"Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge."
- easily hurt or harmed physically, mentally, or emotionally
- open to attack or damage
(And this is a virtue?? Lord? 'Splain.)
I know I must choose to be open. It's a choice. Open as in honest, but also open as in receptive. Open as in not closed like a fist. Open as in bare, as in unprotected.
No wonder the church has embraced this word "vulnerable" when it extols the virtue of honesty. I feel vulnerable when I am honest about the most fragile parts of myself. It's a scary nakedness, but it's a nakedness we're called to.
"This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin."
-1 John 1:5-7
Walking in the light = living honestly. Open.
It's scary, but worth it, the word says. There's freedom in the light, and fellowship. Community, communion, all those wonderful "together" words. That wonderful "one another" that we all crave. Walking in the light is also consistent with my identity, if I belong to Christ. Because He is in the light. If He's out there and I'm hiding in the dark, how can He and I walk together? We can't.
Sometimes, though, I have to preach that to myself even though it feels like cardboard on my tongue. It sticks and tastes like nothing. Sometimes when I say that 1 John stuff to myself, I'm saying it purely in faith. It feels flat and not real. What feels real is my absolute terror. Sometimes the scary looms much, much larger, and all I can think about is how much I want something to hide behind. Sometimes it seems like pure lunacy, this "vulnerable." Seems so raw and painful, and who the hell wants to feel that exposed? Exposed to all the stuff Merriam-Webster so helpfully put in their definition of this "vulnerable": harm, attack, damage. Yeah, no thanks. Been there, done that, and it hurts, and no thanks.
So that Psalm verse popped into my Facebook newsfeed this morning, and I latched on as if for dear life. God is my refuge. My hiding place, says Psalm 32:7. That is good news when I feel such a need to hide someplace safe. It makes me think of who God really is. Is God the kind of god who would save me only to throw me to lions so I could be ripped apart? Sometimes this "vulnerable" feels like that. Like I could be ripped apart. Sometimes life feels like being ripped apart.
But somehow the God who beckons me to walk with Him in the light is the same God who says He is my hiding place. I can wrap myself up in Him and be protected even as I peel more layers off of myself and take brave steps into the blinding light. Both things. True at the same time. How does he both peel off the painful bandage and BE a bandage for me? Cut into me like an expert surgeon, yet heal and protect me from damage? Imperfect metaphors (sorry, people, it's all I got today).
Another way to put it is that there's a difference between being hurt and being harmed (this isn't my idea; I heard it in a sermon and have never forgotten it, it was so stunningly clarifying). There are plenty of things that both hurt us and harm us. The front-page headlines this week are pointing to wicked people who are causing plenty of both. But hurt and harm aren't the same thing. There are things that harm (cause damage) but may not hurt (feel painful). Many addictions are plenty harmful but actually feel good in the short term. The flip side is also true. Maybe something can feel painful and yet be good for me. Surgery. Exercise (if you're a couch potato like me).
I think the sting of the "vulnerable" falls here. Again, typing this feels kind of like cardboard, but in faith I need to camp out here. The sting is real, the pain is real (so real, sometimes). But there is good on the other side. There has to be, otherwise God is a sadist, and He and I have been through enough together that I know that's not true. He's not out to harm me. He doesn't delight in causing me pain. He delights in bringing healing. He delights in being a hiding place (and who needs a hiding place if they're settling for the fake safety of the dark?). He delights in making himself known.
There's so much more I could write (like C.S. Lewis's wonderful analogy in Mere Christianity about how we are tin soldiers being slowly, painfully, turned to flesh, and how the part of us that feels the pain is the part that is dying and needs to die so we can truly live), but for a first blog post back, I think this is quite enough.