Overcoming the Fear of Vulnerability—Strategies to Stop Feeling Alone and Build Meaningful Connections

Episode Notes

Have you ever felt isolated because you couldn’t open up to others?

Do you worry that showing vulnerability might lead to more hurt?

You are in for such an incredibly special treat today. This is such an honest, incredibly real conversation about the risks of vulnerability, the hurts that come from letting others in AND the incredible opportunities for intimacy, connection, and healing when we do.

My dear friends, Kathy Tuan-MacLean and Tara Edelschick, authors of the incredible new Bible study experience, "Moms at the Well," surveyed over seven hundred moms and discovered most women struggle with worry, anger, comparison, escapism, a desire for control, and heartbreak. Yet most women feel alone in these struggles. If you've ever felt lonely or skeptical about finding community with other women, this episode is for you.

Here’s what we cover:

  1. The risks and rewards of vulnerability
  2. How 1 marriage crisis launched a 20 year small group of friends
  3. 2 essential ingredients to safeguard trust in a friend group
  4. How they dealt with gossip
  5. Strategies for dealing with hurt feelings, ruptures & repair
  6. One shocking result from their survey
  7. How I found friends as a single woman
  8. The one thing that kills group trust

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Alison Cook: Hey everyone. Welcome back to this week's episode of The Best of You Podcast. I am so glad you're here for this series where we are here to name, frame and brave some of these areas in our lives that bring up dissonance inside of us, a feeling of inner tension or even ambivalence about how to move forward.

Today's topic is about the dissonance we feel about risking vulnerability, especially as it relates to how we show up with our friends. Vulnerability is risky. It includes exposing our inner selves, including our fears, our weaknesses, even our insecurities to other people. 

This openness can lead to deeper, more meaningful connections where we're really seen and understood at such a deep level. But it also leaves us susceptible to judgment, to rejection, and even to betrayal at the hands of other people. When we open up some of these areas of vulnerability deep inside of us to other people, we can open ourselves up to being hurt.

The fear of being misunderstood or hurt can stir up that dissonance inside of us. I do want to have close relationships and be intimate with other people on one hand, but on the other hand, it's too hard. I've already been hurt too much. I don't want to take that risk. We can wind up kind of stuck between two competing parts of ourselves. I want greater intimacy on one hand, but I'm fearful of being hurt on the other.

If we're not careful to name, frame, and brave that dissonance, we can wind up with relationships that aren't deeply satisfying, that only keep things at a surface level. Learning to name, frame, and brave vulnerability is essential for personal growth and for building the kinds of authentic relationships that we all crave. 

As you listen to this conversation in today's episode, I want you to think about naming some of that dissonance in your own life. What are the different feelings that come up when you think about taking a risk of being vulnerable? What conflicting feelings do you notice inside of you and then frame those feelings?

Have you been hurt in the past? Is there a good reason you're a little bit nervous about being vulnerable going forward? Because if you've been hurt in the past, it's really important to honor that and to brave some healthy boundaries to help keep you safe going forward. Is part of what's hard for you about risking vulnerability your schedule?

You just don't have time. You're so buried in all the things that you're already committed to that creating the time to develop those kinds of deeper bonds just feels overwhelming to you. So that's a different way to frame it.

Then lastly, as you frame your own internal reactions and responses to this idea of braving vulnerability, you might ask yourself, what is the worst case scenario that might come from working to bring a little bit more authenticity, a little bit more vulnerability into your friend groups?

What is the best case scenario that might come from that? And really honor both your fears about the worst case scenario and your hopes for the best case scenario. Remember, the work of framing is really to take the time you need to reflect on both of those possibilities so that you can anchor yourself and prepare yourself as you take brave steps to move forward.

Finally, as you listen to today's episode, consider some braving steps you might take. For you, braving might mean introducing some boundaries into your relationships so that you can feel more safe to be vulnerable. It might mean being more assertive to ask some friends, hey, what would you think about moving our relationships into a deeper place?

Let's structure some time together where we can be intentional about talking about some of the hard things in our lives, or it might be that you're not even sure where to start. You just don't even have the kinds of friendships where you can begin to brave more vulnerability. So for you, it might be considering the environment around you. 

Where are some places, some clubs, some local communities, some church groups you might consider joining just to take a step toward putting yourself in the path of other people you'd like to get to know? And maybe consider if they're the kind of people you might want to go deeper with. 

As you listen to this episode, I want you to notice what stirs up inside of you as you consider what it's like to be vulnerable in your friend groups. What do you notice? How do you frame it? What are some brave steps you might want to take in your own life? 

My guests today, Kathy Tuan-MacLean and Tara Edelschick have written an incredible new seven week Bible study experience.

