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Naked and Unafraid
5 Keys to Abandon Smallness, Overcome Criticism, and Be All You Are Meant to Be
By Kevin Gerald
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Fear of criticism has turned into a massive epidemic harder than ever to overcome. It prevents people from speaking up; it's why most people struggle to make decisions; it's why we're uncomfortable with vulnerability and openness; and it's why so many are unable to meet their full potential. But it doesn't have to be that way.
Through the Bible story of King David dancing naked in the streets while his distant, guarded, and critical wife watches from a window, Naked and Unafraid provides a visual contrast of these two characters that sheds light on the way we all approach life and explains how the fear of criticism impacts our lives much more than we realize or are willing to admit.
God didn't create us to live guarded, isolated lives. Our greatest fulfillment isn't found in the window. It's found in the street. Everything in our lives, including our relationships, our work, our emotional and spiritual health, gets better in a place of openness and vulnerability. But that doesn't mean it's easy. . . because it's not. Vulnerability is risky. Exposure is scary.
Naked and Unafraid pushes readers to:
- Find the courage to not let criticism control or determine who they are and what they do.
- Stop living in the shallow end of relationships and experience the rewards that true vulnerability can bring.
- Abandon smallness and live the life they were born to live.
- Discover how the fear of criticism diminishes in direct proportion to understanding it.
- Reject the limitations and inhibitions of "window living," so they can experience the freedom and rewards of "street life."
- Confront their own worst critic that counts them out of what God has included them in.
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"Avoiding danger in the long run is no safer than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing."
"Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game."
Window versus Street
It was a day unlike any other day in history. For his entire life, David had dreamed of a time when the highly revered national artifact known as the Ark of the Covenant would be brought back to a place of prominence in the now prosperous city of Jerusalem.
As the symbol of God's presence in the nation, the Ark had been present since the days of Moses. David's ancestors had carried the Ark across deserts and onto battlefields and had recovered it from enemies who stole it. For the past eighty years, they had kept it in private estates out of the public eye.
Since not everyone knew where the Ark was, it had been forgotten by many. But not by David, who was now king. Like a creative architect, he had envisioned this day for years—the day he would bring the Ark to the city where it belonged and, in doing so, would give the people something to celebrate and the God of their fathers the glory He deserved.
This was one of the major milestones preparing the way for David to build God a house that would be of "great magnificence and fame" (1 Chron. 22:5), which explains why thousands of people left their shops and homes and filled the streets of Jerusalem, hoping to get a glimpse of history past and be part of history present.
To say it was festive would be an understatement. Especially when the king himself broke royal protocol by taking off his royal robes, wrapping his linen garments up around his waist, and heading out into the streets.
The streets were not where the king was expected to be.
Then the music in him met the music around him. He started dancing with those who danced and celebrated alongside the working-class people. He was unreserved in his joy and unrestrained in his celebration. Had there been a camera, its photo would have accompanied the cover story of every major news outlet in the world, along with the headline "A Disrobed King Dances in the Streets."
David had just had one of his best days. A personal mission was now accomplished, a milestone had been reached, and a dream had come true. After David danced in the streets celebrating the return of the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, the party ended at the front lawn of the palace. Scripture says he returned to bless his household.
Had there been paparazzi, a journalist, or a news opinion columnist present, there would have also been another story biting at the heels of those headlines like a hostile takeover. This story would have a different twist. Instead of a picture of David dancing in the street, it would include a picture of Michal, David's wife, seated in a window above the street and staring down at David with a look of contempt on her face, offering every journalist in Jerusalem a scathing headline to match the king's.
Before David could enter the palace, Michal, his wife, came rushing out to confront him like a raging fire moving through a dry forest: "How the king of Israel distinguished himself today! He uncovered himself today in the eyes of his servants' maids as one of the foolish ones shamelessly uncovers himself!" (2 Sam. 6:20 NASB).
We don't know if her harsh words began in that moment, or if they built into an eruption when David returned home later that evening. What we do know is that David did not measure up to Michal's idea of what the proper protocol for a king should be, and she let him know it. She had no problem calling him a fool whose behavior dishonored her, the royal family, and the people of the nation.
