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Vulnerability: For Love and Risks


Everyone agrees that vulnerability is not something you do with everyone, but the one or two who have earned the right to hear your story. And everyone agrees that it is so hard, which is why we avoid it. I believe, for a multitude of reasons which are so personal and specific to each person, the two main reasons are:

a) the fear of knowing yourself

b) the power that it gives the person we are being vulnerable with

Being vulnerable, whether that’s apologising or confessing a fear, mistake or insecurity requires a level of self-reflection and it is terrifying to go into your own darkness.  By sharing that with another person we’re taking a huge emotional risk by placing this sacred piece of our soul in their hand. A piece that they may not know how to handle with care. A piece they can either be compassionate and gentle with or that they can totally break into fragments if they react in disgust or rejection to our vulnerability. So vulnerability is hard because knowing my own darkness is agonising and also because taking someone deep into that darkness means they can confirm our worst fear – that we’re too dark to be loved or worthy of love. And that is a kind of pain that can leave the most damaging of scars.

But I think there is also another part that we miss which makes vulnerability seem so dangerous and uncertain.

When I take someone into that darkness and I reveal a part of me that is wounded or hurting,  an unspoken level of accountability is forged. Especially if I deeply love the person with whom I’m being vulnerable with, which is normally the case, because love requires that I do whatever it takes to be the best for them. So it follows that if I am ready to share a shortcoming, I am ready to try to move away from it.

Most of the time, vulnerability in any relationship will happen when we’re apologising, trying to explain our actions to someone or trying to help them understand why we reacted in a certain way. It usually means that the very thing we’re being vulnerable about probably affects the person that we are being vulnerable to.

By sharing this with them and releasing it into the open and into the light, I can no longer say I didn’t know about my own inadequacies. I can no longer turn a blind eye or ignore it. More importantly, I can no longer hide from it because now another soul can see. I am faced with one choice – confront it, fight it and grow.

I think that’s an incredibly scary thing about vulnerability – more than the emotional exposure, it’s the place that the emotional exposure thrusts us. And where is that? A place that means we must choose to be different and change.

Vulnerability is hard because “despair is more comforting than hope.” In the pit of my own darkness I am free to languish in hopelessness and sorrow, but once I am vulnerable, whether I’m received with compassion or not, I have no excuse to remain in my tattered fig leaves rather than animal skin. The fear is that: ‘What if it takes me too long to change? What if they give up on me?’ This is when the shame creeps in and like our forefather, Adam, we want to run.

Vulnerability creates accountability and that’s a huge responsibility to shoulder.

Perhaps that’s why vulnerability can be much easier in retrospect, sharing wounds that have been and gone. Being vulnerable in the moment, being vulnerable about the very brokenness that still breaks you so well, really is the biggest risk. And here is the kicker: ‘What if, by revealing my shame or weakness, so that I may be known,  I’m actually giving them the reason to walk away from me?’

Maybe this is why vulnerability feels like weakness; not just because of the exposure but because of the position of responsibility it puts us in where there is no more space for blaming others and pointing fingers. I must own the story of my weakness.

Vulnerability doesn’t guarantee anything. It isn’t a miracle in a bottle. Yes, it is ultimately a risk that can leave us naked and alone, but without it we have no connection.

So there will come a time, when we think of the past; every single time trust was offered to someone in vulnerability and was irretrievably broken, when we think of the present, the people in our life we are called to love as our own soul and when we think of the future, the kind of love we want our life to profess and we are compelled to ask: “is vulnerability worth it?”

 

What if staying and being vulnerable with those trusted souls in our lives breaks our plan? Everything comes at a cost, and though waters may rise and vulnerability may fail us along with those we trust, if love is the fulfillment of the law, then there is no cost that is wasted. Nothing is wasted for love – may our souls never forget to wear this God-breathed truth like second skin.

 

Click here to read part 1 of our vulnerability series!

Photo courtesy of  Zachary Snellenberger

Sandra
About me

Hi there! My name is Sandra and you’ll most likely find me listening to music and getting lost in a book.

