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Christ-Focused Vulnerability

Vulnerability can be described as a “willingness to allow one’s weakness to be seen or known; willingness to risk being hurt or attacked.” In a mental image, I’ve heard it described as “giving somebody a knife, turning around, and trusting them not to stab you in the back with it.”

As I was thinking through 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, I made the connection that there is a difference between our traditional understanding of vulnerability, with what I think this short passage is evoking of a Christ-focused vulnerability:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (NIV)

Vulnerability, or the awareness and expression of weakness, is not the end in itself. When I read over this passage, the bit that stuck out to me most was “so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” I was tempted to first focus on that last line, “when I am weak, then I am strong.” But that’s when I realized that to focus on that line would be to be interpret these couple of verses from a very worldly perspective. The world tells us to be strong. To hide our weaknesses. Even when we show up at a job interview and are asked the question, “what is your greatest weakness?” I don’t think people actually want to hear your greatest weakness or vulnerability. I think they want to hear a polished, positive spin of a flaw that you have… demonstrating that you are a more authentic and honest candidate. From being in the interviewee’s shoes myself personally, I thought it was ironic that to demonstrate temporary weakness was to actually present myself as a stronger, more well-rounded candidate. It felt very much like a calculated vulnerability. In society, vulnerability or weakness is a temporary state on the way to becoming stronger or to overcome challenge.

Here, Paul isn’t boasting about his weaknesses as opportunities to grow or to learn. He says it points to Christ.

And that’s where I made the connection: because I’ve felt this power before. Vulnerability, when handled and expressed with no extraneous motive, has a profound way of changing both you and the people around you.

When I am vulnerable with someone, I am letting down the guise that the world teaches us to constantly put up—I no longer have to present myself in the best light, to communicate that I know what I am doing, or that I’m in control. I don’t have to have all my defenses up. I don’t have to expend energy getting people to think of me in a certain way; I am free to be myself. Fundamentally, from the Christian perspective, vulnerability is an invitation to remind yourself that you were not meant to be your own salvation. That responsibility for your own joy and happiness falls on a loving God, not your own person. That God designed humans to need and seek each other for meaning. The Christian God, who came to us in Jesus Christ as a baby, delighted in weakness. Celebrates it. The best Christian is not the one who is most self-sufficient or even loving towards others; the “best” Christian is the one who most acknowledges their need for God: “have mercy on me, a sinner.”

How does vulnerability change the people around you?

Think about the last time someone responded non-affirmatively to your question, “how are you?” Any response outside of “I’m good” or “I’m fine” usually gives you room for pause. “Not too great,” “Actually, I had a hard week,” or “Terrible” are all more interesting responses than a canned response. Faced with those kind of answers, the question suddenly becomes a little more meaningful. You are given an invitation to ask further and to connect beyond a mere pleasantry or cultural norm. You might stop to consider someone else outside of yourself. You might feel more positive about your own day. You might extend sympathy to someone in need. Those kind of moments can really change the trajectory of your day, and the monologue of your own thoughts and self-interests that you’ve had up until that point.

Think about the last time someone cried in your presence. How did you feel? Someone expressing vulnerability in your presence is actually a big gift and an honor: it says, I trust you. I’m willing to be myself around you. I’m voluntarily sharing this part of my life with you. And again, this is where I circle around back to the idea of Christ-focused vulnerability. I’ve had the most powerful experiences with receiving vulnerability when someone shares, not with the expectation for me to fix it, but simply because they choose to. Or because they share not to rush through to resolution, but to simply be honest and open before me and before God. When this happens, I am invited to join this person in their weakness. My heart is usually changed or moved in a way I couldn’t have brought about myself. I see a wider picture of humanity as I empathize and understand this other human being in a deeper manner. And then I have the opportunity to practice God’s love as I have been loved by God. Just as God’s greatest desire is to just be present with me, not to exact worship or devotion or even obedience, I get that same chance to listen to someone else without pressure or expectation to say the right thing, correct the situation, or to amend the situation. It leads me to a greater awareness of God and his character, and how human relationships ought to be.

Seeing weakness—true weakness, not temporary or calculated weakness—as something to be embraced by God, rather than something to be avoided, is extremely freeing. It runs so counter cultural to our own sensibilities and what has been engrained in us that it is also particularly hard to practice and to receive. But that kind of vulnerability—directed at God and not at a particular motive or purpose—has a power also to point at Christ’s way of healing and mending and surprising.

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