Aug 4, 2016

Being Vulnerable, Part 2

Beauty at a Threshold
Uncertainty has a way of haunting the mind, doesn’t it?

It can paralyze courage, entangle and drown joy like seaweed.

It is not that harboring questions is unhealthy; it is just that I must be wary of letting them wrap themselves around me too tightly.

Thinking of our earlier conversation (Read Part 1), I ask my friend, “What is the threshold at which being open or vulnerable is actually becoming whiny or overly needy?”

Note that whiny can be defined as “complaining, fretful, cranky” while needy can be defined as “impoverished; in need of practical or emotional support; distressed.” To need is not unhealthy, but there seems to be a point at which need becomes desperate, ungrateful, even fearful. There is a difference between being needy, which we all are at some level, and being overly needy.

“Vulnerability is not whiny or needy,” she replied. “It is only that way when you do not love yourself.”

I felt a lot of depth in that statement—truth. Her words align with something Bréne Brown said: “When you lose your capacity to care what other people think, you’ve lost your ability to connect. But when you’re defined by it, you’ve lost your ability to be vulnerable” (Q&A, “The Power of Vulnerability,” TED Talk 2010).

I needed to explore this truth further. For while my heart feels deeply—welcoming inspiration directly from the Holy Spirit or most often through another person—I also want to know it personally, tangibly: to embrace it while at the same time never fooling myself to think that all has been discovered or understood. There is always more to learn. Moreover, through reflection and study—seeking to know and understand—I aim to help cultivate that connection in a way that allows it to take root, grow, and blossom. I want to understand such truth because in deepening understanding there is not only a deepening internal love, including wisdom, but an overflowing expressive love: given, shared. Call it compassion in community, or passion in intimacy.

Overall, I have found that in seeking understanding—when my mind (or intellect) and heart converse, when they step closer and try to gaze unblinkingly into each other’s eyes, sometimes speaking with words, but more often sharing a momentary dance of light—love finds the strongest will. Call it resolve. Know it as meaning.

Yet, as with most ways worth following, or souls worth knowing, it can be uncomfortable, awkward, difficult—especially at first. That is often the nature of unfamiliarity. Vulnerability.

To my friend, I replied, “I know a fair amount of people who may be confused about vulnerability: who when encountering it in another, particularly when demonstrated by a male, basically dismiss it as weakness. ‘Man up’ they say, quick to call it ‘whiny.’ I wonder if such people cannot receive vulnerability from another because they do not love themselves, as you suggest, or because they are confused about what it means to be strong; or lack compassion . . . like grace, like mercy—or a mixture of that, or all of that. When offered to someone else, vulnerability is a gift, isn’t it? . . . If only it was more often received and shared as such.”

Maybe I am confused about what it means to be strong relationally. A lot of grace is needed—will be needed if love is to take root. That is certain. It must be the companion of courage, for fear prowls in the shadows of uncertainty. Too often, I am at risk of being chased by that uncertainty toward judgment and exclusion, especially directed at myself.

“What do you fear?” Another friend recently asked.

Such a simple, yet profound question.

In general terms, I realized that I fear being stuck in a cycle of receiving gracelessness, exuding foolish vigor, unchecked hope, of “falling in love alone.” I recognize that this is bound by both personal history and lies. Only, which of the two is meant to be overcome and which do I need to surrender?

Thus the way winds onward.

Surrender or Overcome?
Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.
—Miriam Beard

Scarred by what too often looks like failures, I sometimes find myself along the way of growth wanting to skip ahead to the next point of “failure” or resolution to get it over with. In other words, I am tired of enduring relived heartache. It is like I subconsciously want to avoid the pain of growth, of removing each layer protecting my heart. But as I have been encouraged (see Part 1), I need to surrender to it, to therein find beauty to let love grow.

Why is that so hard to do?

Almost contradictorily, whether as a defense or retaliation—or simply a manifestation of insecurity—the desires of my heart too often gaze and press ahead with an overly aggressive impulse. As they are too often at war with each another, the risk for overcompensation is ever present. To overcome pain is a necessary trait in many circumstances (e.g. distance running, certain leadership roles), but overcoming is not the same as surrendering, is it? There are aspects of life to overcome, but there are also places to surrender.

For me, the heart and mind must continue to explore this together. In the meantime, I know that I need more internal calm: to be reminded of simple truth—shown it tangibly. I need a burgeoning faith. Hallelujah, through the power of friendship, love—God—there can be peace, there will be peace, there is peace.

Beauty in Intimacy
There is sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness but of power. They are messengers of overwhelming grief and unspeakable love.
—Washington Irving

Layer by layer, defenses—weapons, shields, armor, cloth—are removed. This is the heart ultimately revealed, exposed to Love. Touched by it, affirmed, encouraged, it is enlivened to share love—unite with it. Intimacy. At least, that is possible (though tragically rare by most accounts). Still, God begins the good work: the removal of my bloody, dusty, dented and broken protection. As a person, in the flesh, Jesus Christ, He defines it in Word and deed (physical sacrifice), gives his Holy Spirit as the ever-present potential for understanding and intimacy. This is the foundational gift of love on which I choose to stand. It lifts my compassion and my passion.

