The word “vulnerable” is derived from the Latin word “vulnus,” which means “wound.” To be vulnerable is defined as being “susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm.” See also: powerless, weak. It’s no wonder we’re so resistant to the notion of being vulnerable to others.
Vulnerability is sharing yourself, and subsequently opening yourself up to criticism, ridicule, rejection, judgement, heartbreak, and more that we associate with it because we tend towards self-protection or self-preservation. We of course don’t want to be hurt in life, in friendship, in love. We don’t want to be judged for our choices or our weaknesses.
We tend to associate being vulnerable with the potentially negative consequences only, when vulnerability is also opening yourself up to deep friendship, true love, and for the fellow Christian, testifying to the grace of God.
I’ve heard people say “trust no one” or “don’t tell people your dreams so they can’t shoot them down” or “keep to yourself.” While I see why that mindset would be appealing and naturally go towards it myself if I’m not careful, that’s a clear sign of hiding from the risk of vulnerability and foregoing the reward.
You may have this warped view of vulnerability if you find yourself…
Turning down mentorship or advice for fear of disapproval.
Letting relationships fizzle before they get too serious.
Picking up unhealthy habits because they’re “cheaper than therapy.”
Not helping others in order to not expose your own weaknesses.
Taking your brave face off at night and vowing to still not tell anyone you’re struggling.
I’m not naturally the most vulnerable person in the world. I don’t particularly like being known, interrogated, or evaluated, but I’ve opened myself up a lot more in the past few years all because I asked my favorite question: why? Why would I let any guards down into areas where people can shoot? Why would I step even one foot out of the comfort zone when I could simply stay there and not be challenged? Why would I tell anyone, anything, ever and risk being “figured out”? Why talk about feelings when that’s exactly the type of talk that can be “used against me”? What’s the value in being vulnerable?
The first step was zooming out from my own needs and my own fears and asking another question: how could my being vulnerable glorify God? I’ve had to consider that there’s a transparency factor in serving others.
“… In lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4, NKJV).
For the sake of Christ and to not withhold from others the good news of what He has done, can do, and will do, I’m free to “boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” as Paul wrote of himself (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, ESV). Christian community should be a place where we can do just that—being open about issues, brokenness, messiness, sin, worries, and more, and have others point you to Christ’s sufficiency and the hope found in Him.
Vulnerability is being deeply known, and we’re not more deeply known by anyone more than we’re deeply known by God. A Christian’s life includes being known by God and being on mission to help others come to know Him, too. It takes courage by the Holy Spirit’s power in believers to open up about our faith in and knowledge of God, and to reveal Christ’s transforming work in our own lives. He already knows the deepest parts of us and the areas we don’t want to be vulnerable in, but we see that in doing so, we break barriers to intimacy with Him and with others.
It won’t always look the same way and might not look like reciting your personal testimony in front of hundreds of people. It’s in the small missional moments of daily life, in a book or on a blog, and in conversations with strangers and friends.
Allowing yourself to be vulnerable is to live a life that’s not only for yourself—a life that’s self-sacrificing instead of self-protecting so that Christ will be exalted through it. It’s being the friend your friends deserve, the lover your lover deserves, and the fruit-bearing disciple God has called you to be.
I have no interest in shallow friendships, and I can’t personally define true friendship without some level of vulnerability and transparency present. I can’t consider anyone a friend if I don’t actually know anything about them, and I’m willing to admit that those I consider close friends are the ones whose secrets and struggles I know about, and they know mine. What’s the point of having a friend you have to hide yourself from?
Real love is an order of openness, even when it comes with a side of risk. Real love is courage that leads to connection.
Stripping away our defenses isn’t easy, but aren’t you tired of hiding from love?
There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to 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.
C.S. Lewis, “The Four Loves”
My “why?” looks a little different these days as I grow in my willingness and ability to be vulnerable. I’m asking a few different questions. What makes me so special that I should get to go through life unscathed as a result of being closed off, and why would I limit myself in that way? How dare I glean so much wisdom from the transparency of my favorite writers and think of them to say, “thank you for being vulnerable” when I’m not willing to offer it myself? Why limit my vulnerability to one or two, when there are similarly shaped holes in more people that I could help fill with hope?
Vulnerability is for exalting Christ and loving others well, and vulnerability is for you. Without it, we obstruct the growth of others and stunt our own growth, too. We put our heart in solitary confinement and block love of all kinds.
Love of all kinds includes family and friendships too, but that was the fascinating part about formerly being in relationships and agreeing to participate in the challenging yet beautiful development of them. That’s the part that made it so similar to peeling a hard-boiled egg or falling backwards into either willing arms or a hard floor. I can recall a memory (without pain, thankfully) that was a great beginning example of letting yourself be vulnerable to life and to another person, and how it’s not always a bad process or even a bad ending.
I don’t remember what he and I were talking about at first, but I do remember this one point in this one conversation where I said, “I’m actually not emotionally blocked. It’s just intimidating to let anyone in, and love is a weird thing.”
He said, “You were a little bit closed, but you’re open now. And I don’t think you’re emotionally blocked at all. It’s not like you don’t deserve it.”
I said, “Deserve what?”
And he said, “Love, honesty, patience, and all that. You deserve it.”