I’ve been pondering the power of vulnerability. Seems like an oxymoron doesn’t it? In fact, having shared some honest vulnerability with others recently, it seems quite apparent that some, if not many, view vulnerability as weakness and something to be avoided. Someone told me they were embarrassed by my vulnerability. Another said I had weak boundaries and that I was being manipulative by sharing so personally. Others just quoted bible verses to quiet the deep, personal questions I was wrestling with. Such hurtful reactions make you want to just shut up and not risk opening yourself up again. But….. as I ponder and reflect on the value of vulnerability, I feel compelled to continue to risk.
Being real simply seems non-negotiable to me. Not that I propose people spilling their guts about every little thing at all times. Don’t misunderstand me – I have Cloud and Townsend’s copy of “Boundaries” close by on my bookshelf. But like I John 1:7 reminds us, “If we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.” I want to live in the light – I don’t want to pretend I’m better than I am, I don’t want to worry that if I slip up and let someone see what I’m really like I’ll be rejected, and I don’t want to have to “fake it till I make it”. My mentors remind me that not everyone can handle the “what you see is what you get” approach. That’s true. We all need discernment about what to share and when. But I think there is something life-giving and good about wanting to be known – warts and all – and experience being accepted.
Baxter Kruger says, “Genuine acceptance removes fear and hiding, and creates freedom to know and to be known. In this freedom arises a fellowship and sharing so honest and open and real that the persons involved dwell in one another. There is union without loss of individual identity. When one weeps, the other tastes salt. It is only in the Triune relationship of Father, Son and Spirit that personal relationship of this order exists, and the early Church used the word ‘perichoresis’ to describe it. The good news is that Jesus Christ has drawn us within this relationship, and its fullness and life are to be played out in each of us and in all creation.”
To know and be known is so core to being truly human, truly alive. But to be known means that we have to risk revealing who we really are.
In my work with New Direction I encounter a great deal of fear and anxiety. I encounter a lot of people doing a lot of hiding. In so many different ways I see the damaging, dehumanizing effects of this fear and hiddenness. And something in this idealistic heart of mine says, “That’s not the way it is supposed to be!” IF we really knew how to love ~ we wouldn’t need to hide from each other. IF we really knew how to be accepting ~ we wouldn’t need to invest so much energy into protecting ourselves. Ever since Adam and Eve first sinned, we humans have hidden ourselves. But IF we were really caught up in the relational reality of Father, Son and Holy Spirit we would encounter such a safe, radical place of love and acceptance that we, too, could open our hearts to love and accept with the largeness and generosity we see in God.
When I hide my true self, my vulnerability ~ I have to wonder if it is because I have not fully experienced the love of God. And when I risk exposing my true self, my vulnerability ~ I have to hope that it flows out from that place of being Loved by the Father (and not some manipulative place of neediness). The test of course, is how I react when the offering of the gift of my vulnerability is met with rejection, shame and judgment. Boy that sucks. But it is a pretty good test of how grounded, secure and known I am in the love of God. Do I want to snap back with a judgment? Do I want to “knock them down a peg or two”? (When faced with a hurt or stressor my typical response is ‘fight’ rather than ‘flight’)
When I consider Jesus I see Someone who chose to embody vulnerability. The Incarnation has vulnerability written all over it. And in this place of vulnerability he encountered rejection, shame and judgment ….. and he resisted both ‘flight’ and ‘fight’. He stayed present ~ completely secure in the love and acceptance and indwelling of the Father and Spirit. That is so where I want to be (though I so quickly fall short).
“And when you come before God… here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place where you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God and you will begin to sense his grace.” Matthew 6: 5-6 the Message
I just re-read this article about men on the ‘down-low’ in Black and Latino communities. I read Christine’s account of her Pride participation. I sat with a ministry colleague who is a married wife and mother seeking to disentangle herself from an affair with a woman. And these themes of vulnerability and hiddenness grip me.
There is a common sentiment in the Christian community that goes something like this, “There aren’t any homosexual people, there are only heterosexual people with a homosexual problem.” While I see multiple challenges with this statement, to me one of the significant ones is the hiddenness it perpetuates. “Don’t own the reality that you experience same-gender attraction – because it is just a ‘problem’ and you just need to deal with it.” “Don’t reveal that vulnerable place where it just feels like this is part of who you are – because that just perpetuates this ‘problem’ and will keep you from emerging into your true heterosexuality.”
I was recently invited to review some policy statements that a denomination is working on. The policy on homosexual conduct carried an undertone of resentment, hostility and fear towards gay people. It seemed to be far more concerned with who was “out” rather than who could be invited “in”. And I groaned under the weight of how to even begin to address such systemic attitudes. “Couldn’t they see that any same-gender attracted person reading these policy statements, even those agreeing with the basic theological beliefs about sexual ethics, would feel compelled to stay hidden, to never share the vulnerable and intimate realities they experience?”
I want to be a safe person – who offers and receives the gift of vulnerability. I want to be a safe person – because through me, I want my gay friends to encounter a safe place in the embrace of God. The God who chooses to reveal himself through vulnerability. The God who offers the kind of genuine acceptance that dispels fear and hiddenness. The God who allows us the grace and strength to stay present – open to his love – even in the face of rejection, shame and judgment from others.