It's called Moms at the Well and it's a beautiful guide that offers a modern day well for moms, a gathering place to encourage one another, to take an honest look at the challenges we face and to experience the God who invites us into a process of spiritual transformation through this work of gathering together.

The book is born out of Kathy and Tara's own experience being part of a small group of women for over 20 years. I was part of this small group for two of those years, and I experienced firsthand the power of what they've created, where there's such transparency, where there's such vulnerability, where there's such honesty, even as they've journeyed through some of life's toughest challenges.

As you'll hear from them today, it's not that everything magically resolved in all of their lives, but somehow through the power of gathering together, of continually coming back to each other and gathering around the well, they encountered God in incredibly powerful ways. Moms at the Well not only gives you seven weeks of content, but it gives you ideas about how to safeguard the trust of such a group so that it's safe for you to show up as you really are with this group of people you're forming. 

I cannot recommend this book more to you as a way to begin to show up more vulnerably and more authentically with the other women in your life. This is an amazing resource for you. Tara Edelschick has her EdD from Harvard and has worked as an educator, teaching public high school students, graduate students, and homeschoolers throughout Massachusetts.

Kathy Tuan-MacLean has her PhD from Northwestern and is the National Faculty Ministry Director for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Kathy and Tara are so real and so honest about the challenges they've faced in their own lives, especially their challenges as moms. I am so thrilled to bring you this conversation today with my dear friends, Kathy and Tara.


Oh my gosh, it's so good to be with you, Kathy and Tara. It's been too long. I was part of this group that we're going to talk about today with you for a couple of years. I was there for some of the first seeds of this beautiful book that you're putting into the world. I remember sitting in your living room, Kathy, you guys were starting to form the survey questions. So welcome. Thank you so much for being here with me today to talk about this beautiful book.

Kathy: It's great to be here. I think you helped me with some of the survey questions, Alison.

Tara: Yeah, around your dining room table. Kathy, I remember the three of us.

Alison Cook: I remember and I miss it. I want to dive into this today because one of the things you talk about as a result of your survey is loneliness. What's so interesting about that time period is, you were gathering a lot and Kathy, we would just gather there and we'd all be parallel working in your home.

I remember feeling as a writer, so much of the time, I'm working by myself. I remember during that time, just feeling like, the way I would describe it was, it took the edge off the loneliness. We weren't even talking half the time. I was sitting at the dining room table writing, someone was over on the couch, someone else was coming and going.

Kathy, you're an amazing cook. There was always amazing food around, but I remember feeling, it just takes the edge off the loneliness to be doing this together. I think you're both so gifted at that. I'd love to start there because for the listener, you've been part of a small group of about maybe six women for over 20 years, 25 years?

Kathy: I think 2004, so 20 years.

Alison Cook: In the Boston area, this was the group I got the opportunity to be a part of for a couple of years while I was there. I remember my mind being blown by the depth of this group. The way that you really did life together., I'd love to just start by you sharing a little bit–tell me a little bit about how that group formed, why it formed, and then I want to dig into what you think the secret is to the longevity and depth of this group of women that you established?

Kathy: Sure. In some ways, maybe the way we started is atypical, especially for what we're wanting moms to do. We actually started out of a crisis that was happening in a friend's marriage, because this friend came to a place of realizing that her marriage had some deep fissures in it that she had enabled.

She came to the end of herself and was having a really hard time. I realized that because there were people connected to this friend, but who weren't as connected to each other, I suggested, why don't we just pray for you? So we started as a group of four who were all connected to this friend in different ways, praying for her and her marriage, and we started meeting every other week just to pray.

For the first bunch of months, I think it was very focused around her and the crisis that she was in. But over time, the more we would share and challenge her and pray, we realized, okay, we know that her marriage is in crisis, but it isn't like the rest of us don't have to hear almost everything we're saying to her.

It all applied. I think it was a year in, we're like, okay, and she even was like, okay, I appreciate how much care you've given us, but can we have this be a little more mutual and equal? We're all like, yeah, because we were all receiving as much. It really became a prayer group for all of us.

Over time, we invited various people. Alison, we had the joy of having you for a while, and people have come and people have gone. We've walked one friend to death and into Jesus’ arms. So we've really dealt with every single crisis there is that you could have. Kid crisis, marriage crisis, life and death crisis, health crisis. We've been a group who've walked and walked with each other.

Tara: I love that. The four who started are still in it. So others have come but the four who started, we're all still together. I can't imagine, we were much younger and recently we've been saying, oh, we're getting old together. It chokes me up. Like we're getting old together. 

Then Kathy and I, when the pandemic happened and everything got shut down, I sent out an email to a ton of people and over the years, that has morphed and it became a group. We meet every weekday, Monday through Friday, from 7:30 to 8 am. Then there's usually a contingent who stays on until 8:30. We read a book and talk about a book Monday through Wednesday. Thursday, we pray for our kids. Friday, we do Bible study. 

