Recently I have been reading a book by an author called Brene Brown. The book is called “The power of vulnerability” and it’s been challenging me in a few areas of my life. It’s well worth a read, but if you don’t have time then I encourage you to take 20 minutes and watch her TED talk on the same topic.
So let’s talk about vulnerability for a little bit.
Vulnerability is often perceived as a weakness. In battle terms, vulnerable is used to describe a situation where you are open to attack from a certain direction. A weakening somewhere in the defenses. That weakness is then quickly rectified or minimised so that the level of vulnerability is reduced.
The battle scene is a great metaphor for our personal lives as well. There have been situations in my own life where rather than embracing vulnerability, I have shut it down.
The challenge for me has often been around being vulnerable with others. Letting them see a side to me that perhaps I would normally have kept behind closed doors. Worried that if I was really honest, how would I then be perceived.
In Dr Brown’s words, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the centre of meaningful human experiences”
She argues that to believe vulnerability is a weakness is to also believe that feeling is a weakness. To shutdown down our emotional life out of fear that the cost will be too high is to walk away from something that helps gives us purpose and meaning.
Sounds like truth and feels like courage. That statement stuck with me. How do I apply that in my own life as I seek to BE more?
Well, yesterday I had the opportunity to put that into practice and I was unprepared for it. But wow did it pay off.
I had flown down to Christchurch for a night to perform some routine maintenance. Our company has a part-time engineer on site but these tasks fall outside his area of expertise.
He’s a lovely guy who is now semi-retired. It has become our routine that each time I am down, he insists on taking me out for coffee. We usually talk about life in general and what is happening in the company.
But today was different.
As we started to talk, I sensed that there was something on his mind. He started opening up and shared a little about a situation he was facing in his own life with his son. He then asked about my family and so I told him a bit about them and what we were up to. Looking back now, I wonder if I made it sound like we were a model family because his next question was completely unexpected.
“I suppose you and your wife never have any issues”
My mind all of a sudden kicked up a couple of gears. I now had a choice to make.
Answer his question with an element of truth and protect me, or be vulnerable.
I knew where his question had come from, I could see it in through the pain in his eyes. He was hurting for his son and had just heard from me about a marriage that was in a good place. It was a parents heart wishing that for his son.
At that moment I knew that being vulnerable was the only option.
And so I opened up and shared my story, from the very beginning. I told him about my struggles with being a new dad and that I had turned to alcohol as a way to cope. That lead to sharing the impact it had on my wife and our marriage. But I was also able to share that it was God who had been able to bring the breakthrough and restoration. I finished with an encouragement that Christ can work in any situation and can work all things together for good.
As I opened up and spoke, he remained silent and listened intently. By the time I had finished, his face had softened and he appeared more relaxed.
He then surprised me by admitting that he had a Christian faith. I say surprised because I had no idea before we started talking. But really I shouldn’t be surprised because God had orchestrated the whole conversation.
We talked for a little longer before heading back to work. I busied myself finishing off the remaining tasks I needed to complete before flying back to Auckland. Once I was finished, I walked down the corridor to his office so I could say goodbye.
He was on the phone, so I waved and mouthed at him that I was off. Putting up his hand indicating that I should wait, the phone call was quickly ended with a promise to call them back soon. He then walked over and took my hand. “Thank you sharing your story with me,” he said as we shook hands. I looked at him and his eyes conveyed a sense of deep gratitude.
We talked for a little while and it was clear that my story had touched him. He mentioned that you never know what someone else is going through, and that’s so true. But in opening up and being vulnerable with him, I had given him some hope for his situation.
Was being vulnerable in that moment easy? Absolutely not!
There were thoughts like “Will I lose my job if my employer finds out my history” and “will he ever view me the same again.” These thoughts rooted in fear and if I’m honest, are selfish.
But boy am I glad that in that moment I chose to let truth and courage win over fear and selfishness.
I sat on the plane as it winged it’s way back to Auckland and marvelled at how God had orchestrated my day. Thankful that I was trusted with the opportunity and grateful for the courage to follow through.
Being vulnerable can look different to all of us. Maybe it’s a conversation you need to have with someone that you have been putting off out of fear. Perhaps it’s putting your art, your photography or some other form of creativity out there with no guarantee of acceptance or appreciation. Choosing to love someone which leaves us emotionally exposed to either being loved in return or rejected.
Vulnerability can be uncertain and leave us feeling exposed, but it’s never a weakness. It’s courage in action. Every time you step into venerability, you allow yourself to feel a little more. And that’s a good thing.