Vulnerability, in my opinion, runs the risk of becoming a buzz word, evolving into a cliché that becomes overused, idealized and continuously invited to partake in, with little understanding of its rich meaning and application. But the word points to something so significant and life- altering that it deserves both understanding and exploration.
Vulnerability, now earning more conversation, particularly because of Brené Brown, is a powerful experience of the human self, that has transformative qualities, invoking impact to the revealer and those within the revealer’s presence. It is a bold and courageous endeavor to move past the layers of shame, fear and judgment, pasted on our identities, to get to the coreof our selves.
When researching the origin and meaning of vulnerability, I found that its roots stem from Latin, which defines it as a “position to be harmed, maimed and/or marred.” Crazy! Vulnerability is a state and action of exposing one’s innermost being with risk of being hurt, even profoundly wounded. It is about getting to the heart or root, and revealing the emotional/needy self without our manufactured defenses.
This literally pushes itself against the grain of how humanity lives and functions, which is caked in defense, self-protection and primed to move away from the innermost self. We’re talking about deeply, entrenched, neurologically carved-out reflexes to avoid any more relational pain.
What we call weakness, is actually strength; to literally move in the opposite direction of what our forceful self-protective impulses tell us. And yet, regardless of the muscular defenses, we’re invited to enter into vulnerability? Huh?
This certainly warrants some unraveling, especially since vulnerability is what we are asked to return to from Jesus (he did not explicitly say this, but it is implied when in his talks about becoming like a child and being “born again”- he is actually referring to this state of vulnerable being).
The Child that Leads us to Life
Who are the most explicit, blatant, uninhibited vulnerable persons in our world? Children. They are naturally and authentically human, profoundly operating out of their uniqueness, even if they are unaware of it for a period of time. Children reveal to us our true selves and can disarm even the most calloused, hard-shelled hearts. They are innately and expressively sincere and genuine.
There are likely a multitude of qualities that children imbue, but specifically they hold a pureness and innocence. Their motives are uncontaminated, unscathed by injured ways of getting needs met. They have an inherent discernment for trust and danger. Despite their ability to put language to what they intuitively sense, children connect so purely to the heart, knowing who is trustworthy and who is not.
They are confident to connect to their caregivers and express their needs. They carry a boldness, curiosity, courage, a natural inclination to explore, wonder, and discover. They do not hold judgment towards themselves for their inabilities or their ever-progressing development. Some may be bolder than others, but with an adequate amount of support they step into risk and adventure.
They also radiate forgiveness and tenderness. When children experience the modeling of vulnerability from their caregivers, who own their shortcomings, and express care for their child’s own personhood, children develop this understanding and strengthened capacity for empathy and compassion, not stuck guarding their hurt and pain.
Children are also at the greatest risk of pain, because of their innately vulnerable natures. Some of the greatest hurts are created when we are young, birthing this “frozen” effect where we are stuck in a child-likeness that is wounded and underdeveloped. And when the hurts continue unhealed, we develop more walls and protectives to avoid damage, thus burying our vulnerable self.
I believe one of the gifts of children is to both to remind us and draw us back to our True Selves, teaching us the ways of living a full life, vibrant and connected. It makes sense then when Jesus’s caveat to being and experiencing the richness of life and God’s presence is to become transformed into child-likeness.
Adam and Eve: Vulnerability Ignites Closeness
There is so much to learn from Genesis, which I will be writing about more and more. For now, I want to highlight an important element before shame and hiding entered into the picture. When God introduced Eve to Adam, something fired up within; an excitement and delight for which his loneliness called.
When they stood before each other “naked and unashamed” they saw each other fully. There were no layers of protectives, or walls or guards. They were in full vulnerable operation.
There was nothing hidden, except the mystery of learning, exploring and discovering one another, including their own selves. There was pureness, trust, and security between the two. There was no calling one another out of shame and having to navigate defense after defense to get to the vulnerable self. Nothing inhibited connection.
And what was the response? Reflexively they drew closer to each other. They became sexually intimate, sealing a bond. They were now united, attached, deeply connected. When we enter into a state of vulnerability together, working through the gripping force to hide, instinctually we feel compelled to draw closer, whether sexually or in proximity.
A Vulnerable God
If we are mirrors to reveal God, then children are the purest, clearest reflection of Him. So, children, who are naturally vulnerable, reveal a God who operates in this way. Jesus displayed this profoundly in his life. God in human skin, living an exposed, authentic life to reveal his heart to all. If vulnerability invites an instinctual closeness, then God lived it so deeply and purely in Jesus that his desire was to draw those to him; to experience connection and the richness of life.
Those who became child-like, who experienced the “born-again” paradigm, and their inability to bring fullness to their own needs, saw the light and drew towards him boldly, unwaveringly. Encountering their own heart, neediness and humanness allowed them to see True Life and move towards it. They were no longer buried under shame and hiddenness, experiencing and indulging in the invitation for Eternal Joy.
We see a God who poured himself out, becoming one of us, so secure in his needs being met, that he could both serve and honor others, as well as care for himself when he hit his limits. His capacity to pour out revealed that he had first experienced a pouring in, which vulnerability with God invites. And when we choose to connect intimately with God, we don’t have to convince ourselves to see the abundance provided, we actually see it and enjoy it fully, inviting others into the feast.
Lastly, Jesus said in the beatitudes, “blessed are those who are persecuted…blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” That is not exactly an incentive to live life abundantly and joyfully. That might leave one looking around every corner and approaching situations with extreme caution. But the vulnerable life Jesus taught, which shares genuinely one’s own heart, and speaks to the heart of others, actually lives a rich, challenging and joyful life. They are living out meaning, fullness, security, and wholeness, because it has been given and continues to be.
Jesus’s modeling of vulnerability, not only drew those whose hearts were now exposed and wide-open, but such pureness drew out the lack and stirred up the insecurity in others. The motives of those who attempted to kill or harm him, stemmed from their own self-hatred and self-judgment. Such exposure was too terrifying and they sought to annihilate what they believed to be the source of this internal torment, by destroying him. The issue is that the judgment they carried, stemmed from shame, not God.
The vulnerable heart operates out of reality, precisely seeing the deepest intention of others; their destructive behaviors and misaligned identities stemming from shame, drawing out the True Self hidden within the shadows of judgment. Such a heart confronts the wrongdoing, the pains caused, the destruction and harm done to others, and the distortion of an intimate and vulnerable God.
It lives to share a love imprinted and solidified in the heart, giving voice to sadness, anger, fear and longing within the injured soul. A person who moves out of the True Self is honest about their own hurts and pain, sharing so to build bridges, instigate closeness and mend wounds. It is a risky and bold way to live, putting one in the position to be harmed, encountering the projections of a wounded and shamed heart.
This vulnerable heart has become “born again”, living in their child-likeness, filled with joy, wonder, curiosity, bravery, and a hunger to radiantly express the Love they have encountered poignantly. The vulnerable heart has the greatest impact, rippling out to those within its path, revealing, challenging, healing, and transforming, even at the cost of “losing one’s life”.