- Capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt, as by a weapon
- Open to moral attack or criticism
Whether I am clicking through TED Talks or scrolling through blogs and social media post, conversations around the meaning of, need for and results of vulnerability abound. A simple query “how important is vulnerability in relationships” yielded 49 million results in less than a second. Social researcher, Brene Brown, touts vulnerability as the cure for what ails us in society today. Without it, we supposedly cannot be the people we have been created to be. We will not build deep relationships or truly interdependent communities without it. She goes as far as to claim, “When we shut ourselves off from vulnerability, we distance ourselves from experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives.” A lack of vulnerability costs a lot. But how can a concept which opens one up to wounds and criticism be so important to every human relationship?
Four recent encounters with extremely vulnerable women left me intrigued, inspired and a bit confused about what it means to be vulnerable. Especially as it relates to me. An invitation to speak at a gathering in a growing community of women who come together to share and hear stories of strength out of weakness resurrected an old fear of vulnerability in me. Though I have not a natural bent for sharing my feelings (at least the ones I see as weakness or a liability), I have grown tremendously in this area over the last twenty years. Yet, without a doubt, I have felt God’s gentle and relentless push to share more of myself than I am usually comfortable with at this gathering.
For months now, I have been resisting the idea of sharing more openly from my heart and life. Why? Because I pride myself on NOT being susceptible to being wounded or hurt. Though I cannot ward off criticism from others, I am known for not letting others’ negativity get to me. I may not always have my ducks in a row, but I am a duck who can just let things like unproductive, negative talk roll off my back. I am muddy waterproof! I like identifying myself as one not easily offended. I really do believe there is great merit in that quality. Proverbs 19:11 reads a person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense. Though, I could probably count on two hands (with some fingers leftover) the number of times in my entire life that I have felt attacked or criticized by someone. Alas, I may have to concede, however, that sometimes I am not easily offended because I am not being very vulnerable. And not being very vulnerable means I am not opening myself up enough to possibly be wounded or hurt; attacked or criticized. It also may mean I am not open enough to receive greater growth, joy and connection, too
In a full frontal assault, I think God has been trying to challenge my comfort zone. From stories told by friends and strangers, messages at church and podcasts, books and more, the call to vulnerability has been pretty blatant. But it has taken me a while to see it. I am sometimes slow to submit, sometimes slow to connect the obvious dots. I am sometimes rebellious and say things like “That’s just not who I am.” Recently, in a conversation I initiated about this topic, one of my best friends said to me, “Sometimes who we are is just prideful.” Wounds from a friend can be trusted- another proverb.
God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humility and vulnerability go hand in hand. To be humble means to show a modest estimate of one’s own importance. To be vulnerable can mean to be in need of special care, support or protection. To be vulnerable is to recognize one’s own need for others, to connect with them on a mind, body, heart and soul level. I have more family, friends and relationships than I can count. They are the value of my life. I work in a field where I get to connect with and serve people in some of the most basic yet important ways. In all of my people, I find myself and my joy. I am connected, no doubt. But God is calling me higher- or maybe lower, depending on how you look at it. I wonder if there is a part of my heart I have not yet learned to give to my people. I wonder if, as Brene Brown proposes, there is some experiences from which I am cut off because it is, at times, challenging for me to say, “Hey, I need something from you. I can’t always be strong. I don’t always have the answer. Maybe this did hurt me or bother me.”Vulnerability is multi-faceted. It is not just opening oneself up to people and asking for what you need. It is also sharing one’s true self with people- the pretty parts, all dressed up in Sunday’s best, as well as the covered-up wrinkled, flabby parts. Sometimes, vulnerability is sharing secret thoughts and feelings no one has ever heard. Sometimes, vulnerability is crying in front of someone who has never seen you cry. Sometimes, vulnerability is saying “Me, too.” when someone else is brave enough to let you in on their shortcomings or pain. Sometimes, vulnerability may backfire. You might be misunderstood. You might be hurt or criticized. You might be humiliated. Your trust may be rewarded with betrayal. You may be judged. This is probably the biggest fear for me. What if I speak my truth and it changes, even momentarily, how someone sees me. Actually, this pondering of vulnerability has helped me to see this truth finally-- and to share it here with you.