For more than four years now. Like Kathy said, there are people who might look like they're in crisis, but all of us have stuff going on. All of us are lonely. The pandemic maybe brought out a little more than others. But having walked through it all with each other has been transformative for both of us. I couldn't be more grateful.

Alison Cook: Yeah it's amazing. The book is called Moms at the Well, and as I was reading it and thinking about the two of you, I was thinking, this book truly flows out of these wells that you've established over two decades. I think it's hard to do. There's a reason that women feel lonely, that moms feel lonely.

I wanna ask you a little bit about that. What were some early mistakes that you were able to overcome that allowed you to stay intact? As someone who came in for a period of time and then migrated out, I can speak to the fact that it's not an in-group out-group type of well that you've created. There's a sense of stability with fluidity that allows for folks to come in, nourish, refresh, and then as life circumstances have it, maybe move on to the next stage. 

But there is that core stability. So tell me a little bit about what. What do you think helped you to stay intact, to keep this well intact for so many years? What worked for you?

Tara: I think that the biggest thing that worked is that everyone in these groups is committed to being honest. People are taking risks about pain, longing, suffering, and of course lots of cheering–yay, you did it! We are people who are for each other. 

It's actually sometimes hard to find cheerleaders. It's hard to find people where it's safe to be honest. I think Kathy is very open and honest and vulnerable. I've learned a lot from her to just say, yeah, this isn't working. If the core group has that, then when people come in, it's oh, you mean my kids don't have to be perfect. I can be a mean wife sometimes, and then everybody goes, ooooooh.

Alison Cook: That was my experience. I agree that there's a level of safety that you two and a couple of the core members have established that just breathes life. It just breathes life to those who come. What were some mistakes or disappointments that you had early on with each other that you were able to overcome?

Kathy: I would say that the irony is, that if you're going to walk with people for as long, you get to know each other's flat sides or sin nature really well, as well as people's strengths. Part of the challenge, I think, the important thing, is to speak the truth in love. I personally am a person who really likes to be challenged, but I don't like to have people give me advice.

So there's a difference that when people are giving you advice, often I feel really patronized or I feel like they think I'm an idiot. I don't know what the word is there, but I'm always like, I can figure out advice for myself. What I really appreciate is where I have blind spots and people can point out where I'm not seeing God, or where I'm not seeing my husband, or where I'm not seeing my God, my kids the way that I should.

So I think that the commitment to challenge and the commitment to to try to not judge. We talk a lot about comparison in one of our chapters and how we can't help but compare, but envy and judgment, when those come out, it can kill a friendship and it can kill a group. We are really trying to be a group where we are for each other, going on with something Tara said too, I think actually making the commitment is huge.

So we could have at any point quit, but I think because it was really life giving, because our group was really a well, I personally was just super-hyper-committed. I needed the group. I needed it, and I show up every morning for this book club because I need it. I need to have that sort of community.

It is sipping from the well of living water when you get to be with these women. They pray for you. You literally do receive the Holy Spirit as people pray for you.

Tara: When we keep talking about the well, I want to make sure, and I know that you know this, the well is not us. The well is Jesus. What this group of women does is not just pray for each other, but we believe that God is with us. We go back to the Bible. We remember each other's miracles.

When somebody's faith is waning, we say, but remember, God did this for you. Along with that, I think maybe an early mistake, because we came out of crisis, was that we were going to pray really hard, and then their marriage was going to get healed and the man's addiction was going to get healed.

Didn't happen. His addiction lives on, they ended up divorced. From the beginning, that's been the reality. God loves us, God's for us, God can do miracles, and a lot of the struggles and some of the judgment came from like, how come you're not getting better? How can you still do this 20 years in? Oh, cause I'm broken. 

But Jesus isn't. The well really is finding those people who are honest about what's broken, who keep offering you that sip of living water, that Jesus, that the Holy Spirit is.

Alison Cook: I love that. What you guys have lived, and this is what I want the listener to know– the book is amazing and it really flows from this experience. I love what you're saying. You're not, the people involved aren't the magic, it's the commitment to gathering around the well, no matter what.

You’re going to still show up Thursday night, even though, nope, we prayed and my marriage is actually falling apart more. It's getting worse. Or we prayed and I'm still doing this thing. We're just going to keep showing up. There's such a vivid picture of grace, community and companionship, which I really think is at the heart of Jesus's message.

Of course, there's a part of me that's like, we all need this. So how do we take what you guys did, and bottle it up so that everybody can experience this? Because again, according to the research that you did, according to what I see all the time, moms are lonely. People are lonely. 

