“It has always seemed strange to me… the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success.”
– John Steinbeck
Once it is said, you can’t take it back. No matter how your try, they know. You do feel a huge weight off your chest, but now comes the worst part –
Now they begin to look at you in a different way. They may avoid you, label you, exclude you, replace you, or treat you only with shallow kindness which is easily wiped away with a makeup wipe.
It is a trait we all honor, but never respect. It is a position we desire to be at, but we treat with disdain. To be vulnerable and open seems to be so free, yet our reality shows us it is a prison.
Opening up and being vulnerable can be a very lonely road. People do not know what to do with you. You see yourself only by the news of what is revealed. Whatever difficult secret has been unveiled is given away out of trust, and it is either shared with everyone or cherished. To be honest, how many times has the latter been portrayed only to have the former become our reality?
How do we walk down a road spoken with praise, but hardly a hiker spotted along its path?
A Disdained Value
We all know what it is like to be open and vulnerable. We carry that weight of a dark secret. It is like a tumor we must show in order for healing to happen. We all know this! We hear pastors laud the praise of stepping into the light and finding God’s forgiveness to soothe our weary souls.
Yet, what really happens? We step out of the dark. We take off the mask, and, immediately, shunned. Some are told to put the mask back on. Some lose positions. Some put into counseling. But, all are silenced. Sure, those things can be good depending on the situation. But, all are silenced so no one knows. We would rather uphold an image of perfection than allow flaws to flaunt.
But, is vulnerability flaunting?
A Mindset Honored
The truth is vulnerability is a mindset to be honored. It is something to be practiced and treated with honor.
James 5:16 tells us to confess our faults before each other, so we can intercede in prayer for each other. Galatians 6:2 presses the need to share our burdens. Why should we help each other with the burdens they carry? Because Jesus carries our burdens for us (Matthew 11:28-30). Our savior carries our burdens out of love. He gives his life to shoulder what is too heavy for us. This is how he loves us, and this is how we are to love each other.
The qualification for Jesus to bear your burden is to come with your heaviest weight and to give it to him. He does not care if it is pretty or dirty. He doesn’t mind being seen in public with your load. He was stripped bare for the public in order to take your sin upon himself. Do you think he is embarrassed by your burden?
Unfortunately, we say yes. It is because we are embarrassed by it. Our vulnerability is scorned. We have experienced what Bartimaeus endured. He cried out for Jesus to heal him. He only wanted Jesus, and people tried to hush him up. The ones who should have loved him enough to bring him to Jesus silence him. It wasn’t until Jesus called him that the crowd’s attitude changed (Matthew 10:46-52).
The majority of people Jesus healed had to become vulnerable in order for healing to happen. God honors those who have a vulnerable mindset. His light truly heals when we are vulnerable.
No Longer A Curse
So often we know the consequences of being open. We lose friends, family, positions, reputation… shall I keep going?
I remember when I opened up to my family about being same-sex attracted. Instead of listening to understand, they began to debate me. They could no longer say with certainty if I was a Christian or not. They began to stalk and google friends who were supporting me. I was called weak-minded. It got to the point, that a “picturesque family gathering” could no longer happen. The relationship I have with them is shallow. I have a better relationship with my students than my own family. In fact, a dog has taken my place.
I opened up. I had to be honest with them, yet I was met with debating and shunning.
To many of us, we fear what I experienced as we decide if we should be vulnerable. All the “If” statements crowd our thoughts and create our anxiety to go through the roof. Or, if we have opened up, we can only think of the “If only I had…”
How many friends have we lost? How has our family relationship slowly disappeared because of us wanting to be honest?
Doesn’t vulnerability seem to be a curse?
Scripture actually calls the open and vulnerable blessed. In fact, it is the first beatitude. “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs (Matthew 5:3).”
If we realize our need for him, then we become open. Our vulnerability reveals our poverty of spirit. It is the lack of vulnerability that poisons our life with the deception of an image.
It is no longer a curse! Jesus wants us to boldly come to him. He wants to take our burden and give rest and grace. He empowers and commands the church to take the shame of vulnerability and turn it into a blessing for those who are will receive the King of Heaven.
The Path Ahead
Vulnerability is so difficult to do. We know what will happen. We will be shamed, shunned, while those who hear are shocked while showing their surface smiles.
I have learned that being open can bring a lot of pain. It ruins relationships. It rips apart a reputation. It mutilates that mask we grasp so closely. Yet, it has healed a lot of my deep wounds. It opens a deeper relationship with Jesus and shows me the power of the Holy Spirit.
I remember one Sunday going to my pastor for prayer. Our lives turned a chapter we had to pretty much read upside-down. The burdens were too great for us. He then said he was proud of our vulnerability. I couldn’t believe my ears. So many times I was shunned for opening up about our struggles. Yet, for once I heard a pastor tell me how proud he was for me being open. I never even got that from my own father.
That is what the church is to be about. Fear is what keeps us from being open. Protection of an image keeps us from allowing others to open up. Yet, who was known as the friend of sinners who ate and drank with them? Who was the one whose disciples and followers were not seen as the most impressive people? It was Jesus. He did not come to preserve an image or fear what others were thinking. He came to bring life. In order to do that he created an environment of grace so the people around him could open up.
Does our life create that environment of grace? Do our churches value traditions and images over bringing people into the life-giving presence of God?
Look, I’m not perfect. I do not even strive for perfection. It is not mine to strive for. I struggle with depression, anxiety, body shame, and same-sex attraction. I’m a mess. No “good” church would want me on their leadership. I stumble, fall, get angry, blow up, and hurt others. Yet, I pursue and seek God daily. I have to be in his Word. I have to pray. I am not who I was, but I’m not yet where God’s vision is directing me.
If being vulnerable has taught me anything, it has taught me to let go of my image, my mask, and go pursue Jesus. If I am vulnerable, then the darkness loses control to light. If I am open, then the light of Jesus can flood in and awaken my soul.
It has not been easy. It is harder to do than to say. Yet, I am blessed to know that I do not have to hide. I do not have to avoid people or church just because of a secret controlling my life.
Without vulnerability there is no light.
The path of vulnerability is lit with the lamps of grace fueled by the blood of Jesus.
The path of the vulnerable should be the path of the Christian.