Vulnerable

One of my favorite bloggers InsanityBytes wrote a comical and insightful essay the other day on relationships between men and women titled You Don’t Have to Lie To Me. There were so many good points in the article, but this one particularly grabbed my attention regarding the need for men to be vulnerable in a relationship:

“Nobody’s suggesting men must be all emotional and touchy-feely here, but if you can’t give something of yourself emotionally, how in the world can there even be any intimacy in a marriage?”

I agreed with her. But it took the majority of my ride home from work (it is a long ride, like two hours — don’t ask) to pinpoint what troubled me about the common perception of vulnerability in relationship we have, which InsanityBytes had effectively captured.

And then the light bulb went on: Vulnerability is not exactly the same thing as being “emotional and touchy-feely.” It can be. But vulnerability, in its strictest sense, is the ability to allow what is on the inside of us to be known to the outside world. Whether that manifests as emotional and touchy-feely or something else entirely depends on what is on the inside of us.

Granted, vulnerability can often be associated with being emotional and touchy-feely because, as a general rule (which I will be accused of being sexist for but at the moment do not care) women are much better at vulnerability than men are. So the vulnerability we often see modeled is coming from women. Further, vulnerability often is associated with weakness. That is, to be vulnerable is to be willing to open up about our struggles and insecurities. We tend to equate vulnerability with weakness.

But in the context of intimacy, vulnerability is so much more than this. It is, first of all, about sharing all that we are on the inside, not just sharing our weakness. Further, I would argue — just as I did recently that women are unique in how they lead — men are unique in how they are vulnerable. In response to InsanityBytes I put it this way:

I think we must make a distinction between men being vulnerable and men being vulnerable in the way women might be vulnerable. Jesus was (and is) both vulnerable and strong at the same time. We men in our vulnerability should be willing to show our weakness but also willing to show our deep passion and strength as well, something that is rarely modeled.

So there are two parts here, actually. The first is that men being vulnerable in weakness will look different than women being vulnerable in weakness; I say this only because no man necessarily wants to be accused of being “emotional and touchy-feely,” but all men have a need to be vulnerable.

Secondly, part of men being vulnerable is not only to admit weakness but also express strength in their vulnerability. Said differently, vulnerability is not just about weakness: It is in fact one of the greatest strengths in a relationship that men have to offer.

Most men, however, do not know how to be both strong and vulnerable at the same time. In fact, for many men strength is the exact opposite of being vulnerable.  Being strong means being stone-cold and emotionally distant. Men do not cry, do not show feeling, and do not get “emotional” not so much because they are incapable of it, but because they believe it is a sign of weakness. By this logic, to be strong is to be without emotion. Which, needless to say, is not what we see modeled in the Person of Jesus Christ.

But there is a reason for this: What often resides within many men in this fallen world is brokenness. So for most men, to be vulnerable at all is to run the real risk of showing weakness. The simplest solution for many of us men, therefore, is to cut ourselves off emotionally: Be tough on the outside, but unknown — and unknowable — on the inside, in order to maintain the appearance of strength.

This of course has its consequences. As InsanityBytes points out, “the number one reason for divorce today actually amounts to women feeling emotionally abandoned.” I would like to suggest the reason women feel this way is because men have abandoned their emotions long ago, and with it the capacity to relate. Relationships, in other words, require intimacy.

I have this crazy theory about women as it pertains to men — and perhaps not so much a theory as an idea. It goes something like this: Women are a tangible reminder to men of the intimacy they have lost. Women are both a reminder and an invitation back to the place of intimacy they once shared with their Creator, and were made to share with others.

And I am convinced that it is only by returning to that place of intimacy that the real strength men possess can be made manifest — a strength they were made to demonstrate to their wives, to their children, and to rest the world.  A strength that does not merely dwell on the outside, but dwells deeply on the inside. A strength like Jesus demonstrates to us: Wide open and vulnerable, deeply passionate, unhindered by brokenness, and characterized by unyielding sacrifice.

Going through some of my belongings this week, I found a poem I wrote to my wife that  that touches on this subject, which I now share with you in closing. Be blessed — and may all of us learn the strength and power of vulnerability.


The Bottle

I wrote this message and, in a bottle, threw it from the shore
that you and I might live as one, not two, forevermore.

I take you not to merely have or you to merely hold.
I take you as a dwelling makes a shelter from the cold.

I bear you up as one might bear a pearl within one’s hands
that ends the weary traveler’s search throughout the oceans’ sands.