When you read the Scripture, you might conclude that David's wife was mad at him because he took off his clothes and danced in the streets. In reality, it wasn't about that. David was physically clothed. Michal was angry because David had taken off the royal robes that were protocol for a king to wear in public. Evidently, he wanted to have a good time singing and dancing in the streets, but the royal robe was too stuffy, too formal. So David removed his garments so that he could join in the party. To Michal, it was ridiculous. It was careless. It was overexposure. For David to be in the streets, vulnerable, expressive, interactive, felt dangerous, even reckless to her.
Before we jump to the conclusion that Michal was just a crazy unreasonable woman, let's remember that we've all spent some time in the window. Uncomfortable with going to the street, we've all made the choice to keep our distance, play it safe, and watch from the window.
Window watching has its own "window logic": it provides a reasonable argument that says the window is the best, safest position to be in. It is always based on some form of fear that causes people to pull away from participation.
This was the case for Michal. The fact that Michal was angry and afraid can, at least in part, be explained by the way she was raised. Her father, King Saul, went from being a fearless leader to becoming insecure and suspicious of everyone around him. By the time David came on the scene, Saul was a paranoid monarch who kept his guard up and kingly status in place 24/7.
In the early days of David's teenage life in the palace, Saul was so miserable and troubled that he would send for David to play music to help him relax and find peace of mind. When David played the harp, it served as a sedative to the fears that were driving Saul into a deeper, darker place of seclusion.
Window logic tells us that it's not safe to get close to people, to interact with people, or to connect with people. It tells us that we're more likely to get hurt or be taken advantage of if we engage. So, the better plan—the safer course of action—always seems to be to pull back and keep your distance from people.
Naturally, those types of beliefs are easily transferred from a strong father to his children, and this appeared to be the case with Saul and Michal. Saul's window logic seemed to be the source of Michal's own ideas about proper protocol for a king. In her mind, the window was the right place for her, and if David was going to be in the streets physically, he needed to at least stay in the window emotionally. That's what window logic says:
Wave, but don't shake hands.
Smile, but don't trust anyone.
Look relaxed, but don't let your guard down.
Talk, but don't embrace.
Follow the rules, stay on guard, keep your distance.
Stay in the window.
Although Michal had become David's wife and David was now the king, her view of life was still influenced by her father. If that's what you're raised with, then you've heard all the logic and bought into the idea that kings don't dance in the streets. Smart people, especially kings, keep their distance and follow proper protocol, which means they stay in the window.
I get it. Window logic is rational, sensible, and easy to defend. It keeps you from being too vulnerable.
Window logic tells us that it's not safe to get close to people, to interact with people, or to connect with people.
In fact, I'm guessing that many of you are like me in the sense that you've heard people talk about vulnerability as a good thing, and in your mind, you wrestled with what that looked like. What does it mean to be vulnerable? Because the very word vulnerable feels as if you're putting yourself in a position of weakness. An unsafe position. A position to be taken advantage of. To leave the window and go to the streets doesn't seem like a good idea. It feels like overexposure, even dangerous sometimes.
Which is why I questioned a few members of our message research team at my church when they recommended that I preach a series on vulnerability. I had asked them to help me by researching the most common felt needs of people and was surprised when they came back with data supporting their recommendation. The data showed that while people agree that vulnerability is essential, they feel completely overwhelmed by the thought of it. Perhaps that's because of where our thoughts go when we hear the word vulnerability.
So, before I let you get too far into speculation and possibly decide that this book is not for you, let me say this:
Vulnerability is not weakness.
It doesn't mean setting aside common sense.
It doesn't mean getting naked with everyone.
It doesn't mean committing yourself to everyone.
It doesn't mean trusting everyone.
It doesn't mean listening to everyone.
It doesn't mean giving everyone the keys to your house.
Now that we have that out of the way, let me also say that vulnerability doesn't support a "looking out for yourself" approach to life. It's the opposite of playing it safe. It's counterintuitive and can be dangerous, difficult, and risky. Vulnerability is making a move with no guarantee of the outcome.
In the spirit of full disclosure, every personality test I've ever taken shows that I have high levels of resistance when it comes to trusting other people, and my greatest fear is the fear of being taken advantage of. For those who are interested, on a DiSC assessment, I'm a Di, and on an Enneagram assessment, an 8. If you're familiar with these tests, you now know my issues and why I'm the least likely to see vulnerability as anything other than weakness.
Vulnerability is making a move with no guarantee of the outcome.