This isn't happening everywhere. So one of the things I'm pulling from this already is honesty and commitment. We're not committed to outcomes. We're not doing this so that we can all have healed, happy marriages and home lives and perfect kids. It's because this is the way of Jesus. 

We gather together, whether in good times, whether in bad, yes, we're praying for each other, and regardless of the outcomes, we're going to continue to gather with Jesus and with each other. That's kind of it. That's really what you guys were able to do over these two decades. 

Tara: Like Kathy said, one of our core members died. We prayed for her really to not die, obviously. It's a heartbreak. She's gone. But the longer you live, our hope is built not here. Our hope is built on Jesus. We may not see what we want, and all will be well. So you don't have to be perfect right now.

Kathy: Maybe one more thing I'll say is that in the 20 years, it isn't that we haven't had conflict. When we've walked with people through hard stuff, there has been conflict, there's been hurt feelings, there's been confrontation, there's been working things out. It's funny because one of my friends in the group who happened to live across the street from me, her daughter heard us processing what was going on and she's like, I don't get why what you're doing isn't gossip. 

She looked and my friend looked at me and I was like, it is processing, we are processing. It became our joke that we're processing, but we actually came to realize that if any of us is in crisis, on one hand, gossip is a horrible thing among women in particular–it's a way to judge usually, and think you're better than others.

But because so often if someone's in crisis, you actually need the community to problem solve, to figure out, how do we approach someone over a very difficult issue? Or how do we support this person, or what can we do to help? We realized that any one of us, at any point that we're in crisis or need, having our friends process together without us there, is actually super great.

At this point, I'm like, yeah, please go process and I'm never going to think it's gossip because I know that you're for me and you want me to have life and to choose life.

Alison Cook: That's a really good distinction. There's a group norm. There's enough safety. There's established safety and trust within the group that you know if two people are trying to analyze or process the situation, they're doing it for your good. There's a spirit of the heart. There's a good motivation there, versus if someone's going and betraying your trust or betraying your confidence by gossiping at the playground at school about your stuff. That's a very different thing. There's that norm within the group.

I love that you brought up conflict. I love that you mentioned conflict within the group. Is there an instance you'd be willing to share with us about a time you had to work through that? Because I think it's really real. There's no way that you don't go through seasons of hurting each other's feelings. Is there any time that you can think of where you really made a mistake or had to work through something that you'd be willing to share?

Tara: In general, I think Kathy's exactly right. That we processed more than gossiped. But, some are a little more judgmental than some of the others. I'm one of the judgmental ones and sometimes when we talked, it veered into judgment. Somebody had some very difficult parenting issues. None of which I actually think I could have done any better at, but I was behaving, sounding, feeling judgmental about it.

She was really hurt and really upset at me and my judgefulness and Kathy had to have a mediation between us. Then Kathy had to mediate between the hurt woman and the other woman who tends to also struggle with some judgment sometimes. There were still sore feelings at the end of it, but we worked through it.

We were committed. We loved each other for each other. But yeah, I didn't want anyone to think oh, this is the perfect group. I could never emulate it.  It's messy. Whatever our besetting sins are, we bring them into group.

Alison Cook: So I want to name something here that I think is important. I talk a lot on the podcast about triangulation, where we dump on a third party. We go to a third party and say, oh man, Tara really hurt my feelings. I'm so mad at her. We just dump that on the third party. We never really have an intention to go directly to you.

You're naming something I think that's really important because I'm guessing what happened is the person with their hurt feelings went to Kathy and said, I was so hurt by how Tara responded to me last night. 

That becomes triangulation if Kathy and the person who's hurt just gossip about it and bag on Tara and then never bring it back up, but in a community, the power of community, is in that situation, the person who's hurt can say, I don't know how to talk to Tara about this, but I'm so hurt.

Then the third person can say, okay, how do we bring this back into the community? So there's a constructive purpose there. It's not dumping or venting. It's, we're going to let the community, the group hold the hurt in a way that the two of us can't at this moment.

When you're that third person, where you're holding the pain of another member of the group. How do you handle that? How do you ensure that this becomes constructive versus destructive?

Kathy: That's a great question, and I'm not sure I've always done it well. However, I do keep on thinking, as a Chinese person where in our culture, there's no such thing as direct communication, when it comes to conflict, having grown up in Hawaii, where it's primarily Asian American, I was very sick of all the passive aggression, the silent treatment. 

I did not enjoy how my whole culture dealt with conflict. It strikes me that if you're the third person, the temptation is to hold the information and fan the flames because you're the person who's in and the other person's out. If you're all about trying to consolidate your own position in the friendships, your own safety, your own power, your own affection, whatever then it is, that would be the temptation. 

