Written by Alexander W. G. Seidel
We all have our liabilities. Some of us struggle with anger. Others, with self-criticism, my weakness of choice. And yet others, with chronic lust. We can all agree that we grapple with character flaws and weaknesses daily. If you find yourself resisting this idea, read on.
We all resist the idea that we have deep cracks in our lives and that we struggle very creatively to hide them. Hiding our broken parts is a primal urge which permeates our humanity. The creation story gives us our first view of this fight against vulnerability. Since the fateful events of Eden, vulnerability is an attribute all of us work to avoid to the death. In a vivid example of narcissism, far predating the Greek myth, Adam and Eve foolishly believed that they could know as much as their omniscient Creator. God warned them against giving in to the strong pull of this temptation. They ignored His warning.
Consider how the parents of humanity reacted. In a garden filled with wonders, they chose to hide from God with mere fig leaves. The foolishness of their misguided strategy cannot be understated. There would be no successful outcome with an all-seeing, all-knowing Creator. They knew, perhaps to the core of their beings, that they had failed the very God that had given them life. They became acutely self-aware and fearful of revenge, anger, abandonment or rejection from the very One they were supposed to have intimately communed with. They skulked around the garden in fear of some kind of reprisal, with mere fig leaves to cover the vast rupture in their souls. Even after millennia, we continue to use flimsy but clever ways to cover up our vast vulnerability.
God had his clear consequences for them, and the rest of mankind, as He cast them out of the garden. Clearly, there are consequences for our actions and for those against us as well. As we shall see, there is hope in spite of the continued brokenness that befalls us.
This is our dire reality: We’re all vulnerable and join throngs of others since the dawn of time with the same affliction. There is not a thing we can do to avoid it. We have all failed and have all been failed by others. This leaves us with shame, anger, fear, or guilt. But there’s good news, and it is counterintuitive.
If you are a church leader or missionary, you have likely struggled with keeping up appearances. If you were to reveal your true brokenness, you fear you’d risk your family, your congregation or assignment, your credibility, or worse, your credentials. Being vulnerable about your failing marriage, your porn addiction, or kids that are running amok due to your life of ministry is the last thing on your mind. But it should be the first. For the rest of you, in what areas of your life are you shining the proverbial manure pile in order that you would avoid being seen as sinful, imperfect and broken? Are you willing to risk losing everything by naming your failures in your relationships or community? I know this is not a small, smooth pill to swallow. But it is the one that will give you life.
Vulnerability taps into our deep fears of rejection and abandonment by others, so we avoid it. Avoiding it means not talking about it. Not talking about it means that our deepest needs for acceptance and grace in spite of our deep failings go unmet. It is said that God meets people needs through people, so avoiding our vulnerability with others leads to lack of intimacy with those we supposedly hold dear. In turn, our intimacy with God is vastly compromised. I can assure you from personal experience that this is no way to live.
I remember the time I was getting to know my current wife. It was years after a divorce and a subsequent time of foolish relationships that were impostors hawking false intimacy. Even after many years, I still shamefully shake my head at my choices. I also harbored emptiness over a past diagnosis of infertility. Here I was, considering sharing all of my difficult secrets with a woman I was considering spending my life with. I remember talking about this with my therapist at the time and expressing terror that sharing these things would result in the loss of this woman I was growing to love.
The topic of need came up in one session. I noted that I had no idea what it was like to need and be needed, or to even express this with someone without a dysfunctional motive, but with a true desire for intimacy. My therapist, ever attuned to my chaotic mental states at the time, sensed the gravity of this with me. He calmly wondered on my behalf what it would look like for me to share my dark places with my wife-to-be and then express to her “I need you.” I wept uncontrollably at this wild suggestion. To need and be needed. To be truly vulnerable enough with someone to even express this. I was broken at the idea. I left agreeing with my counselor to take this massive risk. In my mind, I told myself I would not.
A few weeks later, the opportunity snuck up on me in her backyard under a beautiful Red Bud tree that to this day is a sanctuary to me. In the cool shade, I became more vulnerable with a woman than I’d ever been. Rejection and abandonment were lurking about, but I was met with grace, acceptance and love. My need was met in the midst of the terror of vulnerability.
This is the good news: your brokenness has created your need. Unless you bring it into the light of a relationship, your need will go unmet and you will be left relationally unfulfilled to the point of desolation. Imagine never knowing what it means to be intimate with others and God.
My loving challenge to you is to open yourself to someone you love about your darkest parts. Name your brokenness. Diffuse the grip of your sins. Throw off the shackles of guilt, shame, fear or anger. Tell someone. Tell them you need them. And be prepared to be met with grace that will surprise you.
The team at Gracefall is here to help you on this journey towards vulnerability. Drop us a line and let us know how we can support you in your ministry.