I just spent 45 minutes staring at a blinking line on my computer wanting something, anything, to come out, but I’m filled to the brim with emotion and unable to pour it out onto a page.
But, I’ve learned a lot about myself lately, and I can tell you that it’s fear that is holding me here staring at a blank page.
If there is something else that I am learning in a real and deep way recently it’s this: When life is scary it’s easier to hide.
It’s easier when faced with the choice of having to talk to people you haven’t talked to in a long time about why you moved back to your hometown after years abroad to avoid it and hide.
It’s easier to not go to places where you might run into people and be forced to talk about what your life is like, while trying to put on your best “I’m fine” face when you’re crumbling underneath.
It’s easier to stay in the shadows, isolate yourself, because talking about how you’re a complex human being, full of light and dark, just seems like too much. Too exhausting. Too scary. Too shameful.
It’s easier but it’s not better.
You know what is better? Vulnerability.
There is a lot to unpack when you talk about vulnerability and it feels so counterintuitive to everything we are taught about how to survive in the world. All you have to do is watch Planet Earth and watch some unsuspecting antelope meet its end at the merciless hands of a prowling lion (Or tiger or hyena or cheetah. I mean are antelopes at the bottom of the food chain here? Goodness.) to know that being vulnerable is seen as a liability not an asset.
It’s funny though, isn’t it? Maybe sad is a more appropriate word here. In hiding what we’re essentially doing is trying to protect ourselves, because life is scary!
You can put your heart out there and get burned. You can lose your job. You can get cancer. Someone you love can get in a car accident or make destructive choices or know just the right words to use that will send you spiraling either into a fit of rage and an abyss of sadness. Sometimes you can even hurt yourself.
And so, we protect ourselves from rejection, sadness, grief, and other emotions that cause us pain. We do this because we think in moving away from vulnerability we are making ourselves strong. Nothing can hurt us if we make ourselves strong. Strength is a highly valued attribute in our culture. While, I won’t argue that it’s a valuable attribute, I will argue that what makes someone strong isn’t their ability to not be emotional.
I’m reminded of this great C.S. Lewis quote from his book, The Four Loves:
“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.”
Lewis is talking specifically about love here, but he makes a wider point about vulnerability. Without it, we cannot experience the things we want from life.
They all happen, truly happen, when you risk. Vulnerability requires risk, but we are all familiar with the idiom that with great risk comes great reward.
Many of you may already be familiar with Brené Brown’s research on vulnerability (and shame. Honestly that could be a series of posts in and of itself.) from her brilliant TED talk. She’s a wealth of information, a great writer, and gifted storyteller. In her book Daring Greatly, she says this:
“What most of us fail to understand and what took me a decade of research to learn is that vulnerability is also the cradle of the emotion and experiences that we crave. Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.
Does showing up to be with someone in deep struggle sound like a weakness? Is accepting accountability weak? Is stepping up to the plate after striking out a sign of weakness? NO. Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”
Friends, being vulnerable is one of the strongest things you can do with your life. And the reality is that it is the gateway to meaningful connection. Something every one of us desires.
I’m by no means perfect at it. In fact, I’ve spent a lot of my life hiding behind lies and not reaching out for help a long time ago when I really needed it. I still need the help. I’m not there, yet, but I believe that the weird, awkward, scary, sometimes (basically always)uncomfortable, even painful feelings that come with being vulnerable and being truthful, letting down your walls and being real with who you are, all the light and dark that exists within each one of us, is always better.
Without it we cannot experience the deepest desires of hearts to be loved, to be known, and to belong.
Yes, life is scary, but don’t hide! Be vulnerable and discover that in this counterintuitive act of leaving yourself exposed you find you make room for the best parts of life. Especially love.