It would be very destructive. But because we're Jesus followers, we know that everything about God is about reconciling God to one another. In all our relationships. I do think that the goal, therefore, that's implicit in committed relationships, is that we're always going to be trying to work towards reconciliation.

Someone can vent, but then the next question is, so what do you sense God inviting you to do? Which is the classic spiritual direction question. I've received spiritual direction for 20 years, oh, 30 some years now and I'm a spiritual director. As you invite folks to consider, what is God inviting you in light of that? Then you can begin to include God in problem solving and knowing that God's heart will always be for reconciliation.

Alison Cook: That's really good. We're always in the position of trying to point each other back to the well. So there's this: I want to validate that you're hurt. I'm not gonna say, “well, you just need to forgive. You just need to blow past that, she didn't mean to hurt you.” It's not that, but it's also not, I love what you're saying because that's that insidious, “oh, I'm the good guy here I didn't hurt you. You're telling me about how she hurt you. I'm better.” 

That can creep in. There's a middle ground of, thank you for telling me. I know that's hard. I wonder what God is inviting out of this situation. Not rushing to advice or a solution, but holding together the information. I grew up with a lot of triangulation and having been hurt by it, having often been the third person that people dump on and just feeling the helplessness that comes from that. 

That was often my role. I don't want all this information, but I don't know what to do because I was the safe person. I hated it. So I never wanted to do it to anybody else. But one of the things I learned through my time with you guys is that constructive component. 

I think we have to look at the fruit there. There's a couple of key things there that involve a lot of trust, that ultimately we're all drawing, pointing people toward Jesus. Even when sometimes we're going to each other saying, I'm not sure how to make sense of this. This hurt me, or this is bothering me, or help me understand because I always have blind spots. 

We need that group. I think that's a really nuanced thing that's hard to do well. I love that you brought that up, Tara. I love that you owned that in that case. Maybe there was a way in which you were being a little judgmental. You didn't see her blind spot and you guys were able to talk through that. That's really hard to do. That's why you've been doing this for 20 years.

Tara: It wasn't maybe I was doing it and it wasn't a little, I was definitely doing it a lot. It was really hurtful, but I can grow from that. Because when she told me she was hurt, it allowed me to apologize and ask for forgiveness. I can grow from that. That's the beauty of the well,

Alison Cook: And it wasn't quick.

Tara: That's the thing. Even after that one conversation, everything's not all better now because I broke her trust. I hurt her. So you have to wait long enough to rebuild the trust. To say, okay, I'll put my toe back in, but you really hurt me, so I'm not jumping full-body in.

She was really great. I'll say the brave part for me was, I wanted to run away, but I didn't. I had to sit in the shame. She had to sit in the mistrust, we had to work our way back. I think Kathy alluded to this, the judgment, the solution to both of those is Kathy's question. She was so good at this in the group. Now we can all do it because she taught us one:  What is Jesus inviting us to? Even for a while, the only kind of prayer we did was listening prayer. We'll just listen and see, we'll just pray for you to hear from God, because we were doing so much without giving advice.You can hear what God's invitation is here, you can hear what God has for you. The second you say those words out loud, the judgment melts away. 

Alison Cook: Thank you for naming that because again, I want the listener to hear, the well holds space for pain between two friends and it makes sense to me. So someone shows up, they're sharing vulnerably, they feel judged in the group, even after they've said, hey, that hurt, even after there's been repair, man, I'm not sure I want to share that vulnerably next Thursday night about my stuff.

It really takes some resilience. I love that the well creates space for that, creates space for the rebuilding of trust. It's okay. That you Tara, again, you had the resilience and the fortitude to sit even in the bit of shame. Where it'd be so tempting to just try to overperform to say no, I'll never do it again, as opposed to, the well has space to sit with that feeling of, oh, I'm sorry that I did that. 

It isn't just a one time thing. That's an ongoing repair that happens internally between two people. It's really quite profound when you really begin to unpack what happens when we just commit to continuing to show up together and not sideline our emotions, not sideline what's hard, bring it with us around the well of Jesus.

It's really amazing. I think this is the body of Christ. I think this is what we are supposed to be doing, but it's hard. It forces us to deal with our own stuff and not in a quick fix kind of way to sit with it with each other.


Throughout Moms at the Well, you're bringing In this beautiful weaving of the real things that women are dealing with these spiritual practices and biblical wisdom. So it's just this beautiful dance of real emotions and spiritual wisdom. Some of the key things that women are dealing with are worry, comparison, anger–we get hurt by each other–and a desire for control. We want to control our kids, our families, our marriages, heartbreak, the devastation of realizing that a marriage is failing or that maybe a marriage isn't failing, but not what we thought it would be, or our kids are failing, or maybe they're not failing and they're not what we wanted them to be.