When my wife, Sheila, and I first met, I said, "Hello." She extended her hand and said, "Hi, I'm Sheila, and I'm shy." Which is absolutely not true! I shook her hand and said, "I'm Kevin, and I'm careful." Evidently that wasn't true either, because a year later we were married!
Like all relationships, ours began with a game, the game of "my terms, my time." It goes like this: "I'll let you know the real me on my terms, at my time. Until then, you will know a version of me."
We begin relationships like that because it's reasonable. It's not smart to open your life equally to everyone. Different relationships should have varying degrees of openness.
The problem comes when we get stuck in the window but we still expect to experience the relational growth that can only happen when we drop our guard, stop protecting ourselves, and do life in an open, walls-down way. Relationships won't get better by staying in the window; they only get better in the street. Marriages, friendships, families get stronger in the place where people interact, mingle, engage, and yes, become vulnerable.
There's a little animal you've probably heard of called the hedgehog. On a cold day, a hedgehog will search out other hedgehogs to huddle up with to keep warm. But because of his prickly spines he is forced to make a choice: get close, get stabbed, and stay warm, or keep away, stay safe, and freeze.
Which is exactly how we feel after relational experiences that bring us pain. Should I get close and stay warm where I will also be vulnerable to getting hurt? Or should I stay away, stay safe, but probably freeze? This is window logic versus street logic—stay away and freeze (window logic) or get close, be warm, and risk pain (street logic).
Everything about us gets stronger when we live with vulnerability, openness, and confidence. There's a freedom we gain when we drop our guard and engage life with certainty. Vulnerability is defined as the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed. Simply put, it's openness that exposes your thoughts, ideas, effort, work, and/or leadership, all while knowing that others might criticize and judge you for it. It's a willingness to absorb the disapproval of others and learn from it versus being held back from the progress you are called to in your own life.
This book is about a decision we all face. A decision we make repeatedly, often without even knowing it. This decision positions us in one of two places. And it not only influences but also ultimately determines our life experience. We can either watch from the window or dance with abandon in the streets.
- After reading this chapter, what does "staying in the window" and "dancing in the streets" mean to you?
- When was the last time you experienced someone showing vulnerability in a way that inspired you?
- Is your tendency by nature to stay in the window or dance in the streets?
- Vulnerability is defined in this book as "making a move with no guarantee of the outcome." Think about a time you were vulnerable. Was it easy or hard for you to make a move with no guarantee of the outcome?
- What do vulnerability and courage look and sound like for you after reading this chapter? How has your perspective changed?
The Risk of Exposure
I'm writing just the first section of this book, and I'm wondering if I'm going to be able to get it right. For now, since I'm the only one looking at these sentences, I'm able to hit the keyboard with no hesitation, knowing that I can cut, slice, and revise. No one will see the failed attempts to find my flow or get my thoughts together. It feels safe in this space because no one else sees what I'm attempting to do except for me. But for a book, a song, an idea, a dream to have a chance of making a difference in the lives of others, the person executing it has to risk exposure.
Which makes me wonder:
How many ideas are never shared?
How many books never get written and published?
How many companies are never created?
How many potential relationships never get the chance to ignite?
How many creative writers, talented artists, brilliant influencers, and strong leaders are playing it safe rather than risk the rejection, the criticism, or the failure?
The common denominator of window logic is always fear:
- Fear of stepping out
- Fear of messing up
- Fear of what someone will think or say
- Fear of not measuring up
- Fear of not being good enough or smart enough
- Fear of disappointment
- Fear of rejection
You may wonder what sorts of people put themselves out there. What kinds of people speak to strangers, create companies, start churches, write songs, or chase dreams? Are they people who have no fear? I don't think so. Fear happens to everyone when they start to push past the familiar and risk exposure.
So, if they're not fearless, what are they? They're people who take risks despite the fear they feel. They understand the value of putting themselves out there despite the urge to play it safe. In every pursuit of purpose there comes a time when you have to decide that there is something more important than avoiding risk or steering clear of criticism—something more important than staying safe until you die.
Condoleezza Rice became one of the most powerful women in the history of US government. How did she do it? She grew up in segregated Alabama. Her grandfather was a poor cotton farmer. Her mom and dad were schoolteachers in a segregated school. At a young age, she became a world class ice skater and concert-level pianist. She graduated from high school at the age of fifteen, went on to the University of Denver, and finished with a degree in political science at the age of nineteen.
