I’ve thought a lot about vulnerability over the past year or so. The concept challenges me, excites me, and terrifies me. I know that the moments I am the most vulnerable yield the deepest connections and the most rewarding experiences. Still it is a process that lays me bare. It’s like one of those dreams where you are delivering a speech and realize you are completely naked. And I am the first to withdraw, close up shop, and slip back into my “everything is great” mask.
And to be fair, oftentimes everything is great. Or fine. I’m not always lying when I say that. Just sometimes.
When everything is not okay and I still act as though it is, I tell myself I am playing it safe. Even being wise. But inside I feel like I’ve shallowed a hurricane. My stomach churns, my head feels faint, and my hands shake. Meanwhile, I just keep on smiling. Because if I let the storm break through, I don’t know where it will carry me. And surrendering control (or more accurately the facade of control) is terrifying.
I struggle with vulnerability. I’m like a Morning Glory flower. When I feel the safety of the sunshine I open wide, but when the danger of darkness appears, I seal back up. Tight. Scared.
But God is persistent and gentle when pressing in on my heart. Lately, I’ve been trying to lean more into His leading. Often it is uncomfortable and raises new questions. Since I find myself driving around town a lot, I’ve started devouring some thought-provoking audiobooks. (I just finished The Bassoon King: My Life in Art, Faith, and Idiocy by Rainn Wilson and highly recommend it if you are a fan of The Office or Rainn Wilson. I was surprised at how interesting and spiritually challenging I found it.) I’ve also long admired the work of Brene Brown, so I decided it was time to listen to one of her newer books: Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (amazon affiliate). I’m only half a chapter in and I can’t stop thinking about it.
I listened to Brene as I drove the I-70 to church today. And her definition of vulnerability was still very much on my mind as I sat in Bible class staring at the white board with “STORY” scrawled across it. Speaking up, let alone being vulnerable in a class setting is difficult for me. I want to share my thoughts and open up, but . . . What if someone misunderstands me? What if I don’t make sense or sound stupid? What if I get too personal–then I can’t take back what I said! When I don’t share, I sit there trying to summon the courage. When I do open my mouth, my palms sweat and hands shake while I talk, then I spend the next 10 minutes internally wondering if my comment made any sense or it I overshared.
But today something clicked in my mind and resounded in my soul. We were reading in Colossians about Jesus coming to earth to reconcile us. And as I listened and thought about Jesus sacrifice of coming to earth at all, I realized Jesus set the ultimate example in vulnerability. I mean He gave up heaven and recognition as God Almighty to come to earth, in the flesh, as a man. And if being born–covered in blood and amniotic fluid–wasn’t vulnerable and humbling enough, He went on to live the most incredible life ever lived. Also, the most vulnerable.
Yet, so many people failed to see Him for who He was: God. They saw a common man, the son of Mary of Nazareth. Maybe they though Him smart but a little of His rocker. Or they saw a man who would lead them out from Roman oppression–also not exactly accurate. Or they labeled Him a blasphemer–Who is this ordinary but audacious man claiming to be God?! Of course His followers and those who had faith in Him saw so much more: His miracles, His compassion, His love, His teachings, His divinity, and His vulnerability.
Almighty, all-knowing God was willing to walk where we walk, eat what we eat, face the temptations we face every day, and suffer far worse than any of us probably ever will. He died a criminal’s death because the world failed to see who He was. They failed to see that God came to us vulnerable, in flesh, in love, seeking to gather us to Himself. Jesus came to set right what we corrupted. In other words, He came to engage our mess.
Now, I must give credit to our church here. As a part of our year of renewal we are talking about embracing life’s messes and embracing life’s joy. So I was already thinking about how Jesus steps into our messy world. And I’ve read the story of Jesus time and again. I’ve studied about vulnerability, and I’ve prayed for the ability to be more vulnerable in my own life. But I never realized that Jesus set us the ultimate example in vulnerability. In love, yes. In compassion, yes. But I never realized that He lived in vulnerability–or what Paul calls making himself “nothing.” The Creator became the created:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being the very nature of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave hime the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:6-11
God laid out all His love for us to grab hold of in a swirling and chaotic world. Now, as we engage with others while ourselves carrying sins and stains, muck and mire, may we remember that we are worthy of love and they too are worthy of love. Vulnerability does not connect us through judgement and condemnation, but through open hearts, open ears, open hands, and gratitude.
I now define vulnerability by looking at Jesus and the life He led. Connection, compassion, and engaging with others will be messy. But instead of donning our white doctor robes and rubber gloves with a “holier than thou” attitude, let’s lay down our pride. After all, none of us are “good enough” on our own. Only through the sacrifice of Jesus–our example in how to vulnerably live, love, and wade through this messy life–can God set us right again.
Don’t mishear me, vulnerability is not an excuse to live how we want to live. Rather it invites others to walk alongside us as we confront and deal with our junk. It invites God’s transforming power into our open and vulnerable hearts.
Recognizing Jesus as my guide in vulnerability has cleared up some true confusion for me. You see, I can be quite foolish and prideful. I stumble over my words, regret things I say, let my filter slip, and often “stick my foot in my mouth” as they say in good ‘ole Nebraska. This past year I sought to understand how vulnerable, authentic relationships functioned. And I realized that there is a big difference between vulnerability and foolishness. Foolishness rushes ahead, is inconsiderate, doesn’t think, and brings about sour fruits in our lives. But this humble, courageous vulnerability thoughtfully lays open of our hearts to someone else: the beautiful and the ugly. And it bears the richest of all fruits: compassion and authentic connection.
Jesus was and is the epitome of wisdom and vulnerability. He didn’t hide his grief for His dear friend Lazarus, or His deep anger at the deception and financial gain in the temple courts, or even His anxiety and fear about His coming death as He prayed with sweat and blood in the garden. He didn’t hold himself as “holier than thou” like the self-righteous Pharisees. Even though He had every right to do so. He helped the lepers, held the children, and healed the possessed and sick. He walked straight into the mess of our world not armed or guarded by angels, but cloaked in compassion, purpose, and love.
He loved even when He knew His people would turn on Him. He loved even when He knew His friend Judas, one of the twelve, would betray Him.
Jesus loved knowing it would hurt. Knowing it would be messy. Knowing it would be worth it.