October 16th, 2011 by Courtney Holden
I remember the first time I told someone about my eating disorder. I confessed my struggle and braced myself for the repercussions of those words, not knowing if I would be scolded or soothed. Not knowing how my vulnerability would be received.
Vulnerability always involves self-exposure. Sometimes physical, like the older brother who protects his younger brother; sometimes emotional, like the husband who permits his wife to see his faults; sometimes spiritual, like admitting our weaknesses and allowing God to carry us through the rain and walk with us in the sun. We open ourselves up, exposing parts that we fear others will reject or ridicule or reprimand. In a way, telling someone about your hidden flaw is like handing them a dagger. You offer a tool that could wound you, while trusting that their intentions are honest and that their actions will be loving.
In my own life, I tend to treat my vulnerability a bit like fine china. Because it is breakable, I select with care who I permit to use it. Because it is precious, I save it only for the most important of occasions. Because I cannot toss it into the dishwasher, but instead, must carefully wash it by hand, I bring it out only when I know there will be time to attend to it.
My deepest friendships are the same. I know someone before I open up. Whether I’ve had time to see their true character, or I’ve heard promising things from another I hold in confidence, or it’s that magical kind of connection where you understand him, right away … I’m careful with whom I am vulnerable. Often it’s just the two of us, sipping steaming coffee from giant mugs, when I will confess a misdeed or remember a hidden bit of my past. Rather than a large gathering or raucous party, I wait until the setting is more intimate to be more intimate. And I am hesitant to confide in someone who may soon leave me. If I permit them into my life, I want them to remain there, holding me accountable, asking how I have fared, hurting when I hurt and rejoicing when I am victorious.
Our society seems to deplore vulnerability as a frailty, but I think it is more accurately described as a strength. Perhaps consider Jesus who was God made flesh, who subjected himself to ridicule and pain, who was sinless yet died for the sinners. In The Good and Beautiful God, James Bryan Smith suggests, “Maybe sacrificing yourself for the good of another is not a sign of weakness, but is the greatest power the world ever knows” (141). Smith ponders that laying down your life to save your friend is the epitome of both vulnerability and strength. You permit your bodily weakness to show in its truest form while you physically demonstrate the strength of your love for that person. For Jesus to do this for people he not only did not know, but those who had and would act out, sometimes violently, against His Father is why Smith calls this the “greatest power.” It was, at the same time, both the greatest act of strength and the greatest act of mercy.
Vulnerability is embodied in the sapling that braces itself against a thundering downpour because it knows that the rain will bring needed relief. It was shown in Jesus dying on the cross, breaking His body for a broken world, so that the world would know his Father in heaven. So too must we be vulnerable at times, allowing the sun (Son) into our lives so that we might be wholly (holy) sustained.
My confession that night was accepted. I was accepted. Jesus helped me be vulnerable in my confession. And my vulnerability likely saved my life.
- Courtney holds degrees in English, French and Business. She loves to hike, read (her favorite book is Ava, an avant-garde novel), telemark ski and running (she’s finished two marathons). She lives in Boulder, CO. For more about and from this author, visit her blog at http://www.courtneyholden.wordpress.com.