“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability and authenticity. If we want great clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” Brene Brown
I absolutely love this quote. It connects to something deep inside me and feeds that desire for more.
I would hazard a guess that the majority of us are rarely truly vulnerable. Whilst I would say I have a lot of close friends in my life and a close family I could probably count on one hand the people that I am actually truly open and real with, and I am a pretty open and real person, but the reality is that most of the time I am scared of being really real and honest and showing the true me because actually I am scared I will be rejected, or judged or be laughed at.
Then I flip that on its head and ask how easy do I make it for those in my life to be vulnerable with me. Am I willing to really engage with people’s mess and pain or is it just too uncomfortable and difficult? Do I fully engage with people’s hopes and dreams or do my jealousies, insecurities, and pride stop me doing so?
On Friday night I was at a party to celebrate a very special couple, my best friend, Anna, and her husband, Rich. In two weeks time they will no longer be living in Sheffield and will be settling into their new home in Edinburgh. Gulp! Last night was a goodbye party and if I am honest I was dreading it because I wasn’t quite sure I would be able to keep my emotions in check but actually it was a total celebration. As part of that celebration I had put together a book of photographs and messages from the people that had been part of their lives over the last decade or so and because I put it together I had the privilege of reading each of those messages.
Anna and Rich have been involved in church leadership for many years and so have been in the business of relationships and the messages in that book and the people there at that party and the prayers spoken time and time again spoke of gratitude for the way they had spoken into people’s lives, how they had been there in the worst of times, had celebrated with people in the best of times and called out of people again and again their callings, their dreams, their purposes, how they had challenged, inspired, encouraged. The overwhelming message that came across was that Anna and Rich had in so many lives pushed people forward and that people’s lives were so much richer because of them, changed because of them and in some cases that their impact on lives had caused people’s lives to go in a different direction. And all of it done with such humility, grace and love on their part.
As I have thought about Anna and Rich today and have been thinking about what I want to say to them before they go I knew that they are two people in my life that I can be truly vulnerable with and as the testimonies of Friday night spoke so powerfully I am clearly not the only one who has felt that way about them.
There have been so many times in the last 8 years, since losing John, where I have felt overwhelmed with sadness, scared and lacking in hope and each time I knew that Anna and Rich were my safe place, that they would not judge me or love me any less for showing my heart. So many times I have sat in their house and sobbed my heart out, or sent a text venting my confusion, hurt and anger, or shared my hopes and dreams. They have loved, challenged, stood in hope, prayed, spoken so many words of affirmation, encouragement and truth into me and over me, celebrated with me, mourned with me, laughed with me, cried with me and I can truly say that those two have been one of God’s greatest gifts to me – true, real and vulnerable friendship. As I have been able to be vulnerable with them, and they have allowed me to be vulnerable, there has been healing, there has been life breathed back into my broken heart, and hope birthed. Time and time again Rich has spoken words to me in response to me being vulnerable that have released stuff in me, words that years on I still stand on and which have been a gift straight from heaven. I know when my heart broke the night John died that Anna’s heart broke too – I have seen the tears in her eyes so many time because of my pain.
The depth of that friendship is in part due to many, many years of friendship going back over 25 years, so many memories and shared experiences, of growing up together, but it has been these last 8 years that I have felt it go deeper and stronger and again that has been one of those beauty from the ashes things but is also because of a willingness to be vulnerable. The more we let people in, the more we accept, the more vulnerable we are the more beauty that comes – I totally believe that – even though I find it hard to be vulnerable I know that those moments in my life where I have experienced the most joy, the most connection both relationally and spirituality are when I have allowed myself to be truly vulnerable and have felt safety in that place.
As I have thought about vulnerability I have thought about those in visible places, politicians, leaders and creatives, those who pour their heart and soul into their work – all these people put themselves on the line on a regular basis, put themselves out there at risk of being criticized, judged and very often publically slated. Often there is failure and those people I have no doubt feel incredibly vulnerable but they do it anyway because they believe passionately in what they do. But for all the failure there is beauty, transformation, truth, life, and power, for them personally but for their communities, the nation, strangers, because of their willingness to make themselves vulnerable. There is such strength in this type of vulnerability.
I love The Rend Collective’s album, The Campfire, and the story behind that album – the call to be vulnerable, to tell our stories and sing our songs, how God calls his church to be open and vulnerable, to take down the walls of defence in the church and with each other, despite of our hurts, to see more authenticity. In the video that accompanies that album it talks about how in the kingdom of God there are no outsiders, that although the pain we experience in life can be overwhelming we aren’t meant to go through it alone, that Jesus longs for his church to be a place of warmth and safety, and a home and a refuge for the lost and broken but to do that we must learn the art of togetherness and celebration. The video ends by saying “To be on a journey as God’s family going through the highs and lows of life, suffering and laughing together that’s what I want, not some holy huddle, where we all pretend everything is ok but a real community which believes in the God of miracles but also in the God of the trials.”
I do not think it is possible or right to be vulnerable with everyone we come across in our lives, often that would not be helpful or appropriate but I think if we want to see change, want to see beauty, breakthrough and answers to our prayers, hopes and dreams then we have to make ourselves vulnerable. For me personally I need to learn to make myself more vulnerable before my God, so often my pride and my past stops me doing that, but I want more so I need to do it, and hand in hand with making myself more vulnerable to God I need to make myself more vulnerable with those I have been given to do this life but more than that I want to be someone that people feel safe to be vulnerable with, someone that will love people in their vulnerability, in order to see lives changed, and people set free.