All the things that we deal with in life. I guess I want to know, as you got those survey results back, were there any surprises or were most of them down the list like yeah, this is what we've seen too.

Tara: I'll tell you what was surprising–not the anger and the worry and the control, because we have, and everyone we know has all of that. That was not as surprising. What was surprising was the number of women who wrote in at the end, “This survey made me cry. No one ever asks about foster mothers. No one ever asks about adoption. No one ever talks about kids with disabilities. 

“I'm not allowed to talk about losing it at church because then I'm a bad Christian mom. I'm not allowed to talk about this. I feel so alone. If other mothers knew what I was dealing with, they would judge me. I couldn't tell anybody at church what's actually happening in my family.” All of those responses, of how unseen and lonely maybe we could guess that but the depth of it, Alison, was so profound and sad.

Alison Cook: Gosh, just the fact that you asked the questions evoked those kinds of responses. Just being asked what's hard. 

Kathy: I actually remember that, because the first survey we did was when I was doing it for Intervarsity staff moms, and it was at the beginning. We actually have done two different surveys for moms and so I remember both of you helping me with that survey. I think it was both of your feedback that you said, I need to include widowed, grieving, single, divorced, step, foster, adoptive.

We kept on brainstorming, what other mom is there? and making sure it got on my list and again, being able to tick off what kind of mom you were and seeing your kind of mom on the list, people were crying. People were writing me emails saying, I'm crying right now because I'm a grieving mom. I've had three miscarriages. There's no place to be seen as that sort of mom.

Alison Cook: That is amazing. I remember that and it makes sense to me. When I think of moms, immediately, my brain goes to being a stepmom and bearing all of the challenges of motherhood and yet feeling like, does this apply to me?

Thinking about women who don't have children or don't have biological children, but who are nurturing humans through life, through a lot of different ways that as women, we share this. We do share this commonality. It manifests in so many different ways, but this drive to be connected to and nurturing and bringing life into other humans, we all have that. 

I love that. I love that even the survey teased out the nuances of loneliness in that experience. As you've written the book and put the book into the world, what words of wisdom would you have for the women listening who might be feeling some of what your survey respondents felt being asked those questions?

Kathy: Our first chapter looks at Hagar, and the theme is on when you feel unseen. The good news is that Hagar, when you think about Hagar as the first person an angel of the Lord ever shows up to in all of scripture, she's at a well. It's the first time God ever shows up at a well, and we see God showing up at wells all the time from then on.

She was outside of the family. She was an enslaved servant of Sarai, probably given to her when they were in Egypt, forced to bear Abram's child and then so mistreated that she flees. This is not the sort of person who got seen. You don't ever see Abram or Sarai calling her by name.

The first person who calls her by name is God, is the angel of the Lord. I would say that her experience at this well is that she dares to name God, the only person in all of scripture who dares name God, and names him El Roi. The God who sees me. And then God tells her, go back and you'll have a son and you will name him Ishmael, which means God hears.

So Hagar is the one who receives the message that this God of Abraham is the God who sees and the God who hears. They didn't know that before that. For anyone who is feeling alone or unseen, God does see you. The story of Hagar gives us such great hope. We are just as precious as Hagar. God sees you, God hears you.

Alison Cook: That's beautiful. That is beautiful. I love that. That's the root of all of this, is that deep yearning to be seen and known just as we are. That's the yearning. We know that in God, but we also need places like the one you guys have created–wells where we get just a glimpse even of someone else seeing behind the mask that we feel like we have to put on, at school, at church, whatever, even in our families sometimes. And another woman saying, I see you, I get it, I see it all, and I'm here, I'm going to keep showing up. I'll be here next Thursday, whatever, I'll be here tomorrow morning, no matter what, whether it's gotten better, whether it hasn't, that's the desire, that's the longing.

Tara: No matter what. That's the deepest longing in all of our hearts is to be seen and valued and obviously the person who gives us that most is God. When we find it in other humans, they are reflecting God. "I see you and I delight in you." We got an email this morning from someone and she said, "I got through the introduction and I'm crying." The only thing that's in the introduction is, there's lots of other mamas just like you. One of our chapters in Women at the Well, we call her Sam because we don't like being unnamed, so we call the Samaritan woman Sam. As far as we know, she likely never had children. But we include her in the book because she births the Gentile church after her encounter with Jesus and him seeing her in all her mess, and loving on her and offering her living water. 

She runs back to town and tells everyone else about this guy who has living water, who saw everything I've ever done. That's her testimony. You don't have to mother in the way that the church celebrates on Mother's Day. Women are mothering and giving birth to lots of loving communities. We want to celebrate all of those ways of mothering.

