Vulnerability is a topic I’ve heard a lot about in the last year or so. Most of the recent buzz on this subject seems to have been generated by a woman named Dr. Brene Brown and her talk at a TEDxHouston event along with her decade of research on the subject of shame. I’ve seen countless blogs and articles posted in various corners of the internet since her talk on the subject started making its rounds on social media outlets. What I found most fascinating was how much of this discussion came from outside of the Church, because it seemed to naturally drive me to think about how I function as a minister. Mostly because vulnerability sucks. It’s not fun. It’s difficult and I don’t want to do it because being vulnerable means you’re exposed. It means that you are showing the weaknesses in your armor and people can take advantage of that. But in that season of meditating on this idea, I began to discover some of the beauty that is born in vulnerability.
Vulnerability begets vulnerability.
There is no quicker way to get someone to share their struggles, what is really going on in their life, than to first share yours. This is sometimes called giving someone the power of going second. It is this amazing phenomenon of sharing your life and shining the light in the dark areas or situations of your life so that someone else knows the way to shine the light in their darkness.
Not too long ago, I was watching a daytime talk show and as part of their content for the week each of the five co-hosts were going to share a secret. I realize that it was for ratings. Because who doesn’t want to hear a famous person share their dirt? (Ok, maybe that part is just me.) But after the first person shared something incredible happened: each of the following shared something far deeper than the first. Tears flowed both on screen and from my own eyes. It was amazing to see these women talk on national television about things like infertility and share moments of deep love and support that I’ve only seen happen in church small groups. They had a Jesus moment on TV even if they didn’t realize it.
And I realized how many times I’ve robbed someone of a similar Jesus moment because I was scared of how they’d respond to my going first.
Jon Acuff said at an online preaching conference, “If you hide your weakness, people won’t listen to your strength.” There is an element of rapport building that occurs when you open yourself up to people. It builds trust. And if I won’t listen to someone I don’t trust, I’m certainly not going to expect someone to listen to me if they don’t trust me. I have to make that effort, as uncomfortable and exposed as it leaves me, because there are things that God may want to speak to them through me as their pastor and I don’t want to inhibit that.
Vulnerability and love are closely related.
In her TED talk, Dr. Brown put it like this, “…it appears that it’s (vulnerability) also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.” Those words seem to call back the words of C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
What drove me into ministry is a genuine love for people and a desire for them to know Christ. I’m discovering that being an agent or conduit of God’s love on planet earth demands that I be vulnerable because without it I may never truly love anyone. I’ve been hurt a lot in my life and my experiences tell me that I should avoid that at all costs. But I also know that the words of our friend Mr. Lewis are true and my heart will surely turn to stone if isolated in the safety of a box. I’m sure that we all have stories of wounds our hearts have received in the line of ministry-related battles. I know that we all have moments when fear floods our minds and leads to our retreat when we are tempted to be vulnerable. I have them, and most of them are from my first year in ministry. But they can’t keep me from continuing to love those that God places in my path regardless of the risk to the safety of my heart.
I want to challenge us, as ministers, to create a culture of vulnerability in whatever ministry context we find ourselves. To take the leap and go first so that others might follow us into the freedom of the light. But even more than that I want to remind us (preaching to myself here) that no matter the hurt we’ve experienced in life and in ministry, we can’t allow it to get the best of us. We must continue to leave our hearts out of the safety of boxes so that the love of God flowing through us reaches those around us that need it most.