In my last post, I promised you a sort of “lab exercise” where you can practice this concept of viewing the world through the story of the Gospel, and assessing what things are true and false based on their agreement with the greatest story ever told. In this post, we’ll consider the topic of vulnerable or intimate self-disclosure, and see how the Gospel of Jesus might affect our attitudes on this.
With the aid of my friend Tim Courtois, I recently came across probably the most concise treatment of the topic of vulnerability and its benefits that I’ve seen to date. I wanted to show it to you, because it just might change your life. Seriously, this will only be 20 minutes of your time; and heck, I’ll just go ahead and say I guarantee it’ll be worth it. But I want to first give you a warning: it’s incomplete. In fact, anyone who ever talks about something good or true or beautiful without demonstrating its origins in the cross of Jesus will be incomplete. In this case, Ms. Brown gives us some of the “why’s” of vulnerability, but not much in the way of “how.” I’ll share more after you watch the talk.
There was so much I loved about this talk. I loved how she named and dismantled our culture’s obsession with being someone else (someone “better”), and the shame that both produces and results from that message. I loved her thought that making yourself vulnerable opens you up to shame, rejection and exclusion, but is also a precondition to receiving love and acceptance and experiencing the authentic joy that results. I loved the insight that emotions are not selectively numbed (if only someone told me that in middle school!); only whole persons can be numbed. I loved her description of blame as a “way to discharge pain and discomfort.” I loved the exhortation to allow us to be deeply seen and love with our whole hearts. And she was funny; I think I’d rather enjoy hanging out with her.
But there was one element of this talk (or non-element) that left something to be desired for me; it can be seen at many points, but each instance ties together with the others. First, in her analysis of religion, she says, “Religion has gone from a belief in faith and mystery to certainty; I’m right, you’re wrong, shut up. Just certainty.” She decries certainty in a belief as an evil form of invulnerability resulting from the fear that accompanies a personal sense of unworthiness. She seems to imply that people are only ever certain about a belief because they are too insecure that maybe they’re wrong to actually consider others’ views.
Elsewhere, she discusses the necessity for the courage to be vulnerable, so that we can experience authentic human existence, but says little of the source of this courage. Most importantly, her central thesis is a commendation of a mindset of worthiness; she even ends her talk by saying the most important thing is to believe “I am enough.” But she fails to provide a basis for this important, yet extremely difficult belief. I think all of us want to believe it, but we struggle to know it, to really believe it with all of our heart.
Now, here’s the crazy part. The very certainty of faith she dismisses at one point later ends up being the very thing we need in order to believe “I am enough!” Now, I won’t fault Ms. Brown for a single careless word here; I don’t actually think she meant to say that there’s something wrong with being grounded or certain of your faith, but rather that there’s danger in a dogmatism that is fearful and unwilling to listen to other viewpoints or embrace the mysteries of faith. Jesus agrees, and he had some pretty harsh words for the fearful dogmatists of his day (Luke 6:41-42).
But my question here is, what is the basis for having the courage to be vulnerable? If it comes from me believing I’m worthy of love; believing I’m enough, and that kind of faith seems to be incredibly hard for just about everyone (hence all the world’s problems she mentioned), then what is the radical solution that allows me to believe this so firmly? How can I be so certain of my worthiness that I’m willing to lay my heart bare before another person, to initiate sex with my spouse, to say “I love you” first, etc. (to use her examples)? If vulnerability and joy are the ends, then what is the means? On this, at least in this talk, she is silent. If she had an answer, I hope she would have shared it here since it would unlock everything she teaches as being necessary for a fulfilling life.
But there is an answer. Jesus is the answer. He’s always the answer. A God who sees and knows us perfectly, and still chose to love us, proving so by pay the highest possible price, his only son, that we might be reconciled to Him…He is the only one on whom I can fix my eyes and have certainty that I am worthy of love. He is the only one who could ever empower me to a life of true vulnerability; a vulnerability powered by God’s supernatural affirmation of my soul as I continue to trust in Him. Telling myself I’m worthy, or even hearing it consistently from others (if that were possible in this world), would be too shaky a foundation for me to truly know my worthiness. The dark moments too easily convince me that I and those around me must be mistaken regarding my worthiness. But an all-knowing God paid the ultimate cost in a public and historic manner in order to bring me back to Him when I was at my worst…now that is just enough for me to risk being truly seen by another.
If you’d like to hear more on this, I go into this topic in depth in “What You’re Worth” series of posts from February and March of 2010, particularly Part 2.
I hope this gives you a clearer example of how a Gospel lens helps us process ideas. I hope this is also further evidence that while our culture’s most prevalent worldviews are quick to tout the evidence for a claim like “Vulnerability is good,” they lack the theoretical framework for the claim. The Gospel is our framework. May you claim and experience the freedom from condemnation that Christ bought for you with his blood (Romans 8:1) by living vulnerably in an invulnerable world.