Why do we struggle with vulnerability so badly? I find myself constantly coming up against the vulnerability of mystery in my life: the mystery of why I was single for so long (it felt interminable at the time), the risk of pregnancy going badly wrong, the insanity of chronic illness, and the way God sometimes seems silent when I need him the most.
Apart from the fact that vulnerability is pain, and besides the great interpersonal risk involved in showing someone else who I really am, I also struggle with vulnerability because of perfectionism. As a recovering perfectionist (Enneagram One, for those into that sort of thing), I wrestle with the internal notion of not having it all together.
Which is, you know, normal. Because I’m human.
But I am still haunted by the dreaded Shoulds, the voices in my head that tell me I Should have this worked out by now, I Should be ‘over it’, I Should be able to solve this on my own without relying on anyone else. The Shoulds cut me no slack whatsoever.
I am still haunted by the dreaded Shoulds.
Can anyone relate?
My antidote for perfectionism is kindness. For me, they are polar opposites. Kindness is the opposite of beating myself up, criticising myself constantly, and telling myself I am not good enough. Kindness is what I need. When I am struggling, feeling vulnerable, wrestling with the mysteries of life and faith, it is not more pressure or rules or advice I need—it is kindness.
Kindness is what helps me to leave things half-finished when I have simply run out of time and energy.
Kindness coaches me through things that are confronting or overwhelming.
Kindness helps me accept help from others.
Kindness reminds me that God’s grace is for me too.
Kindness helps me catch my breath.
My antidote for perfectionism is kindness.
It will take me the rest of my life to learn true self-kindness, but what has helped so far is to picture Jesus as kind. Jesus empathises with us out of his own vulnerability. He understands our pain and confusion. He was betrayed on the earth by those he loved most. He was mocked, beaten, rejected, crucified. Through his pain, he entered our pain with us, the pain of humanity. He still joins us in those painful places.
Jesus is waiting to welcome us in our vulnerability. He can hold our pain, sickness, the agony of mystery. He does not shy away from difficulty but sits with us right in the middle of it. He doesn’t always take the pain away, but I am learning he will never abandon us to it.
Henri Nouwen says, ‘Jesus dwells in your fearful, never fully received self. When you befriend your true self and discover that it is good and beautiful, you will see Jesus there. When you are most human, most yourself, weakest, there Jesus lives.’*
‘When you are most human, most yourself, weakest, there Jesus lives.’
Jesus is safe. He is kind. Invite him into your pain. He wants to embrace you—all of you.
I’m still not sure about welcoming my own vulnerability. But I know Jesus does—and that makes all the difference.
Do you struggle with vulnerability? Perhaps you have encountered pain and mystery in singledom, childlessness, chronic illness or other struggles? How has God met you in those vulnerable spaces? Share your story. Let’s have a countercultural conversation.
*Henri M. Nouwen, 1996, The Inner Voice of Love, Random House, New York, United States of America.