The Beauty of Embracing Vulnerability- by Raegan Allen
I’ve been thinking a lot about vulnerability this week. It started with a TED Talk I watched while on the treadmill. The presenter was Dr. Brene Brown, who has become a sort of self-love and vulnerability giant in the mental health field. She's written a handful of books on the subject and garnered a well-earned following for her work. The thesis of her talk was this: vulnerability is the root of fulfillment, connection, creativity, and a slew of other awesome things we all want in our lives. If we can allow ourselves to be vulnerable, to be seen — really seen — by others, we are well on our way to happier lives.
So what’s the holdup? Why aren’t we all embracing our imperfect selves, choosing vulnerability, and living courageously? Well, because it’s terrifying. At least for me.
I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony of the situation. There I was, watching Dr. Brown advocating the embrace of vulnerability, while simultaneously wondering if anyone else in the gym was judging me in my breathless and sweaty state. I didn’t want to be seen in my self-proclaimed imperfection, not even by people I was pretty unlikely to see again. That feeling of insecurity is a major fun-sucker. So, I’ve been thinking long and hard about vulnerability — its essentialness, its benefits, and its sometimes murky reputation. While embracing vulnerability may improve my mindset at the gym, the truth is that vulnerability is crucial to our lives as Christians, too.
As frightening as it might seem, vulnerability is a prerequisite to intimacy with God. Before we can grow close to Him, we must admit that we need Him. To begin his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus asserts the importance of vulnerability:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)
To be poor in spirit is to acknowledge your reliance upon God, to admit that you cannot do it without Him. It’s always been difficult for me to ask for help. I don’t like to be dependent on other people; I’d rather struggle on my own than admit I need assistance. Jesus asks me to let go of this fear, admit my own weaknesses, and rely upon Him. While this kind of surrender might be uncomfortable for some of us at first, God promises the peace that comes with it will be well worth it. We are imperfect by nature, and pretending otherwise, while tempting, is ultimately foolish. The reality is that we need God, more than we need anything or anyone else. Jesus chooses the poor in spirit to begin the beatitudes because acknowledging dependence on God has to be the starting point in our Christian journey.
Vulnerability also allows us crucial connection with our fellow Christians. I’ve been reading 2 Corinthians this week, which turns out to be a vulnerability manifesto (funny how the Bible always gives us what we need). I was particularly struck with what Paul writes in the sixth chapter:
We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also. (2 Corinthians 6:11-13)
Prior to this plea, Paul discusses his hardships as a defender of the gospel. Paul lists hunger, beatings, and false imprisonment as only a few of the struggles he endured for the furthering of God’s word. Calling Paul’s position a vulnerable one would be a significant understatement. Not only did Paul go through these things, but he describes them again to the Corinthian church, likely bringing up painful memories and feelings. After pouring his heart out, he asks the Corinthians to do the same. Why? Because vulnerability is essential to our Christian relationships — both with God and each other.
In order to have true Christian fellowship, we must open our hearts to one another. We must allow ourselves to be seen. We cannot be afraid to ask for help when we stumble. Our fellow Christians are there to encourage us when we need it -- this is one of the key functions of the church. In order to reap the benefits of this connection, we must surrender to vulnerability and be willing to admit our imperfections. We must be vulnerable with each other so we can ask and receive help when we need it. The church shouldn’t be a place of gossip and undue judgement. It should be a support network of individuals we actually feel comfortable being vulnerable with.
Paul goes on to pinpoint perhaps the biggest reason vulnerability is so essential: our weakness shows God’s strength.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
I often marvel at Paul’s absolute self-denial. If only we could all have his attitude! To delight in weakness is certainly not something we see every day. Our culture values strength, power, individualism. Paul, however, instructs us to fall on God’s strength, not our own. When we surrender to vulnerability and embrace our imperfections, we can experience God’s awesome power. This is beneficial to others as well as ourselves. When our friends and colleagues witness God working through our weaknesses, the gospel gains traction. Paul experienced this firsthand, rejoicing in his trials because they enabled him to spread the word of God.
While accepting vulnerability can be incredibly challenging, and maybe even frightening, it has the power to bring us closer to God and our fellow Christians. There is power in owning imperfection. There is power in not caring what I look like at the gym. Because come on, we’re all going in there to sweat.