When somebody asked her how that happened, how could a person go from where she was to where she is now, Rice said, "My parents had me absolutely convinced that you may not be able to have a hamburger at Woolworth's, but you can be President of the United States."1
The reason I love this story is that her parents didn't ignore the reality related to their African American history. They acknowledged the prejudice that existed toward their skin color represented by the now famous sit-in that happened in 1960 when four African American college students were denied service at the food counter of a Woolworth store in Greensboro, North Carolina. But in the same sentence they told her to never let that stop her from believing she could be the president of the United States. The wisdom of her parents was in knowing that the only way to push past the negative history was to stay focused on creating new and better realities.
Fear happens to everyone when they start to push past the familiar and risk exposure.
New and better realities are not created by staying in the window. They are created by putting yourself out there and not letting your past history, your feelings of rejection, the possibility of criticism, or your personal pain keep you from the risk of exposure that goes along with life in the streets.
Leaving the Window
At twenty-six years old, I was offered the opportunity to become the pastor of a church. They had started building a structure but were unable to complete it because they had run out of money. The church was located in a suburban area of Seattle-Tacoma, far from where I lived at the time, which meant my wife, Sheila, three-year-old daughter, Jodi, and I had to move 2,600 miles from our home in St. Louis to a place where the only people we knew were the few church members we had met when I had previously been a guest speaker at that church. We borrowed money, maxed out our credit cards, and moved into an eight-hundred-square-foot apartment with used furniture given to us by some families in the church. Needless to say, it wasn't what you would want if you were looking for job security. Prior to that, I may have leaned out the window, but until then I had never left the window to head into the street.
At first, the fear I felt was subtle, the kind of apprehension anyone might feel when you're leaving home, stepping out, and going somewhere new. What I soon discovered was that my greatest fear wasn't fear of moving across the country to the unknown. But rather the comments and criticism of those who had doubts about me as a leader. That's when real fear started to sink into my soul, because I realized that at least some of what they said was true. They said I was young and in over my head…true. They said I didn't know what I was getting myself into…true. They said I had no formal financial education, no degree in business, and had not graduated seminary…true, true, and true.
I had never felt that exposed to critics before—the kind of exposure where you have the urge to hide but nothing to hide behind. It was all due to the fact that I knew that people knew the truth about me: my inability, my lack of experience, and my youthful naïveté.
So now what? Any reasonable person could easily come to the conclusion that a twenty-six-year-old rookie pastor had no business taking on the challenge of a church that was shrinking in size, deep in debt, out of money, and several months behind in their mortgage payments.
At that low point and for a few years after, it seemed to me that the smart people were the ones who stayed in the window, while I was struggling to survive and find some financial stability. Many times, I wondered, What have I done? What was I thinking to bring my wife and daughter on this crazy journey? I clearly remember telling myself, If I ever get in a secure place again, I'll be smart enough to not risk that kind of exposure.
In the next five years, with substantial church growth and several miracles later, we found ourselves in a place of strength. The mortgage was refinanced, the bills were paid, classroom construction was completed, and our church's attendance had passed the one thousand mark, after starting with fewer than eighty people. Even though we were in a bedroom community, growth continued to the point where we had an architect draw up plans for a new auditorium on our property.
In that season without big problems, I had arrived where I thought I wanted to be. Things had settled down and I had settled in. I had won some battles as a leader, I had the respect of my critics, and even though we were considering taking on a building project, I was determined to minimize the risk. That's where we got stuck. It's where a lot of people get stuck. In the place where you decide to play it safe and not take any risk. The city didn't want us to build another building on our property. Now remember, I had assumed that if I ever got to a safe place like I was in, I would never leave the secure seat in the window again. I had assumed that the window was where smart people were, and that's where I wanted to be.
What surprised me was how restless I became when our path forward was blocked. I started to realize that even if we built a building, the location we were in would limit our ability to be more than a community church.
Sheila said to me one night as I lay in bed staring at the ceiling, "You're going to leave, aren't you?" I played dumb and asked her why she would ask that, while wondering, How did she know what I was thinking? She was right (as usual). I was contemplating what our next move could be as a family.
