Welcoming Vulnerability? 

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. 

4 thoughts on “Welcoming Vulnerability? 

  1. Thank you for sharing your heart in this post, Steph. Yes, vulnerability is scary when you’re a ‘recovering’ perfectionist! I have totally got the tour tee shirt from those gigs 😉 But Jesus so graciously helps us in our struggles and it’s in those moments we discover, not only something in ourselves but more importantly something more, something deeper in Who Jesus is and what He has done for us.
    Wendy x

    • Thanks Wendy, I believe I have that t-shirt too! Yes, I can relate to those moments of leaning on the grace of Jesus, and finally meeting him there – and our true selves too. I hope you continue to find grace and more grace waiting for you.

  2. Thanks for these great thought provoking comments Steph. I look forward to your regular blogs. As well as perfectionism and our inner critic at work, l think perhaps another layer historically is, as women we have always had to prove ourselves capable, intelligent and hide our weaknesses? I enjoy reading historical novels from the 1800s and recent themes have been about women fighting for the right to vote, to have a voice, access university courses/vocations like men and to not be shamed as ‘fallen women’ because they have been taken advantage of by men. Such contradictions and inequality of behavior and expectations between gender is often highlighted. Then there’s all the stigmas and nonsense surrounding chronic health and mental health conditions, that paint a picture of us somehow being weak, inferior and just needing to ‘toughen up’ so we don’t inconvenience anyone! So many negative attitudes to contend with, so thanks for being real and vulnerable in discussing this Regards Ros x

    • Thanks Ros! That’s a very interesting historical perspective on the ‘tough front’ that women might feel they have to portray, although I know of many men who suffer similar pressure for various reasons (such as the belief they have to be strong, tough, manly etc.). Good point about the stigma surrounding physical and mental conditions, Ros; such stigma is still quite prevalent in society, and I know I have certainly encountered that firsthand. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, I found them quite thought-provoking today!

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