“How are you doing?” my dear friend asked while passing by after church ended. “Good,” I quickly replied assuming it was a polite hello rather than a genuine request. But, as my feet continued on, our eyes locked and caused both of us to pivot around face to face. “No, really, HOW are you doing?”
Startled by the sincerity of the moment, I quickly became aware of my increasing heart beat that moments ago was pumping blood at an inconspicuous rate. In that brief moment, that innocent question turned intrusive and frightening for I knew the answer but doubted whether it would be received well.
Once again, I found myself face to face with the opportunity to be real in the rawest of forms and yet the walls I have meticulously built around my heart could not be penetrated at a moments notice. I couldn’t do it. I settled on “fine” and quickly diverted the subject to a meaningless and safer conversation.
Was it the eye contact or the forceful way she repeated her question that panicked me? All my warped mind could do was sigh in relief that I “remained strong” and didn’t unleash the sadness and hopelessness that ravaged my soul. Yet, in that same moment, I felt the void, the emptiness and the disconnection with someone I care deeply for. All because vulnerable is a “four” letter word.
Why is vulnerability considered such a “dirty” word? Who decided that being vulnerable was a sign of weakness or frailty in a person? I would like to take an opposing stand and say that vulnerability is an act of courageous trust.
To define: vul·ner·a·ble means to be “easily hurt or harmed physically, mentally, or emotionally; open to attack, harm, or damage.”
The definition alone evokes fear due to its aggressive reactionary description. It promotes worry and the infamous “what if” scenario.
“What if” we redefined this word, making it enticing and tempting.
It should read, to be vulnerable means to easily open ones self up for growth and connection and encouragement in the areas of ones physical, mental, or emotional being.
Remove the negative and you discover the benefit instead of the risk. It becomes more appealing and less frightening. Sure there is a risk of disappointment or pain. Defined the original way there is equally a risk of embracing where we are and connecting relationally to others just like us. However, with the opposing definition, the risk of hurt, harm and damage turn into comfort, favor (help) and healing.
After all, it is the precise need to be vulnerable that teaches us to create a bond between baby and parent. As newborns we enter this world completely vulnerable to those around us. We aren’t afraid to cry when something hurts. We are 100% exposed in every way.
Through our openness and exposing our needs to others, we learn to trust, build relationships, experience joy and connect richly and deeply to others.
Unfortunately, as time passes, we discover that our hearts are not indestructible and discover pain, disappointment and often shame. We unlearn trust and defenses go up. Every wound, disappointment, failed friendship or harmful act against us becomes a choice to build and deepen our relationships or dig trenches and foundations to erect our walls protecting our independence. Once the walls go up, they are extremely difficult to break down.
There is a deception I have found. Peek into my structure and you’ll see that Isolation doesn’t mean I am alone. Trapped with me are the wounds once inflicted and lies burned into my memory that led to my need to protect myself in the first place and as long as my walls stay up, I can’t escape them.
Though I fear it and avoid it religiously, I am discovering a deep need to embrace vulnerability in my life. Expose my wounds so that they can be healed. Reveal the lies so that they can be stripped away and replaced with truth.
I need to be strong enough to be weak, for it is in that weakness of stature that I am most moldable and can be shaped into the image of Christ.