Fred Buechner once said “What we hunger for, perhaps more than anything else, is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else.”
Why do we fear it? Because to be known in our full humanness is to acknowledge our vulnerability.
Here I am. I will let you down and I will let me down too. Better, surely, to keep that truth under wraps?
And yet, as he continues, “It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing. It is important to tell our secrets too because it makes it easier for other people to tell us a secret or two of their own. ”
If I am able to be vulnerable, then you are too. And we can finally meet in honesty and not in some weird contest where we swap the “highly edited” versions of ourselves to the accompaniment of some cerebral applause-track.
The ability to be vulnerable is not sought after. It runs directly counter to a culture driven by success, power and the desire to look good in every conceivable way.
Think, alternatively, of the New Testament injunction to “Confess your sins to one another” (James 5:16). Before I’m comfortable with THAT, a few things have to happen. I have to trust the people to whom I will presently reveal myself, that they will not laugh, or scorn or belittle…. and that they will reciprocate too!
It’s scary, alone out there on the end of the long branch, saw in hand….
Second, I have to be comfortable with myself. Henri Nouwens wrote:
“The greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.” My dark side says, I am no good… I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned.”
The ability to be vulnerable necessitates an understanding of self-worth that lies deeper than the acknowledgement of one’s own weaknesses and faults.
It’s like the bedrock under the marshy ground. I am loved! I am accepted! This core principle lies behind Jesus’ insistence that the proper way to approach Father God is with the understanding of that Father-Son-Brother relationship. Love the Lord, love your neighbour, love yourself! Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts Jesus’ reminder that we are loved. Being loved constitutes the core truth of our existence.
And that’s the third component that enables me to be vulnerable. It is knowing that I am indeed loved. I am loved like a foolish child. I am loved like a new-born puppy, eagerly treading on its brothers and sisters to get to my mum, to feed and rest.
Lord, it requires no imagination at all for me to feel little or stupid, mean-spirited and self-obsessed. But it requires an enormous wrench of my normal way of thinking to imagine that you like me this way! It requires faith to understand that you are my Father in some true and fundamental way, so that I can properly be a child, a puppy, a much-loved creature.Give me the ability to be vulnerable, not so that I can luxuriate in my own deficiencies, but so that I can truly be your child; so that I can truly be myself, a human among humans, called to love and to be loved; to recognise that it really does start at this point.