This is Pastor Dave writing to you from before taking my Sabbatical on the topic of “Vulnerability”.
We can either vulnerably walk towards love or we can protect ourselves from the potential pain that exists in every human relationship. C.S. Lewis said,
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly 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. But in that casket–safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from the perturbations of love is Hell.”
The alternative to a lifestyle of protection is to allow ourselves to be seen. As frightening as it may sound, we are made for this. Dr. Daniel Goleman writes in his book Social Intelligence, “We are wired to connect.” The research is clear that neuro-biologically we are designed to be in relationship with others. He goes on to say, “Neuroscience has discovered that our brain’s very design makes it sociable, inexorably drawn into an intimate brain-to-brain linkup whenever we engage with another person.”
But for many, connection is scary. Secular researcher Brene Brown noticed that when you ask people about love, they tell you about heartbreak. When you ask them about belonging, they tell you excruciating experiences of being excluded. When you ask them about connection, they tell you about disconnection. The reason for this is because our desire for connection is resisted by intense competing feelings of shame. Shame asks, “Is there something about me, if they see it, which makes me unworthy of connection?” Shame says, “I’m not good enough, rich enough, beautiful enough.” The problem with shame is that no one wants to talk about it – and the less you talk about it, the more you have it. What is the solution?
Brown went on to say that people who experience strong connection with others have the courage to be imperfect. They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful.
The trick is, in order for shame to decrease and for connection to happen, we have to be really vulnerable and risk. To do this, we must believe we are enough, because God has given us all we need. Vulnerability takes courage because it is risky. What if people judge us or don’t like us? What if people misunderstand us? What if they hurt us? What if they reject our true self?
This is where faith enters. Vulnerability requires faith because although it produces pain and rejection, but Christ calls us to do it anyway. There will inevitably be people who don’t like us, who judge us, who misunderstand us, who hurt us, and even those who reject us. There is no doubt. But nowhere are we promised a life without difficulties or pain. However, the clearer we are about who we are before Christ, the less significant this pain will be. The more faith you have in God and His ways being the best for you, the less courage is required.
In C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lucy is hearing about Aslan, a Christ figure in the fantasy world of Narnia and asks, “Is he—quite safe?” Mr. Beaver responds with one of the most simple yet profound quotes “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” Like Aslan, Christ is not safe, but He is good. Our call to humble ourselves, to bear our crosses, to deny ourselves, to love, serve, and forgive one another, and to be authentic and vulnerable with others is in no way safe, but it is all part of the King’s plan and it is good.
Is it safe to be the first one to say ‘I love you’, or ‘Will you forgive me?’ Absolutely not, but is it good to initiate love and forgiveness into a relationship? Yes.
Here is the great paradox: vulnerability is both the core of shame and the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging and love. Therefore, to overcome shame we need to let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, and to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee.