The Risky Business of Vulnerability

Vulnerability.

Let’s just let that word hang in the air for a moment.

I’m sure this word brings up different feelings and thoughts for each of us. We have all had different experiences with it, good and bad I’m sure.

There is nothing like moving to a new place with new people, new job, new church…ok, just new everything, that challenges you in the department of vulnerability.

Even with all my education in Psychology and counseling I had never made a huge distinction between transparency and vulnerability, until recently. Out of curiosity I looked up the definition of transparency, and it is described as being “honest and open.” Whereas the definition of vulnerability is defined as “capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt.”

In my understanding, there seems to be a shift of power or control when we move from transparency to vulnerability. When I’m transparent I am allowing you to SEE me, but I am still in control, and am maintaining my personal power in the relationship or situation.

However, with vulnerability I have shifted from allowing you to see me, to inviting you into my life in such a way that you are given an influence, and a power in my life, that carries with it no guarantees. It is an incredible act of trust. 

What spurred this thought was two (might I add, hilarious and somewhat embarrassing) conversations with good friends of mine.

If any one knows Bianca Olthoff you’ll know she speaks her mind, and does so without any filter! So, here we are sitting at a Mexican restaurant (as per usual) eating lunch together, and talking about dating (again, per usual) and she proceeds to tell me that (and I quote), “my taxi light is not on”. Let’s just say I was about to take a big bite of my taco and instead just died laughing.

Umm, wait a second, my taxi light is not on?! What does that even mean!? And, most importantly HOW do I turn it on?!

Not long after that conversation, I spoke with a new friend about vulnerability, and how terribly uncomfortable it is, but necessary in allowing others to know you on their terms, not just your own.

Following these conversations, let’s just say I’ve been thinking a lot about vulnerability; what it really means, and how it looks to live out.

Vulnerability is scary. It requires not just an open hand but an extended one, where the other person has the choice to reciprocate or not. It opens itself up to the possibility of rejection, and to anyone who has experienced that sting, we know how tempting it is to never take that risk again.

C.S. Lewis said, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

Of course we need to be wise in how we decide to whom, when, and how to make ourselves vulnerable to another person. We need to guard our hearts, and seek God as we decipher whether to trust another person with the gift of our vulnerability.

But vulnerability, as said beautifully by one of my friends, is exactly that, a gift. We deny other people not just the gift of seeing us, but influencing us, and loving us, if we hold back our vulnerability from them.

I guess now I understand more of this taxi light Bianca spoke of. Because of previous hurts I had unknowingly confused my transparency with vulnerability. I was open and honest, and allowed others to see me, but without the true risk of allowing them also the room to choose or not choose me. I had offered an open hand, but kept it safely and closely at my side, and had failed to extend it.

The picture of Jesus hanging on a cross for us is a perfect example of vulnerability, in the fullest sense. He had his arms extended wide, with wounds in his hands and feet…for us. That vulnerability was not weak, it was resolute and determined. It was also so secure that it extended it’s love knowing that so many would reject it.

THAT is the type of love and life I want. One that gives without fear of a return, and ultimately is confident that God will always take care of me when I take the risks of loving others that God would intend me to take.

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