Alison Cook: I love that. Man, that is just powerful. Just naming that longing. What would you say to the listener who is aware of that longing to be seen? Who is aware of that yearning and feels incredibly lonely. What would you say? How would you encourage her as far as taking a step toward community? I think that taking this book to your church and saying, hey, let's do a group around it because it gives you a structure and a scaffolding for this that maybe you could put your toe in the water. You can study the stories of other women in the Bible as an entryway, but how might you encourage that woman who's listening?

Kathy: I would say that, first of all, the gift of someone who will see you and value you and not judge you, not envy you, is a real gift of God. I think that when you yearn for that, the first thing is to ask God for that gift. God gives good gifts. I do believe, given our survey, that there are many women out there who are hungry to go deeper.

in both their relationship with God and in their relationship with one another. So I do think asking God, please give me this gift, and then open my eyes, put on my heart, who might be a person I might ask, who might be someone I want to do this group with and then take some risks.

Tara: Risking vulnerability is the way you can lead. Knowing that even if no one else is talking about it, they're feeling it. Not one of 700 women that we surveyed said, I'm rocking it. Not one. You can share vulnerably and somebody's eyes will open up. Somebody's shoulders will drop and go, oh, me too,

Alison Cook: This is making me remember a story that involves you, Tara, and your husband, Jeff. When I first moved to Cambridge, I was single. I didn't know a soul. I was so lonely. I was so in need of friends. A friend of mine, a random friend of mine who'd been part of Jeff's community at Harvard, said, oh, you should reach out to Jeff. Jeff Barneson. I had coffee with him because he was at the head of the graduate Christian fellowship at Harvard. 

So I thought, he probably knows people who maybe could be my friend. I'm pretty sure this is how it happened. I think Kim remembers it a little bit differently, but I said, do you know anyone who could be my friend? I told him about my life and myself and he said, oh, you should get to know Kimberly Miller. Kimberly Miller ended up being my coauthor on the book, Boundaries for Your Soul.

We had coffee. She was studying IFS. She was also a therapist. He set us up essentially on a friend date. I thought of that as you were talking, I love what you said, Kathy, it's asking God. I was just praying all the time, I was like, man, I need friends. I was writing my dissertation, so everything I was doing was in isolation. 

I didn't have kids. So there was no avenue for connecting with women in that way. Church can be hard as a single woman. So I started asking people, I need a friend. Do you know anyone who could be my friend? I want to share that because that's another way of being vulnerable and saying, this is a need that I have.


Kathy: I was thinking about the metaphors that we use and I'm struck that the well is where you go to get the water you need for life. So if we're actually talking about the metaphors, the water is the living water of God. To give something away, in our chapter on Sam, we realize, what is the living water?

Jesus promises living water. What is the living water? Then you have to go to John 7, three chapters later, to find out that Jesus says the living water is the Holy Spirit. The water that Jesus promises is God's presence living within us, the Holy Spirit, being filled with the Holy Spirit, which is what we believe happened to Sam.

It’s why she went from being someone who seemed isolated and alone and in shame to being someone who could name everything and talk about Jesus with freedom and invite people into her experience of Jesus. So I'm just struck that the water is always good, and yet a well can fall into disrepair.

A town well, you want to make sure people don't pollute it. Someone can ruin a well; that's what enemies do. They ransack a well so that people can't access the water anymore. So I was just thinking how when we wrote the book, we started out thinking, oh, we're writing this book on spiritual formation for moms, partly because that's a book I've been trying to write for 21 years now.

We went through many iterations. We had a couple of rejections. We had friends read really horrible drafts that we actually even submitted for publication that got rejected, thank the Lord. Part of what we realized is that for us, the key has been this idea of a community of women coming to this well to try to get the water they need for themselves and their families. 

This Holy Spirit living water, the water of God that helps us live our whole lives, that being careful around and stewarding well. The structure of the group, which we've actually talked quite a bit about, is important, and that's one reason we actually hit group commitment.

It's pretty hard in the book because what will kill a group is if someone doesn't keep confidence, if someone takes up too much space, if someone betrays the vulnerability that others show. With our group commitments, we're hoping that people will create a safe and healthy and wonderful well where the Holy Spirit, the living water, can flow out freely and everyone can come and drink.

Alison Cook: I love that. It's so interesting. Anger doesn't kill a group, comparison doesn't kill a group, envy doesn't kill a group, hurt feelings don't kill a group. What kills a group is what we do with those feelings, when we let those feelings come in between us and disrupt us from gathering, or we let the enemy start to let those feelings fester versus bringing those feelings into the well. I love that you laid out guidelines for folks in the book so that they can do this work together. I want the listener to be so encouraged, just as Kathy just said, there are norms that you can use.

You can work through this, these feelings, some of this stuff will come up. Conflict will come up, but there are some ways in which God will begin to use those things toward the end of forming you, not letting those things divide you from each other. I think our fear of those feelings keeps us from each other versus God wanting to take those feelings and use them to bring us toward each other.

