I proposed to a boy on my first day of kindergarten. His name was Conrad (Hi, Conrad--hope you don’t remember this), and he was the cutest boy ever. I schemed my way into sitting next to him at lunch and laughed a little too hard when he told me a joke...probably something involving animals, or whatever the kids are joking about these days. And that’s when it happened. “Want to hear something funny?” I asked him. He nodded eagerly. “Wouldn’t it be funny if you and I got married?” I said in a five year old’s version of coyness.
What followed was seven seconds of excruciating silence. Seven seconds of wanting the ground to open up and swallow me alive. Seven seconds that made an alarm go off in my tiny heart that screamed, ABORT! ABORT! THIS ISN’T GOING WELL! And even though I laughed it off and quickly changed the topic to my favorite artist at the time, Britney Spears... those were seven seconds of free-falling vulnerability that--two decades later--I have never forgotten.
Brené Brown says vulnerability is “the courage to show up and let myself be seen.” And though I wasn’t even tall enough to reach the kitchen sink, I knew I had done the unthinkable and opened myself up to rejection, criticism, & failure.
I’m rehashing my childhood heartbreak because I’m pretty certain we all experience those seven excruciating seconds all the time. Whether it’s when you tell that guy/girl how you feel, when you share something deeply personal that is met with silence, when you feel alone in a crowded room with people who seem to be best friends, when you’re home on a Friday night browsing social media...
Those seven seconds (or minutes or days or months) ARE. THE. WORST. It's the slow ride up to the top of the rollercoaster. It’s the feeling that all eyes are on you--and not in the “I just showed up to the club looking goooooood” sort of way. It’s the recess before the verdict is announced. It’s the vulnerability drumroll.
Vulnerability is painful because we spend most of our time crafting what we want people to think about us. We cultivate our social media accounts, go on diets, listen to bands we think we should like, say things we’re expected to say. Vulnerability is the simple admission of reality. It is “showing up and letting yourself be seen” as you really are in this very moment, not the you five months from now or ten tacos fewer from now.
In Notting Hill, Julia Roberts plays a grossly famous movie star who falls in love with an average, slightly pathetic bookstore owner (although, how average can you be when you’re Hugh Grant). Julia shows up to Hugh’s bookstore to tell him how she feels--only to be turned down because of her celebrity. And in an iconic moment of vulnerability, she reminds him: “I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.”
Cue tears and retching noises. This, ladies and gentlemen, is life. And in a day and age when people can sniff out inauthenticity faster than you can say, “hashtagliveauthentic,” we intellectually know that vulnerability is a good thing, know we can’t escape it, and are even drawn to it.
But what to do with that pesky knot in your stomach? As much as those seven seconds when you’re waiting for Conrad to answer absolutely suck, I think we must embrace vulnerability because it reminds us of two things:
First, that we are seen AND loved--flaws and all. In Luke 8, Jesus is summoned by a synagogue leader to heal his daughter. Along the way, a woman who was considered unclean and an outcast because of a chronic illness sneaks up to touch his cloak under the cover of the bustling crowd. But Jesus calls her forward.
“Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.’” She didn’t want to be seen, but she did want to be healed. The irony is that she could only truly be healed and restored (not just physically but also emotionally and socially) if she let herself be seen. Jesus, knowing this, pauses to recognize her and calls her “daughter”--a new identity so she would know who she truly is.
Second, there is no love without risk. There is no true connection without vulnerability. How will others be able to love us if we do not allow them to see who we really are? The greatest example of this that I can think of is God Himself. Omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, yet willing to reveal Himself to us through His Word at the risk of being deemed unjust, cruel, irrational, hateful. The definition of love Himself, yet allowing us to choose whether or not we will love Him back. Eternal and without sin, yet willingly taking on flesh and the sin of the world so that He could die in our place, betrayed by those He loved. What is more vulnerable than that? Who is more vulnerable than a God who says “I love you” first, no matter what we say or do back to Him?
So let me embrace vulnerability, knowing that in doing so, I become like my Savior. Let me choose to show up and be seen as I am, knowing that His love for me is the most important thing about me. Let me love first, let me love more, let me love at great cost to myself, knowing that Jesus has spared no cost in His love for me.
“O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.”