hurt from that, we can bounce back quicker. Thanks for commenting, Lois.

  14. Julie Joiner

    So beautifully written! I am so glad Bonnie’s challenge for Advent put you in my path. I love Brene Brown’s writing and look forward to reading her newest book. Your challenge is right on.
    “So what if . . . instead of making up bad stories (they just don’t like me; nobody really cares; I’m not smart enough/good enough/strong enough to do this or that), why not tell ourselves God’s story?” His story is the true story and hope-filled!
    Blessings, Julie

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