“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV
I think it’s important to start by telling you that I’ve re-written the introduction to this essay three different times now. It’s taken me so long to pull it together that we’ve been through parts of two Presidential administrations, a global pandemic and now a war in Ukraine. And while the world around me keeps changing, I have confidence that the heart of the message is still set in stone.
There is no doubt that the reason it is taking me so long to get into the essay is because it is about vulnerability. As I repeatedly rewrite the introduction, I keep finding myself looking for an “in”, looking for an example of someone who has demonstrated vulnerability, or lack thereof, to juxtapose myself against. When, in fact, what I really need to do is just tell you straight out: I am not great at being vulnerable.
There are many times where I still shake, physically, and get the chills when I am required to be vulnerable. I can feel it coming on as it approaches, like a loss of control, not like the muscles are tensing up but more like the opposite, they are unraveling or threatening to disappear altogether and leave my body a pool of mush. It’s the phenomenon of fight or flight, with both sides playing out simultaneously within each fiber of my body.
This physical manifestation is more than just nervous tension, more than just a desire to be private. It’s about the fear, deep down, of truly being known. That’s the great divide that I am trying to cross.
Being vulnerable is one of the hardest things many of us will do, and it seems to only get harder and harder every day. Many parts of our culture tear us down when we show any kind of vulnerability. Social media is notorious for this.
But vulnerability is also one of the greatest gifts that we can give to other people. It shows others that we trust them with our weaknesses and that we are willing to allow them to minister to us.
I have suffered from mental health challenges most of my adult life: obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety have been ongoing challenges. Panic attacks were a struggle that I endured for about 18 months in my 20’s. I sought help, and have been in therapy ever since, and that therapy has changed my life for the better in more ways that I can count. Up until just a few years ago I was afraid to discuss it openly. It’s still not easy when I am called on to do so, but with the help and support of my family and friends it has become easier.
Thankfully, while in some ways our broader culture is getting more adept at taking down people for showing vulnerability, there are a growing number of celebrities who are willing to shine the spotlight on some of their own experiences in order to help make it easier for other people to find the courage to do the same.
In sports, Kevin Love, Naomi Osaka, Michael Phelps, Simone Biles and others have very famously put their mental health challenges into the public forum. In entertainment, stars like Taraji P. Henson, Demi Lovato and Bruce Springstein have opened up about their encounters with depression and anxiety in an effort to try to remove the stigma that surrounds them.
But we still have a long way to go. And I, myself, have some work to do as well.
What I am beginning to realize as I take the creative journey with this blog is that I am not going to be able to make it very far without being more vulnerable. Creativity comes from vulnerability, or more specifically, from a place of feeling safe being vulnerable. I have always prized safety: physical safety from disease or injury, intellectual safety from “toeing the line” or not “rocking the boat”. I have spent so much emotional energy over my lifetime trying to keep myself safe, trying to keep from being hurt, trying to keep from being let down, trying to control every emotion and keep a tight grip on anything coming in or out of my soul. And I was successful, often being called “steady” or being exhorted because “still waters run deep”. But it is in that “deep” that so much creative energy lies, waiting to be mined. I am finally, somehow, coming to a place where that creative energy is being let loose, and it feels joyous.
Faith in anything requires vulnerability. That goes for not just faith in God but faith in another human being, a political candidate, a sports team or even ourselves. It requires us to be willing to expose our human nature and its many faults into the light. But the result is true love, which is so fulfilling and uplifting and non-judgmental and allows us to be born again in that love.
I recently took a course on how to better publicize this blog. There are all sorts of strategies that are suggested at WordPress, but all of them require vulnerability. They all require me to put myself out there so that others know what I am doing and what I believe in. Believing in something isn’t always as easy as it sounds. But it is an imperative if our goal is to be fully known by others. Then once you have that belief, it’s all about telling people you have something to say, and then having the courage to go out and say it. Believe in something; have a voice.
God calls us to show our weakness and when we do, he meets us there to provide comfort and joy. But even if you don’t believe in God, having faith that someone will meet you in that brokenness and be there for you is the first, and most important, step towards true faith.