I love to talk to Erika about vulnerability and love. How those two topics are intertwined and inseparable. Erika knows better than most how flawed I am. So you all please take these following words in a spirit of humility. I hope to encourage myself others to practice showing love and vulnerability by sharing what I think it means to be vulnerable, why it matters, and two examples of people who practice it well. This topic is so important to me, I am nervous that I am not up to that task. But then I remember what I am writing about and I find strength. So here we go…
Vulnerability. What does it mean? It’s a pretty vague word that gets thrown around a lot. To be vulnerable actually means to open yourself up to suffering. To be vulnerable is a prerequisite to love. Why is it good to open ourselves up to suffering? Suffering is something many people, far more intelligent than I, do not agree on but let me throw in a C.S. Lewis quote to help me explain.
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.
We can choose as C. S. Lewis tells us to be closed off and keep our hearts safe from love, or we can be vulnerable and love openly. Loving openly is painful. We are human and as Erika put it in her post on learning how to love– we do not know how to love one another perfectly and so we damage each other. When you choose to love your spouse, family, friends…you are accepting that they will hurt you and you will hurt them because you neither one of you loves perfectly. C. S. Lewis shows very clearly through his coffin example how damaging it is to avoid love and vulnerability. Yes, you will become strong by keeping your heart safe. Do you want an impenetrable heart? I would like to be sensitive to the suffering of others. I talked about this sensitivity in my post on beauty. It is important, I think, to have this sensitivity cultivated. How else will we know when our friends need extra support, how else will we see that someone snapping at us needs love? A quick caveat- of course I am not advocating for naively opening your self up to abuse. Keep reading to see what I do mean.
When we choose to show vulnerability we are strong in ways not traditionally thought of as strength. To be strong does not have to be loud or aggressive. It does not only mean the toughness of a soldier. Just as strong as the soldier is the family that is left behind. Different people show their strength in varying ways. I have found that my strength is a quieter variety. It takes strength to react calmly to someone’s anger. This is showing love. Of course, there is a balance to this love. “Tough love” is important too- walking away and staying firm in your principles need to be employed here also. Do not let yourself, in the name of loving the other well, stay in a bad or dangerous relationship or friendship.
Mara and Danny Kofoed are the real experts on vulnerability and love and write extensively in their blog about how to love others and be vulnerable. Their blog has been a constant encourager in my life. I would highly recommend spending some time getting lost on there. I stumbled upon A Blog About Love about five years ago and immediately got swept up in their beautiful love story. Go check it out, it’s unbelievable sweet. As I continued to read, I was struck by their idea of vulnerability and love always. I read the how to be vulnerable articles and started to apply them. I can honestly tell you that practicing how to love those around me better has changed my life. It is so much more joyful than reacting in anger to hardships.
I found another really inspiring example a few weeks ago, this podcast by Laura Munson. It fit perfectly into the topic of choosing love and peace in the face of adversity. Munson wrote this essay when her marriage was failing. Her husband came to her after years of marriage and told her that he didn’t love her anymore and probably never had. I can imagine myself reacting through sobbing and so much anger. Laura didn’t react that way, instead she was calm and peaceful and was able to help her husband get through a rough patch in his life that had nothing to do with her and their marriage. I am sure that Laura was incredibly hurt at first and she showed an amazing amount of strength to rise above those first reactions of anger to show love to her husband. A fascinating example of Mara and Danny’s same beliefs being used successfully. Keep in mind, if you listen, that besides the practice of loving someone in pain that it’s not really about her husband ever, it’s about her and her children’s peace and happiness. Laura’s strength is what I strive for- she uses her strength to love those around her.
My post summarized so many aspects of vulnerability and love. I plan to follow this post with some practical suggestions on how we can all show vulnerability in our lives. This topic is hard, it takes courage. I by no means have exhausted the conversation. Many people may think my viewpoint is naive. If you have any questions or wish to push back about anything I have said, let me know. I would love to expand for you or point you to A Blog About Love or just maybe modify my thinking.
I also hope I have helped you and others to recognize a quieter strength in yourself-vulnerability.
What are YOUR thoughts? Comment below. Do you agree or disagree with me on anything? I’d love to re-evaluate anything that you disagree with.