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The Paradox of Vulnerability

Who likes being vulnerable? Who likes sharing their secret struggles with another trusted person, opening up about their weaknesses, failures, insecurities, deepest desires, mistakes or hurts? Who likes exposing themselves to possible ridicule, judgement, shame or rejection?

I bet you’re all saying ‘me, me, me!’

For so many years, I have secretly struggled, feeling so alone and isolated. Not because no one cared or understood, but because I was too afraid to open up and to allow someone else to come alongside me in my brokenness.

As I was reflecting recently, we live in a world that says ‘vulnerability is weakness, weakness is shameful and shame is deserved.’ We’re taught to not say a word about our struggles because we’re meant to be perfect right? We’re meant to live up to this impossible standard that the world sets. And even though every single human being falls short of this standard, our imperfection and weakness should still be covered up and kept secret. So the world says. No wonder so many today battle with identity crises and mental health issues!

As I was starting off this post, I googled ‘The Paradox of Vulnerability’ and discovered this article by the Australian Spinal Research Foundation which is well worth a read!

It starts off:

‘Here’s a statement you may not expect to read in the Harvard Business Review: “Expressing your vulnerability makes you stronger.” It’s wisdom that may have been around for a while, but it’s been popularised by the recent work of researcher Brené Brown...’

Yes, this is wisdom that has been around for a long time – from about 55AD in fact (and probably before)! As we all know well, in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, St Paul writes;

‘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. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.’

If this is the case, if vulnerability is such a great and strengthening thing, if St Paul literally says we should boast about our weaknesses, then why are we all so afraid to be vulnerable?

The article I mentioned earlier also says:

‘Brené Brown found that vulnerability is “the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love. This seems like a paradox. How can something bring us the pain of shame, but also the joy of belonging? It appears the key is in embracing the risk rather than hiding from it.’

I’ve recently been on a two day retreat with the Year 13 students of St Catherine’s College, Wellington (where I work part time as a Youth Minister/Tuakana).

It takes a crazy amount of courage to be vulnerable and to share your heart with someone, and I was so humbled to be on the receiving end of that courage & vulnerability, as some of the girls opened up to me about the struggles they’re going through.

I was even more appreciative of this because of my own experience at Hearts Aflame this year. There I was able to be open and honest about my own struggles and instead of being rejected as I had feared, I was totally loved and made to feel enough in my brokenness. It was so freeing and healing. So I realised the power that my listening ear and loving heart had in this moment, with these students.

Not only does vulnerability bring healing and hope, but it also helps to strengthen community.

We all long for a space where we are completely and unashamedly free to be ourselves, where we can be supported in our struggles and lifted up in our weaknesses, where we are known fully and loved regardless. This is impossible without vulnerability (another article I stumbled across recently expresses this beautifully). How can you expect someone to accept all of you when you don’t even take the risk and share all of you – including the broken parts?

We have a God who was so vulnerable He became human in order to build community with us. He bled and died, so obviously weak, in His Passion. He was not afraid to stand with us in our weaknesses, in our humanness, in our imperfection. He got amongst it and showed us how to truly be vulnerable. But He also revealed to us just how strong weakness can make us. We know the cross was not the end. Jesus’ most vulnerable moment was His most victorious.

So I challenge you to be vulnerable, and to create a space where people know they can be vulnerable with you! I know it’s not comfortable, but it is so powerful! It brings healing and hope and strengthens community. And it unites us ever closer with the Passion of Our Lord who’s vulnerability expressed His great love for us. May our vulnerability be a vessel for His love too!

Here’s a song that sums this all up beautifully!

And I’ll finish with this spoken word/poem I journaled during the Yr 13 retreat I was on:

My heart hurts for these girls.

All have their secret struggles.

But they live in a world that says;

Vulnerability is weakness

Weakness is shameful

Shame is deserved

Yet don’t say a word.

Keep it under lock and key

You are so lonely

So alone in your struggle

Sit down and be humble

Don’t talk about yourself

Don’t draw attention

And remember if you do

They won’t accept you.

Who could ever love a wretched mess like you?

Who could ever understand all the things you do?

You’re unaccepted, unworthy, you’ll never be enough.

In a nutshell the world says ‘you are not loved.’

All have their secret struggles.

Yet vulnerability is weakness

Weakness is shameful

Shame is deserved

So we don’t say a word.

Lies, lies, lies, lies, lies and more lies.

Ignite the light and let truth reside.

The world is trapped in darkness

It keeps us captive too.

But see all our secret struggles

They are nothing new.

We are seen in our weaknesses

Seen in our mess

Someone knows our mind and heart

And loves us regardless.

You may feel worthless but to them you’re always enough

You are seen, you are known

And my darling you are loved.

Vulnerability shows weakness

But until we open up

The darkness will do all it can

To swallow us up.

Open up, let the light in

Be vulnerable, be brave

You are enough just as you are

You don’t have to be afraid.

Every single part of you

Is seen, known and loved.

What’s inside might feel overwhelming

But you have a God who’s overcome.

Fear no evil, because He is by your side

He went to the grave and back for you

Own His victory with pride.

Nothing is too great for Him

In your weakness He is strong.

If vulnerability is weak

Then go ahead, talk on.

We all have secret struggles

But bring them to the light.

Vulnerability is strength

Strength will overcome

Cause our God has overcome

The victory is already won.

My heart hurts for these girls.

Because I know the truth.

Yet they believe the lies.


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