I want every woman to experience this, to taste this. You guys have lived it just so beautifully. I'm so grateful for what you've created, for what it brought to me during that season of my life that I could come. It brings tears to my eyes that I could come in and sit with you guys around the well for a short season and taste the goodness and taste just a little bit of being known.

I had some major life epiphanies and growth spurts just by coming in for a couple of years to being a part of this community with you guys. I take that with me. The fruit goes with me wherever I go. It's just beautiful. Now you're going to change the lives of tons of other women through this book. 

I have two last questions for you before we wrap up. If you could go back in time, what would you say to the younger version of you with all the wisdom that you have now? What would you say to the younger version of you who was struggling with some of these things as a young mom?

Kathy: I went into motherhood thinking I was not going to commit all the sins of my mother and my grandmother. We like to joke that rage comes down the female line in my Chinese family. I couldn't get over it. I couldn't get over it. We write about it somewhat in the book and talk about it in some of our videos. I think that the process of parenting has not been a process of getting over any of my issues. Instead, it's been a process of meeting Jesus in the midst of them.

That's what we say about this book, that if you want to read a book about how to be a good mom, this is not it, because we never necessarily achieved that. But we did meet the God of the universe who loves us and walks with us and fills us with the Holy Spirit and loves our kids more, too. So I would say to my younger self, you're going to fail. You're going to disappoint yourself beyond what you ever thought you could do. And the God of grace and goodness will come and meet you in ways you never ever thought you would expect.

Alison Cook: I love that. I love that. That's a good word. That's a good word.

Tara: It's a good word. It's almost identical to what I would say, Alison. I remember going to bed, waking up in the morning and praying, God, please help me not be angry and controlling today. Then I would go to bed and say, God, please forgive me for being so angry and controlling. I say in the book, my kids say, oh, mom has dictator syndrome.

Anne Lamott has this great line, I'm not sure it totally fits, but she says, oh, don't tell me worrying doesn't work. Of course worrying works. Nothing I worry about ever happens. I used to love that line, and I laughed so hard, and I was like, guys, quit worrying. Nothing you worry about ever happens.

But actually, almost everything I've worried about has happened. Nobody has hurt my children more than I have. I could never have known that I was going to be the one who hurt them more than anyone else. Now, I think I've loved them more deeply than anyone else, too. That's who I was going to be as a mom.

But what I also couldn't have imagined was that God's going to keep saying, you are my beloved daughter. He's saying, I love you and I love your kids. More than you can know. More than you can know. It's okay that you lose it on your kids. I know, I see it, and I still think you're awesome. Your kids are gonna be okay.

Alison Cook: It's powerful. Even listening to you, I think about the graciousness of God. It's not that God doesn't see it all. The big thing I learned from the group was that I was in Enneagram 3, not in Enneagram 2. I remember the moment I figured that out, and it was being totally transparent about things that I have a lot of shame about, and so for me, even now today, that task manager part of me will just hit the ground running.

I'm so sorry, God, I got too much to do to stop and talk to you. It just brings tears to my eyes because God is just like, I know. I know, and it's not okay. Also I know you, I know you, I'm still here with you. I'm still here. It's still a battle. I'm aware of it.

God's aware of it. I'm more aware of God's presence with me through it. It's a really nuanced thing. I think for all of us as moms, as just all these things we struggle with, it's just that being known, being seen in the struggle takes the edge off. It reminds me exactly of what I used to feel with you guys. It just takes the edge off where I remember palpably leaving times with you guys and just feeling a little bit softer and lighter and more filled. 

Problems weren't magically solved.

Tara: It's living water.

Alison Cook: This is just so rich. I could keep talking to you guys for the next two hours. I think what you guys have put your finger on with this book is so powerful. Tell everyone how they can find you and how they can find this book and how they can maybe use the book to get started with a group of other women on their own.

Kathy: One of the great things is, because the whole vision of the book was that we wanted moms to do this together, which is why each chapter starts with a group Bible study. You can buy the book straight from InterVarsity Press and use a coupon code. If you buy more than five books, that's 40 percent off and free shipping.

So I'm assuming that you can have that in your show notes. Obviously, you can buy it on Amazon or you can ask your independent bookseller. We have a website called welcomejesuswelcome.com, where we have a leader's guide, where we have playlists. It's where we have hopefully more material that will be helpful for that.

So we want to support you all in the journey of walking together, following Jesus with your children and in your families. So yeah, lots of ways. We're on Instagram. We're on Facebook. You can follow us.

Alison Cook: Grab the book. I'll put the coupon in the show notes. Thank you so much for being here. I'm just so grateful for you both.

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