On one hand, it felt good to feel safe. We had entered our thirties and had just built our first house in a small rural area away from everything. We even had a beautiful view of Mount Rainier out our bedroom window. Jodi, my daughter, had started school in a small town close to where we lived, and for the first time in our married life, we were in what felt like a safe and secure place.
But what I thought would be true for me turned out to be just the opposite. It wasn't that I felt ungrateful. I knew that what had happened was not to be taken lightly. But safety and security didn't feel like I had assumed it would feel, which is why I was trying to sort out what I was feeling. I kept telling myself, This is how smart people live. They work hard to have security and then they play it safe—so don't mess it up! On the other hand, I was beginning to think my time in the Pacific Northwest was over. Maybe God had a new assignment for me.
Then the unthinkable happened. A church a few miles away with a much larger campus invited me to a new adventure in street life. They not only had the bigger facility we needed but also had a location that would give us a regional presence in Tacoma with easier interstate access south to Olympia and north to Seattle.
However, in many ways it felt like déjà vu. A church had split, a bank had foreclosed on the property, and I was being invited to the dance. The further I got into the conversation, the more exposed and vulnerable I felt. I wanted more time to prepare, to plan, to build up a financial reserve that would minimize the risk. Unfortunately, that kind of time was not an option. The advice people were giving me was mixed. Some people around me were excited. They saw this as an answer to prayer. Others were less comfortable with it and believed it was just too risky, especially since we didn't have time to plan for it. Some moments I felt a groundswell of assurance and faith. At other times I wondered, What if this doesn't go well? What will we do if it doesn't work?
The one thing that all vulnerability has in common is that it never comes with a guarantee. Even something as simple as a smile feels vulnerable because there's no guarantee it will be returned. Someone might ignore us or look the other way, so rather than risk it we hold back the generous gesture. The lack of certainty, no money back, no smile back, no time back, no rewind button is what causes us to hesitate or pass up opportunities. Rather than heading to the street we stay in the window. The vulnerability is too uncomfortable. The higher the guarantee, the less the vulnerability. The lower the guarantee, the greater the vulnerability. So whether it's an honest conversation you dread, a change you want to make, a kindness you want to show, a relationship you're getting involved in, or a business you're starting, where the guarantee ends is where vulnerability begins.
You know what I really wanted? I really wanted God to write a simple "yes" or "no" on my bedroom wall in bright green paint. Like, C'mon, God, is that really asking too much? Even a Y or an N and I'll get the message!
Even something as simple as a smile feels vulnerable because there's no guarantee it will be returned.
But when I prayed, I felt like God was saying it was my
- "Living in fear of criticism can crush your spirits and control your decisions. In Naked and Unafraid, Kevin encourages us to get uncomfortable, lean into vulnerability, and uncover the courage we need to reach our full potential. I'm glad my friend was willing to share this message with the world, because I've watched him live it out."—-Steven Furtick, pastor of Elevation Church and New York Times bestselling author
- "Most all of us find ourselves limited by our ongoing fears, personal insecurities, or over-sensitivities. Thankfully, Pastor Kevin Gerald has written an encouraging, practical, and power-packed book. Each chapter is jammed with wisdom from God's Word, stories that inspire, and truth that will empower you to overcome the things that hold you back so you can live the life you are created to live."—-Craig Groeschel, pastor of Life.Church and New York Times bestselling author
- "It's easy to walk through our lives isolated and afraid of making mistakes, but this is far from the life God calls us to live. Rather, like David, we are to boldly step into the street, dance, and enjoy the life Jesus died for us to live. In NAKED AND UNAFRAID, Kevin reveals that for us to reach our full potential of who God created us to be, it's crucial that we live out of a place of vulnerability. I believe this is a message none of us are exempt from but all of us will be better for."—-Levi Lusko, lead pastor of Fresh Life Church and bestselling author
- "In an age of unprecedented exposure to criticism; Kevin Gerald provides a blueprint for a balanced, blessed, and best life."—-Dr. Dharius Daniels, lead pastor of Change Church
- "Within the pages of this book are keys that will bring not just revelation but transformation to every seeking heart. Pastor Kevin is able to impart such wisdom because he has lived out this story and by doing so has helped many. . .We all need trusted truth tellers, and in these pages you will find a friend who will become that to your life."—-Charlotte Gambill, lead pastor of LIFE Church UK
- On Sale
- Feb 2, 2021
- Page Count
- 272 pages