In Our Independent Culture, Vulnerability = Weakness
In normal life, we seek to avoid vulnerability at all costs. In fact, as author Daniel Taylor notes, “the great bulk of human activity of every kind aims at lessening [our] vulnerability.” Quite often, this is because we haven’t let God come into the deepest parts of ourselves, where the imperfect and dark and hurt parts of us hide. Richard Rohr, writer and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, calls this the “‘the inner room’ where Jesus invites us, and where things hide ‘secretly’ (Matthew 6:6).”
What’s wrong with being vulnerable?
Why do we guard this inner room with such vigilance? It’s vulnerable, and vulnerability reminds us of our mortality, our inability to sustain ourselves, and the reality that we are not as indestructible as we pretend to be. In our culture, vulnerability equals weakness, and weakness exposes us in ways we find unacceptable. Indeed, we have all already been hurt in our lives back when we had no ability to protect ourselves and, for whatever reasons, those charged with our care could not or did not keep us from harm.
At first, holy vulnerability is a scary place.
You might feel alone and exposed. Few people are willing to dip a toe in these waters, let alone dive in headfirst. So, why would we allow ourselves to be open to such harm? And why would we do it intentionally?
We each have hurts that are so far down, so embedded, so delicate and sensitive that we can hardly bear the idea of ever allowing them to surface. And this is to say nothing of the pain that is so buried we could not name it even if we tried. But when our wounds are unbandaged, exposed, and examined in the presence of our loving God—Father, Son, and Spirit—they can be healed. Jesus is beckoning you into a place where you will ultimately come to feel at home, safe and cared for, loved and whole.
To say yes to the invitation into holy vulnerability requires emotional courage.
As you walk around in it, you may feel a need to escape and return to where you feel it is safe. Reliving traumatic experiences, confronting failures, and sitting in the discomfort of shame, anxiety, and fear can be agonizing and exhausting. And so, as you enter into holy vulnerability, let me be the first to say, “It’s okay. Take a break.” Be gentle with yourself as you would with a close friend. God’s invitation doesn’t expire.
The alternative to holy vulnerability is unholy leakage.
You know, that thing that happens when you are afraid, ashamed, or anxious, and instead of facing the reality of what you’re experiencing, you just kind of spill it on everyone around you—usually your spouse, kids, or closest friends. Words intended to be lighthearted strike a sore spot, and an intimate dinner becomes a battlefield. An impending trip to your childhood home or family triggers anxiety that turns into unexplained impatience with your kids. An encounter with your scale or mirror or pair of jeans sends you into a spiral of withdrawal and self-hatred. An unknown hurt compels you to engage in well-worn destructive behaviors that you end up regretting.
Together, we’re going to map a path out of unholy leakage and into holy vulnerability—and that path is through intentional spiritual practices that open us to God’s work. I’m hoping that when you hear “spiritual practices for the broken, ashamed, anxious, and afraid,” you feel something deep within you nodding in agreement, saying, Yes. That is me. I want to meet God in the middle of my pain. These practices aren’t for the spiritually elite—they’re for me.
I want to clarify: When I say “broken, ashamed, anxious, and afraid,” I am pointing to the aspects of these things that we all experience as part of the human condition.
Many people are dealing with more severe manifestations that require significant professional help or recovery programs; I myself have needed counseling and medication for anxiety at various points. Needing that kind of intervention in no way reflects weakness of faith or determination or anything else. I’m not offering medical opinions; I’m speaking to the struggles that run through all our lives and where God longs to meet us in them.
My new book, Holy Vulnerability, explores six spiritual practices to open us to God’s healing and transformation. This four-week Journey to Vulnerability will introduce you to the first three practices.
These practices may not be what you expect or what you envision when you think about intentional spiritual work. But I assure you—as we step out in holy vulnerability, God will meet us there. These practices aren’t for those uber-mature people who have it all together and have gaping holes in their daily schedules. They are for us, people in the middle of stuff with families and jobs and difficult stories. They are designed to help us penetrate the illusions we have and get in touch with what is real.
One thing to know about the practices we’re going to explore together is that they are bodily—in other words, they require something more than thinking. They require action, and as you go along, the amount of action they require increases. This is on purpose because the more our bodies are involved, the more fully we are offering ourselves to God for his healing and transformation.
You may need these practices today—or you can save them for later.
I once attended a retreat that began with the question “How many of you are exhausted?” Every hand in the room but mine shot up. I happened to be in a season that felt manageable and restful. The practices we learned were about recuperating, making space for rest, and learning to be content in silence and solitude. None felt particularly relevant to me at the time, but I knew I’d need them at some point, so I dove in and reminded myself that these were going to come in handy one day. The practices I learned during that retreat have been bringing me life and peace in God’s presence ever since.
If your soul thirsts for God and longs to be taken into his presence, join me.
The journey into holy vulnerability and away from unholy leakage is not easy, but it’s what we need. We were made to be in and can flourish in God’s presence, so even in this time in history where sin and hurt still abound, there is goodness and healing and rest when we open ourselves and accept Jesus’ invitation to come and drink.
Reflection: In what areas of life are you most longing for healing?
Prayer: Father, our healer, we need you. Allow us to know your presence as we move into the places of deep vulnerability in our lives. We hold so much in our bodies and hearts and minds. Give us the courage to walk with you and expose these places to you for healing. Be gentle and kind to us—and most of all, grant us the privilege of encountering you.
Next week, we’ll learn more about surrendering our bodies. Along with my thoughts on this topic, I’ll offer a spiritual practice to get you started. I’m so glad we are doing this journey together.
Let’s keep the conversation going. Facebook @MomentsoftheSoul @navpresspublishing // #journeytovulnerability #holyvulnerability
 Daniel Taylor, The Myth of Certainty: The Reflective Christian and the Risk of Commitment (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 22
 Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (Cincinnati: Franciscan Media, 2011), xxi.
 This idea comes from Parker J. Palmer’s On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old (Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler, 2018), 57. He says that “contemplation is any way one has of penetrating illusion and touching reality.”