In an age of social media confessions and “tell-all” memoirs, we must ask ourselves what true vulnerability is and why it’s important.
In the opening lines of the Beatitudes, Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
People at the end of their rope are blessed? This passage begs the question of why God focuses on broken hearts and humble, mild-mannered nobodies.
These three opening categories are each vulnerable and—dare we say it?—weak.
Vulnerability Equals Weakness
"I work a lot with tech companies in Silicon Valley and around the world, and they really want to engineer the uncomfortable part out of vulnerability,” Brené Brown said as she began an illustration. “To the point where one of them said, 'We're thinking about an algorithm that could actually help you predict when it's okay to vulnerable with other people.'
“And I was like, 'The minute it becomes comfortable, it's no longer vulnerability. Call it whatever you want, but don't use that name on your app.'"
Brown’s TED talk The Power of Vulnerability received over 39 million views and has become one of the top 10 most popular videos on TEDx.
That was nine years ago. Brown went on to write five New York Times bestsellers centered on the discussion of shame, vulnerability and empathy. Then on Good Friday this year, Netflix released an hour long special with Brown discussing the correlation between vulnerability and courage.
Clearly people are drawn to this topic, but why?
No wants to be kicked while they’re up, much less when they’re down, and our achievement-driven society in particularly has latched onto having a perfect persona. Entire phone apps are dedicated to “improving” social media photos. Want a thinner waistline? Want a nicer looking beach behind you? You can engineer both and much more in the effort to become bulletproof.
Fear of our weaknesses being exposed can become the central axis around which our entire lives spin. It becomes the insatiable god to whom we must constantly sacrifice time, mental energy and relationships.
Community Peels Us Open
As a high school student, I once decided to share my most recent existential crisis with my mother. “I’m lonely. I don’t have any friends at all.”
She didn’t look up from the grocery list she was making, so I added, “Nobody likes me.”
After writing broccoli, she said, “If you want friends, you should start being a good friend first.”
Most people, unless they’re a diagnosable psychopath, want to have relationships with other people. In Genesis chapter 2, God states, “It is not good that the man should be alone…” God made humans to live in community, but then a problem called sin entered the world.
From that moment on, people have been inventing new fig leaves in an age-old attempt to hide from God and each other.
“We love seeing raw truth and openness in other people,” Brown writes in her book Daring Greatly, “but we’re afraid to let them see it in us.”
God’s command to love our neighbors becomes exponentially harder when we realize that loving people requires letting them into our lives where they will inevitably see past the polished façade.
However, when we let people in, when we’re humble, when we honestly share our joys and heartbreaks, that opening leaves space for love and real relationship to grow.
Our Source of Courage
Courage to be vulnerable in relationships, though, isn’t something we can muster up on our own.
If it was, Adam would’ve waited for God, biting his nails and painfully aware for the first time that he was naked.
However, he didn’t, and we don’t. The Bible is noteworthy for being one of the only religious texts to record the real impact of sin on community and the failures of godly people in relationship with others. Abraham put his wife in serious danger; Lot had kids with his daughters; Moses murdered someone; Samson had some serious issues with women; David had an affair; Peter lied about knowing Jesus; Saul harassed and killed believers before his conversion.
Jesus was the first person since pre-Fall Adam to be perfectly vulnerable and courageous because he never lost sight of God’s goodness, even in the face of friends’ betrayals or a frothing mob howling for his death.
A Relevant Magazine article, in response to Brené Brown’s TED talks, points out, “Just like authenticity, courage or kindness, the ability to become vulnerable flows from our assurance in Christ…”
“God knows your circumstances, and He is for you,” Gary Wilkerson points out in his new book God’s Favor. “Will you resist the contagion [cynicism, fear of looking weak] of our time and believe God is good? Will you accept that God’s favor never leaves you, no matter how threatening your circumstances or accusing your thoughts?”
Here, at last, is the key to genuine vulnerability, the kind that brings us close to God and makes relationships grow.