I further nurture such love with those few trusted people who affirm and awaken it while also gently helping keep it exposed in vulnerability (friendship). While this can be uncomfortable, painful even, it is the caress of love as well—like massaging the knots from shoulders that have carried a burden for far too long. It is never easy. But it is calming and beautiful. It is real.

There can be no shortcuts to intimacy. The road is hard: it winds, climbs, falls, and crosses dangerous spaces of the soul. Fear beckons me to retreat, or to stop and be satisfied with a shadow or echo of the truth. To share love, however, to expand the scope of my life to include another requires some sacrifice. I have to surrender some of my will, my control—to share it, inside and outside. There is freedom in this kind of surrendering. There is wholeness in selflessness, empowerment in service, gifts in giving. In my weakness, I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

Bréne Brown said that vulnerability is the willingness to let go of who you should be to allow yourself to be who you are. It is about the willingness to say “I love you” first, to do something when there are no guarantees, to invest in a relationship when it may not work out (“The Power of Vulnerability,” TED Talk 2010). I believe that it begins with God, deepening when I personally accept His love. I understand that to be complimented by a community of friends. That it is ultimately an intimacy to be shared in mysterious commitment with one other. That is my faith, at least, an upward spiral of growth and meaning: again and again, surrendering so that love may deepen that infinite well of goodness in my heart.

May it be so for you as well. Share it. Celebrate it. Stand in awe of the wondrous beauty that the eyes will begin to see more clearly when light is allowed to shine on them. That is a gift. Hallelujah.

I conclude with a quote that a friend recently shared with me, author unremembered:

“My idea of Love is that it is all-consuming. It is, quite simply, two people basking in each other’s glow for the other. Contrary to the common mentality of replaceable indifference in all things, Love is incredible, rare, and undeniably has no equal. It is not a commodity, a bargaining chip, a weapon, or D5 in the vending machine. You can’t steal it, buy it, manufacture it, use it up, replace it, or beg for it … however, if you have it, all you want to do is desperately give it. Falling in Love—that is, wholly subscribing to the belief that someone else loves you—is scary. Love already makes you a fool because you now see a part of world that nobody else sees, but the precipice that you find yourself on as this person calls to you makes you vulnerable to such pain that you would have otherwise not known.

“Falling in Love is one of the most maddening experiences a person can go through—where you truly doubt your own sanity at times. Previous experience has taught you that there is great danger in the mirage of Love. Of hallucinations created by the chemical synaptic misfiring in your brain. Of self-induced fabrications that you’re only seeing what you want to see. Of the possibility that this person, who you have already determined that you Love, is offering their Love for motives that are other than genuine. It is a rabbit hole unlike any other that transforms the reality you know into a world of uncertainty and dire confusion. Even the mere concept of Time bends away from its linear course as you fall in Love: a day can easily pass in the blink of an eye… and a single second can stretch into hours. Truly, the only thing more frightening than falling in Love is… feeling like you’re falling in Love alone.

“The world continues to convince us of its harsh realities. Society encourages self-sufficiency—independence is seen as a sign of strength and Power is in the grip of the person who cares the least. Commonly, the weak are seen as those who willingly allow others to cause damage… to be trampled and discarded as trash. To stand there and be mocked… laughed at… publicly humiliated for baring the most private, softest underbelly of their soul for something as antiquated and childish as Love. The world wants blood. Society cheers for the last person standing… not the lifeless corpse lying in the dust. The fool who walked into the arena without armor or a shield… who chose to not run away… who willingly sacrificed themselves for nothing but an abstract, intangible idea. At most, they’re pitied. Granted clemency for holding to an ideal. But never heralded as champions. To the victor go the spoils… the chance to walk away unscathed, and live to fight another day.

“In my perspective of Love: the world is fucked and Society is wrong. The weak are those who don the heaviest armor and wield the largest weapon. Who invest in tactics and strategies of war. The peddlers who maliciously attempt to buy Love in exchange for their goods and services. The corrupt who manipulate and willfully deceive in effort of gaining leverage. The false friends who pour poison in your ear under the guise of support. These are the ones who have already lost and given up—too weak and too scared to let go of their mediocre Life where they have control. These are the ones who will convince you that Love is not worth it. That there are easier ways to get it and it is plentiful in supply. D5 in the vending machine. They show no mercy because mercy has never been shown to them. It is they who I pity. Fearful cowards. Love is reserved for those who know Fear intimately—they know what’s coming, have tended to old wounds, picked themselves up and will defiantly face Fear again. Love is reserved for the Strong. The courageous. The ones who will continue to give Love at the risk of abuse. Who show no regret, no cowardice, no flinching. Because they know Love. They know mercy. They know that the reward is far greater than the pain and they are willing to have their heart destroyed in hopes to experience this silly, childish, antiquated ideal. They are the champions. They are the truly Strong.”