Being vulnerable isn’t one of those things you wake up in the morning looking forward to doing. And when it comes to being emotionally vulnerable, where we show someone else our true self, the appeal can be even lower.
But the catch is this, since vulnerability is the only way we can actually experience meaningful connection and, well, we as humans are quite literally wired for connection. As Matthew Lieberman, Professor and Director of the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Lab at UCLA, writes, “We may not like the fact that we are wired such that our well-being depends on our connections with others, but the facts are the facts.”
In fact, being connected, being known, is a desire and need that God has created us all with. Just consider these few examples:
- In Genesis 2:18, God says it’s just not good for people to be disconnected
- Paul writes in Gal, 6:2 & Col 3:13 that we need to be with each other in the tough times, which can’t happen if we don’t let each other know about the tough times
- Paul writes again to another church in Ephesians 4:2, that they should gently, humbly and patiently make allowance for each others’ faults.
And the science is continually reaffirming this truth, that we are made for connection. But as Brene Brown puts it “In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen.” So, how do we “let ourselves be seen”? How do we practice vulnerability? Here are a few thoughts.
First off, it’s good to be clear on what vulnerability is NOT.
It is not….
Telling everyone your stuff or baggage (for example, posting everything about your life online).
Again, Brene Brown nails it on this one when she says vulnerability is “not oversharing, it’s not purging, it’s not indiscriminate disclosure, and it’s not celebrity-style social media information dumps. Vulnerability is about sharing our feeling and experiences with people who have earned the right to hear them”
Necessarily one person knowing everything about you (like that one friend who thinks you owe it to them to share everything you’re thinking and feeling)
Inappropriate sharing (parents sharing adult aspects of their life with their young kids)
But healthy vulnerability is still crucial for us. And thankfully, not only do we have great research telling us more and more about this, we have Jesus, God Himself, showing us how it’s done. Because, if vulnerability is letting others see the real you, then Jesus has this one nailed.
In Mark 14 and Matthew 26, we read about Jesus the night he’s arrested. The pressure is huge and he knows what’s coming. So just an hour or two before everything starts to go down, he takes his three closest friends and he says to them “guys, I’m not doing so good right now. I’m kind of in a bad place.”
Matthew 26:38 “my soul is deeply grieved to the point of death”
Now, this isn’t weakness, because as the research keeps showing us, vulnerability is courage not weakness. And of course, this is Jesus, he’s calmed storms and walked on water and brought people back from the dead. He’s not weak. But he is being vulnerable. He is opening up to his closest friends and letting them know where he’s at. Being authentic.
That’s how it’s done. But it must have been hard. And it can be hard for us too.
Because the catch is that, if we choose to be vulnerable we not only open ourselves up to the potential for connection and love and belonging, but we also open ourselves up to the potential for shame and guilt and fear. Think of it this way. Is there anything about yourself that, if you were to let someone else know it, if you were to let someone else see it, that you might risk being deemed unworthy of love, belonging, value or connection?
That’s the tricky thing with vulnerability. That the connection we need and are made for is only found by showing our true self to a few trusted people, but by doing that we run the risk of them seeing us for who we are. And that brings the fear of being rejected.
And this is where God’s love for us comes in so significantly. Because the truth for all of us is that God knows the truest us, every little bit of who we are, the good the bad and the ugly, and his love and acceptance have always been for us.
There has never been a time when God’s love was not for you.
Can you believe that? There have been long seasons in my life where I really wasn’t sure. That’s the vulnerable truth. Because I would think about my own failures, my weaknesses, my past and the darkness inside of me and it just seemed like there was no way God’s love could reach that far.
But here’s what I had to remember. Jesus didn’t come to earth to live as one of us, die for me and then come back to life so that he could love me. He did it BECAUSE he loved me!
Believe me. I know how easy it is to think that no one is as messed up or dark as myself. But there is no one for whom God’s love isn’t valid. And that includes you, too.
So what do we do? How do we try to practice vulnerability? Here are a few thoughts. You can add your own as well.
First of all I would suggest we all start in the spot of believing God’s love for us. The research is showing that those that feel loved and connected are the ones who believe they are worthy of love and connection. And so if we can start by believing that God’s love is truly for us, that God himself considers us worthy of love and connection, then we can know that no matter whether we are accepted or rejected by others, we are always and forever accepted, wanted and loved by our Great God.
Here are a few other thoughts as well.
1. Let ourselves be “seen” by someone
As Brene Brown puts it, “vulnerability is about sharing our feelings and experiences with people who have earned the right to hear them.”
So, be willing to
- Stick with a few people. No need to share with everyone
- Give trust time to grow.
- Start in the shallow end. It’s ok to be vulnerable in little bits and work towards the bigger stuff.
2. When someone is vulnerable with us, let’s do what we’d want done for us. Let’s honour, receive and validate the vulnerability. Don’t judge or critique how someone else experiences vulnerability.
Jesus was really good at this. Just look at how he accepts Thomas in his doubt and vulnerability in John 20:24-27. No judgement, no critique. Just openness and and invitation to connection.
3. If the difficult, shameful and painful things in your life just seem all too much and the idea of sharing them with anyone seems impossible right now, then start with some positive vulnerability.
- Tell someone something that you like about them
- Let someone know one thing that you enjoy doing
These are still acts of vulnerability, and practicing them might just help us find the kind of connection we need to share some of our bigger things as well.
So if you’re intrigued by this idea of vulnerability, if you want to experience the kind of connection that we as humans have been designed to have, then my challenge is to consider and pray to Jesus about how you can practice being vulnerable. How you can practice being know and knowing others as well.