I place you in your rightful place: A setting for a stone
That with its underneath embrace its beauty might be shown.

And if beat down the elements upon our vessel’s prow
along our sacred journey home, I will absorb the blow.

For I am yours and you are mine, and we are one, not two.
The dreams this bottle now contains are not for me, but you.


Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

Separation

Can anything separate us from the love of God poured out for us through Christ Jesus?

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8)

It does not appear to be so. It is interesting in the above passage that the Apostle Paul finds it necessary to mention that not even life can separate us. Perhaps he has in mind life as in the opposite of death, but I like to think he has in mind “life” as in the daily grind of life, that place where we experience it. Not even what we experience in life, both good and bad, can separate us from God’s love.

Which is an astounding thought. Don’t take this the wrong way, but in many ways I have felt my life to be a complete failure. I have accomplished much, but I also feel I have failed at life in the most significant way possible, according to the only perspective that really matters: I have failed to live a life pleasing to God.

And I have come to this realization in the daily grind of life, where it is experienced. There, I have learned what stuff I am made of. And I have discovered it isn’t pretty. Like the Apostle Paul, I discovered with no small degree of anxiety that “in me, there is no good thing.” But unlike Paul, it has been hard for me to be okay with that. How can anyone be okay with that?

Growing up, I was always told that as long as I did my best, that was good enough. That is a good personal philosophy that produces a great work ethic. But somehow it does not work so well when we turn to the spiritual life. There is something that happens when we compare our lives to Jesus, knowing He is our example, that makes the wheels fall off “at least I am doing my best.” When God opens our heart and we see our motivations for what they really are, doing my best seems to lose all meaning. Doing my best actually becomes part of the problem.

But this I feel is part of the process, and in fact the beginning of the solution. The journey with God — unlike any other task we face — is not one where we work for God but rather God works in us. He is repairing us. And that process is not so much Him quickly fixing whatever keeps us from doing the things that please Him as it is understanding — despite whatever real failure in our lives we encounter, whether in plain sight or hidden from view —we are just as pleasing to Him.

Processing failure, I feel, is a critical part of my journey with God. For there is one thing that can separate me from the love of God, and it is myself: Particularly how I perceive my own failures. Does my failure, in the particular or general sense, change how I feel about myself? Am I still deserving of the very best God has to offer? Is He still extravagantly generous toward me if I feel I have failed to keep up my end of the bargain?

This is where an overactive work ethic, with all its good, can get us into trouble. Excelling in life is good, and God desires us to live fully-functioning lives where we accomplish great things. Because this is how He has made us to function. But if our ability to function becomes the criteria for our right to be accepted and loved, things begin to break down. The way it works in God’s kingdom is that first we are loved and accepted, then we function. In fact, we only function as we were truly designed to function to the extent we know we are loved.

I begin then to realize what God is really working on is not my ability to achieve but my capacity to be loved, even (and especially) in my failure. Nothing can separate me from the love of God. And I suppose in the final analysis, not even myself. For God simply loves me too much to keep me on the shores of failure when, in truth, an entire ocean of His extravagant love awaits me.


Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

The Christian Soul: Faith

The idea that the Christian life is essentially about relinquishing control may be something you are on board with, but the Bible-believing friend next to you may not be so sure. After all, where is “control” mentioned in the Bible? Did Jesus ever use the word “control”? Technically, no. But Jesus of course had much to say about repentance and uncompromising surrender.

But more importantly, the act of relinquishing control, in the way we are meaning it, goes by a different name in the Bible: It is called faith. Continue reading “The Christian Soul: Faith”

The Christian Soul: Principles

I wish to expand on the idea we introduced in our last post concerning the idea of control in the Christian life and outline five principles pertaining to how control — or rather our surrendering of control — determines our success in the Christian life.

But first, let’s connect some dots and briefly discuss how control relates to the other concepts we have discussed in this series. Simply put, control is the opposite of love. You may say hate is, and that is fine. But in the context of relationship, control is more its opposite than anything else. When we seek control in a relationship, we have ceased to love. Continue reading “The Christian Soul: Principles”

The Christian Soul: Control

It is God working in the soul to make it like unto Himself. Perfection is neither more nor less than the faithful cooperation with this work.
Jean-Pierre de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence

I came to the Lord in a rather unusual way. I was raised Catholic, and though Catholics are not necessarily known for having (or at least professing) a personal relationship with Jesus, this young Catholic stumbled into one quite unexpectedly. Continue reading “The Christian Soul: Control”