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
- May 19, 2016
- community, friendship, love, relationships, self-awareness, vulnerability
ShamasMay 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.
JohnMay 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.
SandraMay 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 WilliamJuly 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
MarkJune 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.
Not ConvincedAugust 11, 2017
Came across this (now year old) article on vulnerability. I’m searching for reasons that I can relate to as to why being vulnerable is worth all the pain it always leads to. Every time I was vulnerable in my now 59 years of life I was physically and/or emotionally abused – parents, caretakers, “friends”, and now wife. No one in my life was or is ever “safe” or trustworthy. So the idea of being vulnerable is terrifying to me, hence I have never experienced/felt love, joy, happiness etc. To me these are foreign concepts. The only emotions I have ever been aware of feeling are anger and fear. So reading statements about the benefits of being vulnerable are meaningless to me. I have no concept of what those “benefits” are or would feel like, but having all too much knowledge of the pain and hurt by having been vulnerable means I have zero motivation to risk it again. My only motivation is my “duty” to love my wife, but since I don’t love her I’m exhausted from decades of pretending to love her. We have a myriad of other problems (e.g. sexless our entire marriage) but the root I believe is my inability to feel anything positive (love, affection etc.) for myself or others. If anyone reads this, I’d love to hear more on what joy and love are so that I could try and believe they are worth a lifetime of hurts and emotional wounds that never heal.
JohnAugust 11, 2017
Thanks for your comment Not Convinced. I empathize with what you're saying as we all carry emotional baggage around. I think you are actually very aware of the benefits of vulnerability as your comment was exactly that: open, honest, and vulnerable. Furthermore, you are absolutely right - it is to whom we reveal ourselves that we have to be careful. If a person has consistently shown us not to trust them because of their responses to us then we are naturally going to put up walls.
However, there is hope and healing in Jesus Christ. He who offered Himself on our behalf desires us to be whole in Him. True freedom is found in Christianity, in a pursuit towards union with our Creator. He is love - in His presence is fullness of joy.
I don't know who you are or what your story is, and I know one comment can't speak to the depth of your struggle, but I hope it at least leaves you encouraged to know this one thing: that God desires you.
MakrinaAugust 20, 2017
Hey friend, I know the feeling of being hurt by being vulnerable too, and I know this won't change any of it, but I'm so sorry for all the ways you have been hurt.
I wholeheartedly believe that you didn't deserve any of it, and that you are incredibly lovable.
I'd love to connect you with someone older and wiser than I, who could talk through these matters with you. If you'd be interested, please email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
MonicaAugust 31, 2017
Hi, thank you for your comment. It is brave to acknowledge that is how you feel and not to be living in self deceit, as so many are. Thank you for sharing, I don't have much to add to what my brother and sister have said but know that I can relate to the hurt of vulnerability. It is a risk, but a risk that also comes with freedom. Because although outwardly we might not receive an obvious reward, inwardly we are slowly being freed from the shackles of wanting to appear a certain way to others/ self-image, and though it might not lead to the other person responding the way we want them to, I believe the most important thing is that maybe slowly we begin to accept ourselves.
I am praying for you.