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Can I confess something to you?
The word “vulnerable” makes me a little crazy.
I don’t like the way it conjures up images of me stranded on a wintery mountaintop, inadequately dressed, shivering, susceptible to frostbite and whatever sort of feral wildlife may come charging out of the brush. (Is this just me? Do the rest of you think of gently sharing deep things about yourselves over a cup of coffee when you hear that word?)
I don’t like the way it is used to compliment an honest person; “I really appreciated your vulnerability today in our small group.”
I don’t like the way it’s trending in pop psychology, Brene Brown writing books I can’t seem to put down yet want to throw across the room because of what they ask from me, the excavation required.
As you can see, the problem with the word “vulnerable” lies with me, not the word itself. My problem with the word “vulnerable” is what it asks from me, what it says about me – that I am not supreme, sovereign, invincible. My problem with the word “vulnerable” is that it forces me to crush my idol of independence, to admit my need for a Savior, and my need for brothers and sisters.
If there’s any legitimate issue I have with the concept of vulnerability, or the way it’s presented, it’s this: vulnerability is not an end in itself.
I don’t think anyone intends to present it this way, but I do think that it is human nature to believe that everything is about us. Vulnerability presents us with the opportunity to share the deep things of our souls, and there is rightfully peace and relief in that.
But the true joy of vulnerability is not simply the baring of our secrets, the satisfaction of a one-way street of being known. If that were the case, then seeing a counselor or speaking with a mentor would be enough, but something in our heart tells us that, while those things are wonderful, and valuable, they are not enough. Why?
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The answer is this: the true value of vulnerability is found when it is used as a tool for building gospel community.
Alongside wisdom, truth, love, service, alongside brothers and sisters who worship Jesus Christ above all others, we chip away at the walls of our hearts and we build altars to the Father, collective testimonies to the goodness of God and the sweetness of living in community with His people.
For some people, the tool of vulnerability is the first one pulled from the tool belt. Each new relationship is encountered with sincere openness of heart, with a willingness to share and discuss the things deep and personal. For some, myself included, this takes a bit longer, the tools of love and serving side-by-side and mutual passions well used until deep vulnerability is put to use.
We often feel the need for true community when we are suffering or lonely, when life has thrown us more than we can handle. This has certainly been the case in my life, and I have experienced the Lord’s kindness so thoroughly in His provision to me during those seasons. But there is also something to be said for the practice of community at all times, for pressing in to friendships, refusing to keep things surface level, at all times, that the bonds may be present with the hard waves hit.
As a writer online, I have found that in-person gospel community, meaning a few friends who sit on each other’s couches and share things that we do not post on the internet, has been absolutely essential to sharing anything of valuable on a blog or social media. The Internet is not where I go to find my primary sources of vulnerability or community. While I prioritize vulnerability in writing, I do not approach writing with the same vulnerability with which I approach conversation with those closest to me. I do not approach writing with the intention to share the fullness of each story in my life. I approach writing, even Facebook posts, with the fullness of each story in my life welling up inside me, presenting to me the components that are helpful to share, and treasuring inside the components that are not, with the comfort of knowing that I have people who are stewarding and caring for them alongside me. I do not need the Internet to do that.
The internet is a place that I have the power, energy, strength and joy to view and use as an agent for good when and only when my soul is oriented to the gospel message of Jesus Christ and is known, challenged, loved and served by in-person followers of Him Who are committed to me, and to whom I committed as well.
Vulnerability and community may certainly be bi-products of time spent online. I have made friends there, I have had deep conversations there, I have seen and been blessed to be a part of good done there. But beneficial online vulnerability and community have only been capable of existing, of being helpful, pure, and in their place, because of real-life women alongside me.
May we heed the words in Hebrews 5, not forsaking assembly together. May we gather together to build one another up and then move forward into the areas we are called to serve, whether in-person or online, not looking for hope nor connection nor satisfaction that they were never meant to bring. May we be a people whose hearts are oriented to the person of Jesus Christ and His people all around us, that we may enter the rest of the world, even the Internet, with joy and gladness, pouring out His grace, mercy and truth in love as it is continually being poured into us through the Word and the Church.
Abby is an old soul, a Jesus girl, better in writing. She is a pastor's wife and mom of two boys, one of whom has a neuro-genetic disorder, which Abby writes about (among other things such as faith, liturgy, depression, social issues, and literature) at www.joywovendeep.com. Abby directs communications for a nonprofit organization and co-facilitates two community efforts - one promoting bridge-building racial reconciliation conversations, the other supporting area foster and adoptive families. She has a soft spot for books, podcasts, learning about human relationships through television and movies, personality typing, and pasta. Abby holds a B.A in Communication from Texas A&M University and is completing her graduate degree at Dallas Theological Seminary.