Have you ever noticed that most people hate the word “vulnerable”? The word just seems to bring about the idea of weakness. Vulnerable is defined as being susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm. It's synonymous with words like helpless, defenseless, powerless, impotent and weak – none of these words are ones that we want to hear in regards to ourselves.
Why, then, does C.S. Lewis say that to love is to be vulnerable? And why do I agree with him?
The second week of school, my RA asked us what we wanted our dorm vision to be for the year. Do we want to be the dorm that always has people over? The dorm that bakes for everyone?
We decided that we want to be centered in Christ, rooted in Him and founded on Him – the branches to His vine. We were throwing out words that we wanted to grow in, places where we wanted to shine for God – shining in sports and academics, growing in our love, treasuring laughter and family.
And then my RA used the word “vulnerable”. She asked us what we thought about that and if we wanted to be vulnerable. Most of the girls reacted the way you'd expect them to – one said that she didn't like the word, another suggested open or honest instead. Why would we want to be vulnerable? Isn't that the same as being weak or powerless or helpless? Why would anyone want to be that?
The thing is, I don't think being vulnerable equates to being weak. I think being vulnerable is one of the most courageous things you can do or be. It takes a certain amount of strength to wear your heart on your sleeve, to risk your heart being broken by letting someone close enough to really, truly see it. When you love someone, you give them a piece of yourself. It's impossible not to. How can you love someone and not risk your heart? How can you love someone and not let them in? To truly love someone means to lay your love, your heart, on the line, knowing that they might break it. It's a risk, but it's worth it.
As I'm writing and thinking about this, I can't help but think of Jesus. Talk about being vulnerable for love's sake. Helpless, defenseless, powerless, impotent, weak, susceptible – these are not the words that come to mind when I think about Jesus. And yet, when He was spread out on the cross for us, He was weak. He was dying – He did die. To love at all is to be vulnerable.
Jesus loves us enough that He died for us. He was willing to let His strength be stripped away and replaced with weakness. Just imagine it. The Son of God hanging on a cross, vulnerable, susceptible to attack – physical, emotional and spiritual attack. The wind whipping at Him. The nails driven through His skin. The mocking scorn aimed at Him from the people below. The full separation from God. Jesus was so vulnerable. His blood spilled, His body broken. Even God the Father turned away. Jesus was all alone, and more vulnerable than He had ever been, than anyone has ever been.
That vulnerability, in my opinion, is the ultimate display of strength and of love. I said before that loving someone means giving them a piece of yourself. Jesus didn't just give us a piece of Himself; He gave us everything. He didn't hold anything back. He offered His heart, His body, His blood, knowing that some of us will never accept Him. That some of us will never want Him. That's vulnerability. That's love. That's strength. That's courage. That's bravery. That's my Jesus.
What does that mean for us, though? How can we be vulnerable for love's sake? I think it's in being honest about our faults and shortcomings. It's in coming clean about our pasts and our struggles. It's in asking the hard questions. It's in putting our pride aside when we're in the wrong and apologizing. It's in confessing our sin to one another. It's in loving each other without expecting anything in return, without judging each other or putting one another down. It's in loving freely, loving deeply, loving relentlessly. It's in risking our hearts. It's in standing up for other people, for what we believe in. It's in standing before God, realizing that it's only made possible by His grace. It's in admitting that we're all desperately in need of that grace. It's in recognizing that we are weak, but that God is strong. It's in going after the wandering sheep. It's in telling people about the faith we have, the gift of eternal life that we have received. It's in obeying the Spirit. It's in being the hands and feet of God, doing what He tells you, going where He leads you.
Maybe it's an oxymoron. Courageously vulnerable. But that's what I want to be. Risking my heart. Wearing it on my sleeve. Seeing people's hearts and letting them see mine. Being vulnerable for love's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.