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There seems to be a frequent misconception that vulnerability is a form of weakness. It is not, it is actually a sign of great strength. One definition of vulnerable is, “capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt.”

One must consent to being vulnerable, one must submit, yield, surrender, and actually risk being wounded or hurt. Capable of…

When one is unwilling to be vulnerable, I call it being walled off. That’s not intended as an insult, it’s simply a state of being that makes me think of castle walls and moats with alligators in them. When one is walled off they are behind a protected fortress, like a castle.

Most people wall themselves off from something, wear masks or hide some part of themselves from the world. It’s a defensive and protected mode, often rooted in fear, rational, reasonable, fear. Being vulnerable is usually painful and therefore rather illogical. You have to be slightly insane to think, “awesome, this is going to be extremely painful”…..and run towards it with enthusiasm. Especially crazy if you’ve done it several times before and the results were always painful.

Another misconception about vulnerability is that it is neediness, dependance, powerlessness, a somewhat child like state. We tend to think of emotional basket cases,  people you have to walk on eggshells around, fearing triggering a breakdown. Venetian glass. That’s not vulnerability, it’s fragility. It’s simply another way of walling yourself off. People tend to give you a wide birth if they think you’re about to come apart at the seams.

I’m thinking of first loves and teen-age angst. Kids discover their first crush and think, What an awful feeling. This is a Divine joke! The world simply cannot be this unfair. This is unpleasant and cruel! Most of us recover somewhat, adapt and adjust, but that awareness that we are vulnerable to experiencing great pain generally stays with us. If there’s been too much wounding and we aren’t able to process it all, we tend to wall ourselves off, do what we can to protect ourselves from a repeat performance.

So why would anybody in their right mind practice the fine art of being vulnerable? Of voluntarily embracing the idea of being, “capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt?”  Because that is how you build a closer relationship with other people, with God, and with yourself.  That is how you create intimacy and feel connected to others and your Creator. There are no shortcuts, no way around it, you simply have to go through the pain to get to the other side of it. You have to be prepared, to have enough resources, to have the strength to draw upon to know you’re going to survive, even if you’re crushed. Most likely you will be crushed at some point.  Even in the most loving relationships, people will often stomp on each others vulnerability, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not.

There’s a paradox woven in there, in the process of surrendering to the reality of our own vulnerability, we discover our genuine power. There is something nearly akin to invincibility in knowing you can be wounded, crushed, flattened…and still survive. That’s a place of fearlessness and great strength.

Perusing the love and angst blogs the other day, really drove home the idea that men and women are very different, but we share the same issues, just manifested in different ways. The men I was reading were all convinced they needed to be rocks, impervious, not vulnerable, or women wouldn’t be attracted to them. I don’t know any women that like impervious rocks, indifferent, emotionally detached. What women really like to see is evidence of strength, and being capable of being wounded, vulnerable, crushed, but still standing tall and intact. That’s a powerful state of being. That’s an attractive state of being.

Women seem to have their own issues with vulnerability. I was a bit amused reading women yesterday because I recognize the same deceptions in myself. Often we think we are being vulnerable, when we are not. We are really being so tough, impervious, unwilling to risk being wounded, walled off. You see evidence of this in our back up plans. I’m willing to be vulnerable…I’m just going to make sure I have a good education, a separate bank account, lots of emotional support from my girlfriends, a distrustful attitude, and a color coded list of domestic chores so I can keep score….just in case anything goes wrong. We’re often in total defense mode, men are the enemy, man the battle stations and protect yourself.

Kind of interesting, both men and women really seem to crave intimacy, closeness, communion with another person, interconnectedness with our co-workers, our jobs, our communities, but so many of us fear the vulnerability and the risk that goes along with that.  Love is simply one of those things that requires you to relinquish  control. You can’t have it and be walled off from it at the same time. This applies to all forms of love, romantic love, Godly love, maternal love, brotherly love. It hurts, there’s going to be suffering involved, but walling yourself off from love is the most tragic kind of suffering of all.

One last thing, these observations didn’t come to me from being wise and having good insights, I was blindsided by them and caught completely unaware. Seriously, dumber than a box of rocks. What never ceases to amaze me is how I accidentally stumbled down the right path. I don’t really believe in accidents or coincidences, but I certainly do believe in blind and befuddled sheep, stumbling along bemused, having no idea where the path is leading…….