Have you ever confessed your sins to someone close to you? Or told them something you are ashamed of? Or admitted that you were wrong and apologized?
If so, you have already practiced being vulnerable.
Being vulnerable, or acting in vulnerability, means exposing the soft side of yourself that feels private. It means putting yourself out there without knowing how it’s going to turn out. It means being honest with yourself and others. When we practice being vulnerable, it can lead to growth in our relationships with family, friends, colleagues, ourselves, and God.
Brené Brown, a professor and social worker from Texas, believes vulnerability is our greatest measure of courage. It takes courage to open ourselves up; to be seen; to share. It’s the truest path to more love, belonging, and connection.
Many people see vulnerability as something to avoid. Do not open up. Do not share thoughts or feelings. Do not appear weak. The truth is that you might stumble, fall, and get your butt kicked. But this is why being vulnerable is an act of bravery. It takes courage to act or share knowing that failure or pain is possible. Only the most courageous will walk in vulnerability.
Have you ever screwed up in your relationship? Or maybe at work? Have you ever had a bad attitude or said something hurtful or rude?
If you have, you know it takes a lot of inner strength to admit you did something wrong. It can be painful to admit it to yourself, never mind someone else. It can be a deeply humbling experience.
In James 5:16, it says to “confess your faults to one another, and pray for one another, that you might be healed.” We are commanded to acknowledge our wrongdoing to one another. Talk about being vulnerable! When we do this, we build trust and respect with those we are closest with. When someone admits a shortcoming, we often see them as more honest, and our respect for them grows.
When I started in my current workplace, a co-worker dismissed my suggestion on how to create the next month’s schedule. She used her own idea instead. She is in charge and had a well running system in place already, so I accepted her decision. The next day she came to me privately and apologized. She said that, in the future, she would be more mindful of my suggestions and would try harder to work together as a team. I thought it was so big of her to do that! It took integrity and humility to approach me and apologize. It made me trust her instantly. She has proven to be a woman of strong character, and she has become one of my closest colleagues and friends.
What might look like weakness in the moment, is a huge strength overall. Apologizing for being wrong or hurting someone’s feelings is as much an act of bravery, as it is an act of love. You might get shot down, or maybe even called out, but in the end, you will gain respect. You know how you can always see someone more clearly than they can see themselves? The same standard applies in reverse! People recognize and respect the honesty it takes to admit fault. Walk in courage and keep calling yourself out. It will make your relationships stronger.
The Internal World
Sharing what’s on your heart is also an act of vulnerability. It can feel threatening to share something private and personal. The mere idea of this can make you feel shy or avoidant. I think for many people it’s because we have never tapped into these places in our own minds. What do I think about this? How does that make me feel? Do I know my own needs in this situation? It’s such a gift when you can recognize what’s going on in your internal world and share that with others. Because vulnerability is often perceived as weakness, we aren’t often taught how to investigate these things at all. In a culture where we shame negative feelings, we risk isolating ourselves, when we really need love and support.
Many people, especially men, are taught from a young age to hide their feelings. Dragon slayers in their professional world, they are unlikely to share their frustrations, disappointments, or humbling lows when they get home. And yet, it is in this struggle that we are all intimately connected. We ALL struggle with these things in our lives. We must remember it is not our job to fix these things but to share them; to connect; to grow closer. For this type of sharing to happen, we need to create safe space within the relationship.
Safe space isn’t saying all the right things. It’s the art of being with someone’s feelings and allowing them to have their experience without making it about ourselves. Holding space is about patience, eye contact, presence without judgment. It is about learning not to take things personally, and not trying to save someone from their feelings. Relationships are deepened through vulnerability and the courage to let another in. (@sheleanaaiyana)
We must remember that God’s nature is multi-faceted. He is both strong and tender; powerful and merciful; righteous and compassionate. Ideally, His nature will be expressed in our lives, as well. God asks us to carry one another’s burdens. How else can we accomplish this, unless we expose our internal world and practice holding safe space for each other?
The Apostle Paul was vulnerable and admitted to us that he struggled with sin. He said:
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do (Romans 7:14-15).
He exposed his internal thoughts and feelings, so we do not feel singled out for struggling in the same way. Because of his vulnerability, he made it easier for us to acknowledge this struggle in ourselves and with each other.
Being vulnerable with God is a beneficial practice too. In the Psalms, we observe the very intimate relationship that David had with God. He holds nothing back. He is open, vulnerable. David confessed and pleaded with God. Issues like being ashamed, weak, weary, and in despair are acknowledged. Sometimes, we too cry tears that soak the couch or feel abandoned by God. David shows us that it is healing, cathartic, and pleasing to God to pray in this manner. Draw near to the Lord by being vulnerable with Him, and He will draw near to you.
It’s okay to talk about our struggle with God and trusted people. In fact, if folks hear you being vulnerable, they will learn that it’s okay for them to be vulnerable, as well. You will have modeled for them the process on how to share intimate thoughts. You can then provide a safe space for them by listening without judgment. Hopefully, this can bring some major healing to their lives. The world needs more brave, open hearted people modeling the way to belonging.
Why Be Vulnerable?
You might still find yourself asking: why would I want to be vulnerable at the risk of embarrassing myself? At the risk of letting others see my flaws or short comings? At the risk of failing? The answer is because it will help expand your relationships into more full, deep, intimate experiences. Love and belonging are waiting for you there!
For the most part, others can see our failings more clearly than we can. Be as honest with yourself as your best friend/partner/trusted mentor would be. Admit those things and walk in humility. Respect is on the other side of owning your shortcomings.
Men like Paul and David modeled that it is healing and helpful to acknowledge what is going on in our internal world. We don’t have to fear or be ashamed of our feelings. Find that trusted friend (or God!) and tell them what’s going on. This is where lasting connections are built.
To everyone who has practiced vulnerability in your relationships, keep going! Share some of your struggles at church or work, and let others know it’s okay to be human! If this encourages them to take the same risk, remember to hold safe space for them. Be with their feelings and allow them to have their experience without judging it or trying to fix it.
We are not perfect, but our mission is to develop the holy righteous character of Jesus Christ. This earth is a training ground to open our hearts and minds. It is going to be uncomfortable at times, but God knows our capacity for stretching!
Keep leaning into those heavy lessons and practice being vulnerable. Be brave enough to say sorry, admit your faults and fears, and shine light on your darkness. You are on the path to more love, belonging, and connection.