I listened to a TED talk this week about vulnerability and shame, and it seemed like the perfect follow-up to my previous post about why I’m growing increasingly willing to be vulnerable. To some, it is a detestable idea- vulnerability- something to be avoided at all cost. But I think vulnerability matters greatly. I’m not convinced that life’s truly worth living without it.
Here’s a summary of what I took away from this talk. I took notes. 🙂
Brene Brown, a researcher and social worker, starts with the premise that, across various disciplines related to the study and care of people, it is clear that connection is the fundamental need of people, that connection is essentially why we’re here.
Her research has focused on the study of shame, which she describes as the fear of disconnection, or the fear of not being good enough for connection. Brown differentiates it from guilt (healthy) which says “I made a mistake.” Shame attacks your worth, says, “I am a mistake.” It’s something we all experience to some degree, unless we’re sociopaths. And unfortunately, this sense of fear of disconnection actually undermines connection.
But some people experience less shame than others. Six years of studying these concepts and how real people experience them showed that what the people who are able to move away from shame and connect deeply with others have in common is the belief they are worthy of connection, love, belonging. When they separated out those people who have this sense of worthiness and studied them, one of the primary things they had in common was this:
The original definition of courage when it entered the English language was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. Brown calls these people the “wholehearted.” They defeat shame and find connection, the thing we all seek, because they have the courage to be imperfect and to be seen as they really are. To be vulnerable.
It’s counter-intuitive. It feels to us like vulnerability is what lands us in the midst of shame. But true connection with others is result of authenticity, and you can’t have authenticity without vulnerability. If you follow these assertions to their end, they suggest that perhaps you cannon have much happiness or meaning in your life without vulnerability. Even to make a substantial contribution to the world in the realm of your career field requires vulnerability, because to put your work out there and risk rejection or failure is vulnerability.
These “wholehearted” people that they studied embraced vulnerability. They reported that they believed that the risk of vulnerability was worth it, and that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. It’s not that they see vulnerability as particularly comfortable, but they don’t view it as excruciating, either. Just necessary. Objectively essential. Yes, vulnerability can dredge up thoughts of shame and fear and the struggle for worthiness, but it’s also at the heart of of joy, creativity, belonging, love. We can’t anesthetize the hard feelings without starting to numb all our feelings, the good ones too. Without vulnerability, we’re less alive than we could be. And I want to be thoroughly alive.
I think this all relates a lot to faith. One of the most central concepts contained in the pages of Scripture is that what really matters is relationship. With God, and with people. I believe the fear of vulnerability doesn’t just hinder our connection with people, it tragically holds us at a distance from God. It keeps us either just going through the motions with him or walking in the other direction completely, because coming to him feels like the ultimate vulnerability. Aren’t his standards higher than anybody else’s? And that stuff we can hide from others, he knows. We know we’re supposed to feel okay about ourselves, so we try to maintain an image, a feeling, a belief that we are okay. To confront those vulnerabilities before God would brings us face to face with our shame, face to face with the fear that we’re not good enough, the fear that God will reject us. And if the thought of being rejected by people scares us, the thought of being rejected by the one who made us is too much to bear. Wouldn’t our okay-ness crumble to ashes? Wouldn’t we be utterly not okay?
I’ve got some good news for you:
“The Lord will not reject his people; he will not abandon his special possession.” -Psalm 94:14
“For the sake of his great name the Lord will not reject his people, because the Lord was pleased to make you his own.” 1 Samuel 12:22
“Those who know your name trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you.” Psalm 9:10
“For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Psalm 51:16-17
“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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.’ 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
All that was not okay, he has made okay for those who believe him and love him, those who let him into their broken places. Hebrews 12 says that Jesus endured the cross, scorning it’s shame. He defeated shame. He defeated death, of all kinds. He defeated not-okayness. Why? Because he loves us.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:4-5
You are loved. You are accepted. Freely. You don’t have to earn a thing.
Again, all this is counter-intuitive. You need to show your faults in order to truly be accepted? You need humility to know a true sense of worthiness? A lot of things are counter-intuitive in his Kingdom. I think it’s pretty awesome.
We don’t need to construct a sense of worthiness ourselves and try to hold it together. The One who created you made you worthy, has said you were worth it all along. Worth creating. Worth redeeming. Worth pursuing. Worth everything he has.
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Psalm 139:13-16
The book of Romans tells us that nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Except that the Bible does suggest one thing that can separate us from him: Us. He doesn’t force his way into our hearts. Oh, he’ll still love us, desperately, still be working in our lives, trying to woo us to himself. But he will only enter a heart into which he is invited. There was never richer company. Never a heart more fully alive than the heart in which he dwells. But it is only the vulnerable heart, not the heart hardened by pride or fear, that can let him in.
Would you invite him in?
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Revelation 3:20