“A Full & Vulnerable Heart” – Brad Jersak (with Paul E Ralph)

“A Full & Vulnerable Heart” – Brad Jersak (with Paul E Ralph) January 3, 2020


As the decade ended, a dear confidante and 35-year-long soul friend of mine, Paul E. Ralph, embarked on a one-month reflection through Simon Sinek’s ‘Finding Your Why’ exercises. In the process, PER invited me and a handful of trusted friends into his journey. The outcome was so inspiring that I asked him if I might share the results. “Inspiring” because in his words, I recognized my friend as he already is, not just what he hopes to become. I found myself saying, “Yes, this is the man I know and cherish. I’m so glad he could see that radiant soul as I do.”

But his discoveries were also an inspiring challenge. He articulated longings in me as to the WHY, WHAT and HOW of my true self. I see in these powerful intentions the glory-to-glory transfiguration that could take humanity into its destiny as Christlike image-bearers. This is not to say that Paul has arrived at his telos. But I must say, the truth of his being is becoming the way of his being. I asked him if I could share his descriptions because beyond refracting the beauty of my friend, his words also serve as wise guides for my journey–for your journey–“further up and further in.”

Behold … from PER:


To notice and affirm the beauty of dignity & grace (the Imago Dei) in the world around me. In the obvious and the unexpected, in the triumph and the tragedy, and in the delicious ambiguities of life. And, to invite others to consider the same.


Expectantly, pregnant with anticipation for the grandeur of this grander thing unfolding. I will be relentlessly curious, authentically encouraging, unconventionally vulnerable, respectfully attentive and generously intentional.


I will love people more than things, and I will cultivate conversations of unhurried intimacy, and I will risk, because… to love is the danger from which there is no retreat. Today, I desire to have interactions with people that nudge us all toward the best versions of ourselves. Today, I will seek to engage in conversations that fire the imagination, ignite love, seek wisdom, embrace forgiveness, and foster belonging. I will seek to live holistically today, paying attention to the mind, body and spirit. I will learn to be increasingly present in the moment while I savor the seasons of life. I will celebrate my favorite things: the sun & the wind, food & drink, prayer, laughter, learning, music & the written word, and exploring the human experience. In those aspects of life that perplex me, I will seek patience and understanding. And, in season, I will garden. I will garden in order to remain rooted, to bear witness to the cycle of life, death and rebirth, and to reflect the restoration of all things.   


Having read this, a few questions for my readers’ reflection:

  1. What aspects of PER’s Why, How and What did you find most inspiring? Why did those points highlight themselves in your heart?
  2. How were his descriptions familiar to the truth of your being and the way of your being? Which elements best express who you are or want to be?
  3. How might your personality be quite different that which Paul painted for us? In what ways do you aspire to walk a similar path? And how does your own life journey diverge from his? Each of us has a path and yours is being uniquely formed as you advance. Do you know the unique person you see in the mirror today? Can you accept and affirm her as she is today? How would you encourage him for the coming leg of the journey?


Here is my confession: I needed to hear from Paul today. Something in me is drawn to despair of who I am and who I am not. My “identity in Christ” means little to me if that’s an abstract platitude describing who I am not in real life. Calling myself a “child of God” rings hollow when the Jesus of John’s gospel uses the term exclusively to describe imitation. Of late, I feel the fires of “imposter syndrome” because I know damn well my character is nowhere near the beautiful message I’ve been given to share. At some point, you are what you do and I feel more like the conflicted heart of Romans 7 than the freed heart of Romans 8. I actually do believe in a Day of Judgment … and I’ve never felt less ready to meet Christ the All-Merciful. I don’t believe in earning my salvation but I had at least hoped to offer a gift of thanks to the One I love. Yet the truth is, “I have not played my best for you, a-rum-pa-pum-pum.”

But Paul’s words lifted my heart. When I want to retreat, he invites me out and on. He reminds me that the Holy Spirit is indeed transforming us all from glory to glory into the image of Jesus Christ. I know this because I’ve known PER since the early 80s and I have watched it happen in him, through some dark seasons of real grief or as he’s wrestled his own demons. I watched this transfiguration in my glorious living saint of a wife, Eden, despite my failings and even because of them. I joke that my greatest contribution in life is my role in her developing sainthood, along lines similar to Nero’s hand in the glorification of St. Paul! Maybe it’s not really a joke. My transformation is very slow because I can only grow at the rate of my willingness to surrender to grace.


But if the journey is initiated, led and brought to completion by the faithfulness of Christ and the relentless grace of God’s Spirit … and not by self-effort, that’s really good news. Jesus Christ is a Very Good Shepherd and is very good at being a Shepherd–good at finding me, calling me, leading me and carrying me. Somewhere in my truest heart, I do long to be found, called, led and carried by Love. I feel that deeply in each of Paul Ralph’s statements of being and intention. For me, for today, he extends our Shepherd’s helping hand, lifting me up. “I’m with you. Let’s do this,” he says, “… together.”

I know we don’t generate our own salvation (whatever that means) but Grace does call us to be and to do that which we will only be and do by the grace at work within us and between us. I heard that call and felt that hand today. And now, like Paul, I feel both full and vulnerable. Thank you, dear friend.

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