Monday, February 23, 2015
The Willingness to Be Vulnerable
A married woman once asked me what I would call the dysfunctional behavior of her husband. I responded, “I would call it sin.” She paused, sat back, and didn’t say a word. Of all the things she, her girlfriends, the world and psychology had called her husband’s behavior, nobody had ever called it sin. But sin is what it was. She learned its definition that day. And it opened the door to her being able to not only understand it, but acknowledge it in her own life as well.
For many of us, a saving faith in Jesus Christ comes down to one thing: will we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, to be vulnerable before Him? Will we allow and admit, in vulnerability to Christ, that there is such a thing as sin, and that we are not exempt?
In order to see our sin, the solid doors of stoicism must be splintered and the terror of being found out must go.
Stoicism puts up a false front by re-directing our efforts to being good at something else: exercise, triathlons, charitable giving, education, high job position and volunteer work.
Stoicism also “preserves” marriages by one or both spouses putting in longer and longer hours at work, full immersion in the children’s lives and activities, and a weak hope that the marriage will just keep on keepin’ on of its own will. It’s a stiff-upper lip way of living. If we just keep telling our self everything is fine, then it must be true. Vulnerability cannot enter in at any cost. We’ve recovered from enough pain in life by building a fortress around our inner life: we’re not going to ever risk it crashing down.
When I talk of vulnerability, I don’t mean sentimentality. Many people who have built impenetrable protections around themselves can be surprisingly sentimental.
Sentimentality is safe, you see. Novels and movies like The Bridges of Madison County, for example, which ought to make us sick to our stomachs, find an all-too willing audience in people who want to keep everything on a superficial level. The saccharine, sorry love affair in that novel appeals to the person who has so over-corrected in life they don’t even know what legitimate love is or feels like. Life has never measured up to the fantasy they imagined, so they go through the motions day in and day out, and when a gooey love story appears, they eat it up like cotton candy. But sentimental love isn’t legitimate love, in fact it’s very self-serving (to see its opposite, go to 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 where we find that love is not “self-seeking,” “proud” and “easily angered” but is “patient,” “rejoices with the truth” and “always perseveres”).
Biblical love is not found in pre-marital sex and sexual affairs (and will never condone either no matter how “right it feels,”—which is sentimentality at its worst). Biblical love does not ignore ones spouse, and does not fantasize about another (either real or fictional). Our marriages will never get better by bringing in an imposter. But many men, through pornography, bring in imposters, as do many women who endlessly read and watch romance books and films (in which romance almost always involves some sort of sentimental illicitness).
Secret worlds and adult fantasy is a distraction that diverts us off the path of Godly love onto the unfulfilling and often addicting road of worldly lust and/or sentimentality.
So the vulnerability I’m talking about is not sentimental. It is also not the navel gazing sharing that stagnates in many recovery and other small groups.
Vulnerability, on the contrary, means being open to God’s honest assessment of our condition, as painful as that might be. It means being open to the wounds of sin, overcome by a contrite spirit. And through the pain of realizing our deplorable condition, in vulnerability that we lack any solution of our own, we repent and ask God to forgive us and change our ways.
Vulnerability, then, is the humble admission that I need God.
Vulnerability is what allows us to let God love us. Vulnerability is what then allows us to love ourselves. Vulnerability is then what allows us to love others out of a Godly love, in a Godly way, and not in a warped, twisted, lustful, worldly, sentimental way.
The vulnerability that opens the door to God is the vulnerability I opened this post with. It’s the vulnerability to first ask the question, “What is the problem? What is my problem?” “What would you call it?” And second, it’s to accept the answer: Sin.
“but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” James 1:14
“Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” James 4:8
“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” James 4:10
“Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.” 1 Peter 2:11
“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” 1 Peter 2:23-25