The Power in Vulnerability

Clearly, as is evidenced by my recent blog topics, I’ve been dealing with some heavy-hearted stuff lately.  Family health, personal growth, personal trials, and heartbreak make for deep, occasionally dark, posts.  Hate to do it to you again, but here’s another one.

Laying your inner self open for the eyes of another is terrifying.  I’ve discussed this ad nauseam, I’m afraid.  However, just as your inner self is a complicated thing, so is the topic of vulnerability.

Dictionary.com defines vulnerability as such:

In some discussions (relationships in particular) vulnerability is regarded as a positive thing: it means you trust the other person enough to be open, honest, and true to yourself.  But, it makes me feel a little justified in being fearful, when I look at definition 1.  Capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt, as by a weapon.  AND definition 2.  Open to moral attack, criticism, temptation, etc.  AND definition 3, even if it is discussing a building and not a person.  Open to assault, difficult to defend. 
None of these things particularly inspire me to become vulnerable…at all.  Self preservation is a very strong instinct across the entire animal kingdom:  we encounter this daily.  Physical exercise, sports, martial arts, the military, education, seat-belts in vehicles…all these things encourage us to be knowledgeable and physically able to preserve ourselves.  But then, in relationships, you are taught to do an about face:  let that person in, let them see the real you that you hide behind those walls.  For some, this is easier than others.  Some individuals do not have walls, they are fully themselves all the time, open to whatever life throws their way.  This works out well for some, and for some it yields lots of scars.  Some individuals have a maze inside, only the most determined can find the heart: this protects from lots of scars, but it also causes them to “miss out.”  (On what, sometimes I am not sure.)
However, I have experienced another side of this dilemma: when you are presented with vulnerability by another.  When someone lays themselves bare before you, trusting you completely.  Being presented with this is often more frightening to me than becoming vulnerable myself.  This gives you great power.  Great.  Power.  Here, that overused Spiderman quote comes unbidden into my mind: “With great power comes great responsibility.”  It rings true (as it always does).  When you are presented with this gift of a person’s heart laid bare in their hands, you have been presented with a huge responsibility.  
“My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding places on the mountainside, show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.” Song of Songs 2:14

Your heart, tender like a bird, is given to me with open hands, brought out from your hiding places among the rocks.  Hollow bones, fragile feathers, tiny feet: these deserve to be treated with gentle, compassionate hands.  
My hands sometimes are not gentle.  
One wrong move, the dove might lose a feather.  Not a huge deal.  Keep making mistakes though, and I can crush bone.  This, this is great power.  A power I do not relish.  A power I never wish to use for a strategic advantage, a power which I hesitate to accept at all.  Being vulnerable, myself, is one thing.  Accepting the vulnerability of another is entirely another.  A thing that frightens me to the point of freezing.  I have loved and I have severely hurt.  And while I do not run from the first, I am terrified of experiencing the second, ever again.  
Some tell me that I cannot hold the blame for that kind of hurt.  It’s not my fault.  I hear those words, and I think they are somehow true, but it does not change the fact that it was my hands that broke that bird.  It does not change the fact that I–we all–have that capability to crush hearts when presented with vulnerability.  Is that the price of mutual openness?  I give you my heart, you give me yours, let’s hope I don’t squeeze it to death?  Maybe my opinion would be different, if I had my heart broken.  My track record, though, I’m the one who does the breaking.  This.  This gives me pause.  This arrests my step forward.  It is not that I lack the courage to jump: it is that I am afraid to catch another.  Afraid to bungle it, again.  
“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Proverbs 4:23

I suppose, though, you cannot refuse a gift.  Which, really, is how this kind of thing is presented.  You cannot force vulnerability.  You are presented with it, once you are trusted.  I suppose the giver knows you are imperfect, bound to bungle something, someday.  I suppose that is part of the weighing process:  do I roll over?  Do I trust that this person will respect, edify, challenge, protect, and love me?  Do I believe they will do their best to tread carefully, carrying this precious gift?  Yes?  
This is where trust, the trust I’ve spoken of before, comes in.  I have a perfect example to follow.  1 John, too long to quote here, lays this out quite clearly.  Lord help me emulate that perfect love.
“…And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.  In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him.  There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love.  We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:16-19
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One thought on “The Power in Vulnerability

  1. One may successfully guard one's heart, but if never let it out of the cage, it will never live the way it was intended to (as you so eloquently made clear in your post from May 07, 2013). This is where trust, and faith, in the person with whom you decide to share your heart come into play. To let oneself be vulnerable is to trust, and to be trusted with so precious a gift is definitely not something to be taken lightly. However, those of us with the scars to prove it have made the important realization that to experience love is well worth the risk of pain. Of what some would call failure. Of being crushed, as it were. With each new scar, we learn a different lesson about love, and about ourselves. Sure, those lessons can be extremely difficult, but some of them must be experienced (some multiple times) to be fully understood. Remember, wisdom cannot simply be taught; experience, as well as knowledge, are needed.
    Love as a concept takes a lot of faith, and some of us are just too darn stubborn to stop believing in it. That thur Proverbs quote is good, but a little too simple for my tastes. Here's one from a Carbon Leaf song that adds a little more to it: “The wisest advice to me that I didn't teach was to lock up your heart but keep the key within reach.” I also like this one, from Live: “Brother let your heart be wounded, and give no mercy to your fear.” Easier said than done, but still encouraging.

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