I grew up in California but I’ve lived most of my life in England which is why you’ll never really be able to work out my accent (sorry!) Those that know me, know I’ll never say no to a family-size bag of Hot Cheetos or pistachio ice cream, some would even say it’s the way to my heart (they would be right). I make sure never to leave home without my trusty Tide pen because I’m absolutely stain-prone! I'm deeply passionate about stain removal, but I’m talking about the kind of "stains” like broken relationships and sexual struggles.

Someone once told me that God covers those stains with patches of grace. I like that image because I imagine myself as one of those patchwork quilts worn right through. Each patch of grace has a story to tell; a story of heartbreak and redemption. What Christ has done and what my great privilege to do for others, is to rework the fabric where it has stained. Nothing makes me come alive more than those moments of true, genuine conversations, when we let each other in to see the stains and together we choose to stay and love through the stains. From our encounters to our most intimate relationships I pray our patchwork may tell the story of creating a safe place for each other where we are loved fearless. So I try, though I've failed often and continue to do so, to live out of authenticity, hospitality and vulnerability, never ceasing to forget that when I’m worn out, worn thin and have nothing to bring Him; my empty earthen vessel is the place He can fill with His all-surpassing power.

He is my exceedingly, abundantly.

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5 Comments

Shamas
Reply May 19, 2016

Yes but vulnerability to friends does not replace or equal the exposure in front of God in the sacrament of confession and repentance. It should not be that what I say to the priest is the same detail / less detail than what I say to my friends. Also, vulnerability without rules leads to being a stumbling block for others. i.e. I should consider whether or not telling my friends that I struggle with a sin will subcontiously make them feel less guilt when / if they do that sin and/or they could be filled with pride because they know of a weakness in me they don't have. If I dong need to tell them, then I shouldn't! E.g. A prayer request does not need to be so detailed! The Apostle Paul would perhaps have detailed what his thorn in the flesh was? Vulnerability to friends should come second to immediate repentance and confession asap.

    John
    Reply May 20, 2016

    Hey, thanks for the comment! This post does not discount the need for a spiritual father, but instead emphasises that as fellow members of Christ's body we should be willing to share in one another's burdens. We need to be vulnerable with and accountable to one another in order to foster authentic friendships and love within each of our communities. With this being said, of course this requires a great deal of discernment as we should not tell just anyone our most personal struggles. And of course repentance and confession are indispensable salvivic tools God has given to us.. but so is authentic friendship (James 5:16). Both are essential. Both are irreplaceable. One is not more important than the other.

    Sandra
    Reply May 20, 2016

    "God Himself made us friends instead of servants...He gave us a pattern of friendship to follow. We are to fulfill the wish of a friend, to unfold to Him our secrets that we hold in our own hearts, and our not to disregard his confidences. Let us show him our heart, and he will open his to us...a friend, then, if he is a true one, hides nothing. He pours forth his soul as the Lord Jesus poured forth the mysteries of His Father." St. Ambrose

      Ray William
      Reply July 23, 2016

      Oh sandra I love how you mention the fact that Christ has made us his friends . Throughout my life I noticed that people who find it hard to confides to close trusted friends are the ones who suffer the most . Keeping our emotions concealed puts too much pressure on ones self .
      And the bible itself mentions how that through many counsellors we succeed .
      So I totally agree with you
      The trick is to make sure the whoever we confide to loves us genuinely with no hidden motives . They also gotta connected to Christ so that whatever advice or input we get back would be up to our Christian orthodox values .
      It's so healthy to talk . To let it all out to free ourselves from all the fears and feelings that hinder our spiritual and psychological growth .
      We should also be very cautious who we talk to . Accountability to a spiritual mentor ( father of confession ) is also of paramount importance .
      And finally it's the peace of Christ through the grace of his holy spirit that calms down the storms in our hearts and minds .
      God bless you

Mark
Reply June 15, 2016

Very true. Whilst I agree with what you say the St. Ambrose quote - if read in full - is actually in the context of the relationship between us and God, he is saying we should pour ourselves out to God.

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