A word about vulnerability. This word has been popping up in my comment threads recently as I have written about the hard place we are currently walking. (Thanks for the comments, btw. It is nice to know people are reading and my words are not floating into a black hole somewhere. 🙂 ) Because of the frequency of the word showing itself, I decided to study its origins. The word vulnerable comes from the Latin root vulnerare which means “to wound.” Ability is simply defined as the “means to do something.”
Vulnerability = giving someone the means to wound you.
Yikes, is it any wonder we avoid being vulnerable? It doesn’t sound too fun, and I can tell you from personal experience it isn’t, but it is necessary. Being seen, truly seen, is scary. It is opening up the places inside yourself that even you avoid. So much of what we do as humans is avoidance of letting others in. There is fear we will not be loved or accepted. There is shame that somehow, we don’t meet up. Fear and shame partner together and feed our fears of rejection. Our deepest need is to belong and be loved despite our shortcomings, and it seems life conspires against us in sharing that need. We keep hidden. Our deepest fears thrive in the shadows. Darkness conceals our shame, even to ourselves. We self-protect in so many ways, using defenses to reduce the dissonance between who we are on the outside to the world and who we perceive ourselves to be on the inside. Hiding from ourselves and others reduces anxiety from the possibility of being wounded, but it does not assist us in meeting the deepest need for acceptance. So, we wander around in life longing for acceptance, but at the same time pushing away the very thing that will bring us that connection.
Instead we opt for defense mechanisms like projection (blaming others), repression (denying our pain), regression (acting childlike), compartmentalization (pushing negative parts away), rationalization (defending our behavior), intellectualization (hiding behind logic), or any other number of defenses. We are unaware that we are doing these things because they are deeply embedded in our subconscious, but they are the basis for much of our behavior and reactions to stressful situations. I have used all of these and more, and not in healthy ways either.
The one I use most is spiritualization (using spiritual things to deny reality). I’m not sure that one is recognized in books or not, but I know how it works. I hide behind the truth. When something bad happens I say, ‘God is good all the time,’ even when I don’t think it’s true. Or I say ‘God always finishes what he starts,’ when I don’t see the end in sight. Or ‘God is faithful,’ when it seems he is anything but. My life verse says, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” I hide behind it every time something harmful happens to me.
I can feel you squirming as you read, but bear with me. There is a difference between hiding behind the truth and holding onto it. One is a defense mechanism, the other is being authentic. One is a cover up, the other is simple faith. Holding onto truth trusts that if I am honest and admit my doubts and fears, God is big enough to handle it. Here’s the thing, If I am not vulnerable with God, who can I be vulnerable with? I have realized that I am using the shield of faith to protect myself from God. I don’t let him past my scriptures and clichés, and if I don’t, he will not have the opportunity to heal my broken heart. I have to put down my shield, because in the intimate spaces with him I don’t need armor. Armor is for battle against my enemy, not for the secret place with the lover of my soul.
I have to be vulnerable. I have to say, ‘I don’t get it. I don’t feel it. I don’t believe you are for me right now. Help my unbelief.’ I have to be real with my tears, and my confusion. Sometimes I am not even sure he is safe and that’s about as honest as it gets. However, I am willing to hold onto what I know in my head is true, even as I whisper to him what is in my heart. I have to be willing to let him show me himself, instead of projecting what I want him to be. Sharing deep things with God is risky, but here’s the rub, what if don’t share? What if sharing the deep things, being my authentic real self, is the way to healing?
If that is true, then vulnerability is the path with God and with others. Opening myself up and saying ‘I am not okay’ instead of ‘I am fine,’ is a huge step, but it makes people uncomfortable. Sharing the dark places is not smiled upon in our culture. We are expected to stand strong, push through, trust God, and have faith during our trials. Vulnerability requires me to let go of those façades and be real. Real is scary because of the possibility that rejection will follow. The probability is high it will. It is the risk of opening up and honestly saying what you feel when you are confused. It is something that cannot be fixed with a few words from the Bible or an inspirational meme. It requires time to find the courage to put down my armor in the presence of God and let him see me…the real me, unprotected and scared.
As I put these things down, and refuse to pretend all is well, I am finding some freedom. A burden is lifted. I am not quite to hopeful yet, but there might be a spark beginning to glow. As we revisit brain injury and look at how it affects us now, we are feeling relief of being known. Each tiny step we take is beginning to crack the armor we have been carrying for years. We are not hiding anymore. Not from God. Not from people. We are finding the path of vulnerability to be narrow and overgrown, like walking through the jungle with a machete. Some days it is too thick to make much progress. Others it seems to open up in front of us and invites us forward. There is quicksand that bogs us down, and there are clear paths which seem straight, until they’re not. We are walking through a journey and a process which, we are sharing as we go, in hopes of finding connection and belonging in the deep places… of vulnerability.