How does that word make you feel? Do you yearn to be more vulnerable in relationships? Or does the mere mention of vulnerability cause a part of you to wince and pull back?
For me, the idea of being vulnerable is fraught with emotional peril, for by its very definition the word means I am open to being harmed.
I grew up thinking the goal of life as a man was to become strong, capable of handling anything, an impenetrable human fortress. Now after many years I’ve started to learn just how imprisoning this pursuit is. And how unrealistic. It has become blindingly clear that I am weak, incapable of handling much of life on my own, and subject to the pain of human attacks, whether real or imagined. And to avoid this truth of my vulnerable humanity by attempting a show of exterior strength is like being confined to a prison cell with no freedom to embrace and live out of the fullness of who I am.
Learning to be vulnerable with others in relationship has only recently become part of my journey. And I see an ebb-and-flow pattern to it. Much of the time my deep desire is to be truly known by others, and have the honor of truly knowing them. And some days I just want to retreat to fortress-building.
Vulnerability became the primary topic in my mind a few days ago when I attended my 30th high school reunion (class of 1984 at North Valley High School in Grants Pass, OR – I love you guys!). I sensed the temptation to put on the old, worn, tired exterior lie of having it all together, but by grace was led to embrace vulnerability and seek authentic interaction with my classmates. The result was several beautiful moments of allowing others to see me, brokenness and all, helped greatly by their invitation to be real as they also embraced vulnerability in themselves. Further lessons on the topic came just yesterday, as my wife and I grappled with the emotional challenges of being a continent apart this summer while we each are necessarily engaged in our respective work in different locations. A breakthrough in the conversation came when she took the risk of being truly vulnerable with me, and suddenly my heart opened with a flood of compassion and we both experienced the comfort and healing of authentic human connection, despite the many miles physically between us.
To be vulnerable requires risk. It is willingly opening yourself up to the possibility of being misunderstood, rejected, humiliated, hurt. As a photographic artist and blog writer I step into what is for me a risky world each week as I express my inward ponderings, my passion for God’s glory, and as I reveal creations made with my camera that express the real me. But today I want to risk a little more, move one steep further into artistic vulnerability as I share images from my heart that are more abstract. These are not the pretty grand scenics that are easily accessible, so they may not resonate with many readers. But these compositions represent for me the exhilirating feeling of having created art, with the excitement of a child showing his crayon scrawling to mom. You probably won’t want to put these images on your fridge :-), but I am thankful if you partake in this moment of me being a little more vulnerable with my photographer’s heart.
All of this brings me to thinking on the ultimate vulnerability, modeled by God himself, when the infinite eternal perfect all-powerful Creator became like his frail creatures, scandalously setting aside his glory and making himself completely vulnerable to being hurt, entering our world of suffering and pain in his earthly life and taking on the consequences of our brokenness and rebellion in his sacrificial death:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death –
even death on a cross!
(Philippians 2:5-8, NIV)
If the glory of God shines brightest through the vulnerability of Jesus Christ, what does this mean for living out our lives? Can we take the risks of being vulnerable with each other, day after day, entering each other’s broken stories? Can this be a door we walk through to grace, compassion, and love for one another? Is this reward worth the risk?