Monday, May 19, 2014

To Love is to be Vulnerable

Vulnerability. For those in the Christian faith, being vulnerable is touted as a virtue. "We need to be vulnerable with each other." I remember one time in youth group, my youth leader used the word so many times that I couldn't focus on anything else except how strange the word started to sound.

I'm not sure when I stopped wanting to be vulnerable. Stopped wearing my heart on my sleeve and buttoned up my lip. In ages past, everyone knew everything about me and I was quick to raise my hand, share a testimony, offer my opinion. It was a sort of cathartic release to air my dirty laundry - a throwback to stepping into a confessional and verbally vomiting on the priest.

Perhaps it was one too many secrets told in private that ended up getting shared with the general population. Maybe it was a feeling of always being just a little different than everyone else - a little too outspoken, a little too socially awkward, a lot too unfashionable in my clothing and my opinions. There was always a sense of being slightly on the outside looking in, despite the fact that I was a student leader in my youth group and always a social butterfly in my group of friends. Yet, even though there were other homeschoolers in the "popular" circle at youth group, I somehow still didn't quite fit. There was something within me that longed for more. While everyone was nibbling at the buffet table, I wanted to see the full menu.

But this isn't about the strangely-overly-confident-yet-weirdly-insecure-and-needy-for-approval girl I (am) was in high school. It's about the innate desire we, as human beings, long to have with those around us, yet so often fail to achieve because we, as human beings, are helplessly imperfect and flawed. But, before I go any further, let's actually define our terms.

adjective: vulnerable
  1. susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm.
    "we were in a vulnerable position"
    • (of a person) in need of special care, support, or protection because of age, disability, or risk of abuse or neglect.
      "employees must be better trained in how to deal with vulnerable young people"
early 17th century: from late Latin vulnerabilis, from Latin vulnerare ‘to wound,’ fromvulnus ‘wound.’

Yikes. That does not sound pleasant. Actually, this sounds like something that should be avoided at all costs. Who wants to actively and willingly place themselves in a position that is susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm? In almost every type of definition, be it military, social, cognitive, or environmental, vulnerability is seen as a weakness, something to be avoided.

So why is it touted as such a lofty goal when it comes to human relationships? In Brene Brown's TedX talk, "The Power of Vulnerability," she says,
To let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love with our whole hearts, even though there's no guarantee; to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we're wondering, "Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this?" just to be able to stop and, instead of catastrophizing what might happen, to say, "I'm just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I'm alive." And, most importantly, to believe that we're enough. Because when we work from a place that says, "I'm enough," then we stop screaming and start listening, we're kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we're kinder and gentler to ourselves.
What are the things we feel vulnerable about? Our weight, our looks, our qualifications, our education, how many sexual partners we've had, how few sexual partners we've had, our jobs, our childhood, our family, our faith, our everything. And behind all of it is fear. Fear of failure. Fear of being different. Fear of not being good enough.

And how badly do I want to make my life look so beautiful, so enviable really. Isn't my life nice? Isn't it perfect? Don't you wish you had nothing to hide, like me? But, we all have something (many things) to hide. My closet is as full of skeletons as the next person. And then it turns into revealing all so that no one can hold any of my secrets over me. "Why should I care if you told my secret to the whole world? I already did it." But, the problem is, they still  judge me for it. And I know they do. So what is my defense mechanism? Try to even out the scale by piling more "good deeds" on the other side? Do I try to unearth other's darker secrets to make myself feel better? And where does it end? At what point do our hearts stop beating life and start beating self-hate, self-loathing, shame, bitterness, fear?

What is the solution? Do I just let it all hang out there? (For anyone who's read my blog...I let a good bit of it hang out there.) But, is there a point where we become too vulnerable? And how much are we really taking care of other people if we reveal more than they're capable of handling?

The famous Dr. Seuss quote, "Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind," has become a bit of a mantra to me. But, the problem arises when those who mind do matter; whether it's because you're rising to a position of influence in the public spotlight, or maybe it's just because you're (I'm) so damn concerned about having the whole world like you (me). So what then? How do we embrace vulnerability, transparency without exposing ourselves to brokenness and pain? Like so many things in my life, I'm always seeking the balance point.

When I was 15 I started learning how to play the violin. One of the very first lessons involved the proper way to hold the instrument between my chin and shoulder ("Suspension without extra tension) and how to hold the bow. "Find the balance point," instructed my teacher. "It's not where you think it is." The bow is weighted unevenly, so the balance point is where the bow is held, close to the bottom where most of its weight is. "Let the bow float in your hand. Don't grip it, just guide it where you want it to go."

Oh how I love these lessons in life. Sometimes the balance point is not where we think it is. So what is this balance point of vulnerability? Of allowing another human being to see our nerves exposed, raw and red?





And for every scar that lingers- every story from our past of which we're ashamed- every gory detail we try to mask- such a small part of our lives- there should be a bow's length of displays of our gentleness, our graciousness, our gratitude that "to feel this vulnerable means I'm alive."

Like most matters of the human heart, vulnerability is not simple, and it certainly is not easy. But, in the ever-wise words of C.S. Lewis, "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."

So, when did I stop wanting to be invulnerable? When did I want to let the joy bubble up and drown out all the fear and regret? Well....sometime between dawn and dusk; the space between starting this post a month ago and ending it today; the moment between inhale and exhale; the semi-conscious realm between waking and sleeping.

To love is to be vulnerable.

I love.

I am vulnerable.

I am grateful to feel this alive.