“When youth departs, may wisdom be enough.” —Winston Churchill
“Vulnerability is not a weakness, a passing indisposition, or something we can arrange to do without, vulnerability is not a choice, vulnerability is the underlying, ever present and abiding undercurrent of our natural state….The only choice we have as we mature is how we inhabit our vulnerability, how we become larger and more courageous and more compassionate through our intimacy with disappearance, our choice is to inhabit vulnerability as generous citizens of loss, robustly and fully, or conversely, as misers and complainers, reluctant and fearful, always at the gates of existence, but never bravely and completely attempting to enter, never wanting to risk ourselves, never walking fully through the door.”
Vulnerability has a high profile right now, largely thanks to the probing work of social scientist Brené Brown, who now has a very popular special on Netflix. There are so many trendy lifestyle concepts and buzzwords that circulate these days, it is tempting to include “vulnerability” among them. I think the word may grow or decline in popularity, in both general usage and among management consultants—so many words and phrases become part of consultant-speak and then fade away.
Whatever happens to use or understanding of the word, vulnerability has always been and will always be “the underlying, ever present and abiding undercurrent of our natural state,” as David Whyte says. As Christians, our project of moving toward perfection does not mean refining our ideas and options. It means more-fully inhabiting our essential, vulnerable selves.
Our culture is biased against vulnerability, which is seen as a weakness. It is not okay to show vulnerability except in specific circumstances, such as right after a loved one has died, or when the news is covering tragic killings or a natural disaster. In cases like this, some outward vulnerability is sanctioned for a short while and then our expectation becomes stoicism, healing, and redemption.
Megan Devine says something about grief in “It’s OK That You’re Not OK” that also applies to vulnerability: “We’ve got this idea that there are only two options in grief: you’re either going to be stuck in your pain, doomed to spend the rest of your life rocking in a corner in your basement wearing sackcloth, or you’re going to triumph over grief, be transformed, and come back even better than before.”
If these are our only two options, it’s understandable that we see vulnerability as the exception and not the rule of our lives. Instead of enriching our lives by working to inhabit our vulnerability, we continue to inhabit the comfortable home we’ve built among our ideas and opinions. But there is another way.
See you in church!