How hard is it to be vulnerable?
This is probably a rhetorical question since we live in a world where being vulnerable is not only nearly impossible but actually frowned upon. Not only does no one not want to know about your problems, chances are they don’t even really care! And so we have just become accustomed to keeping our problems and struggles to ourselves.
Personally I have always had an issue with vulnerability. I don’t know whether this stems from the fact that I grew up in a family dynamic that didn’t bode for much communication, or because I’m from a culture where sharing personal issues is downright taboo and depression is considered fictional. Or maybe it was because I grew up in an environment where there was already so much going on with everyone else that I just always felt like being vulnerable with people would only add more on to everyone’s already back-breaking load.
Maybe your reasons are different, but for whatever reason, we become conditioned to either deal with our problems ourselves, or hand them over to God. I mean, God forbid anyone should find out we are dissatisfied or struggling with anyone or anything in our lives! God forbid we cause anyone else unnecessary burden. God forbid our church family should find out that we have fallen into one sin or the other and can’t get up. You wouldn’t want your enemies (or even friends) to have the last laugh, right? And so we bottle up our cries for help and mask our pain and shame because we don’t want people to take advantage of our vulnerability and cause us even more hurt. We don’t want to be rejected for not being perfect or not being able to live up to the standards we have set for ourselves.
And to be honest sometimes being vulnerable with God and handing Him our problems can be equally as difficult. One of the reasons I personally have found it hard to pray sometimes is because by doing so, I am making myself vulnerable and inviting God to poke at those areas that might seem shameful or weak, or cause me pain. I don’t know about you, but it’s no fun having the areas that embarrass us being stared and prodded and poked at (no matter how good your physician says it is for you). You either want to figure out a way to deal with them yourself, or cover them up, so no one – not even you or God – has to look at them.
I’ve been meditating on this idea of avoiding vulnerability in my own life, and it reminds me of the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden, when they disobeyed God and found themselves to be naked and vulnerable in His presence:
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” (Genesis 3:6-10)
Man’s first reaction to noticing his nakedness and shame – his vulnerability – was to manufacture a cover-up of fig leaves. And it’s crazy to say, but the world hasn’t changed much since Adam and Eve in that garden. We are still in the habit of using ‘fig leaves’ to cover up those areas that we don’t feel proud of or we don’t want people or God to see or touch. We use social media to paint pictures of perfection that look good and attract a hundred-plus likes, when inside we are drowning in insecurity. We hide away our shame and pain from God, clapping in church like everything is fine and we aren’t just about sick and tired and ready to walk out on Him – as if He can’t already see through our poorly formed guises straight into our aching hearts. We go about our days wearing masks of happiness when depression is eating at us and doubt and fear are nipping at our heels.
And I will be the first to stand up and count myself guilty for having my own stash of fig leaves. I will be the first to say that there are days I have scoured through my photo archives to find the cutest, slimmest pictures of myself to show the world when I’m feeling ugliest. I will be honest that I have responded to a thousand ‘How are you?’s with ‘I’m great!’s – not because I actually was, but because I couldn’t stand for others to see how very distraught and depressed I was – especially being the girl everyone knows to have such strong faith. And I have put on a smile and gone about my day as though nothing was wrong because I felt like I couldn’t afford to be vulnerable – because people needed me to be strong and I couldn’t afford to be weak because there was no one else to be strong for me.
But all these fig leaves are are ornaments. They are symbols of man-made religion and self-righteousness used to mask our weaknesses and insecurities. We think that if we can keep those areas covered, if we can keep up the charade long enough, then we will survive; that if we don’t have to deal with the issues then we can overcome them – but we don’t realize that while they are covered up and out of sight, they continue to fester and grow until they really are beyond us and neither we nor God can produce anything good in our lives.
Get Rid of Your Leaves
The fig leaf/tree analogy goes far beyond the Garden of Eden. Throughout the Bible, God likens His people to fig trees that are meant to bear fruit. What’s unique about fig trees is that they are one of the few that grow leaves and fruit at the same rate. So a mature tree with all leaves and no fruit was definitely an unhealthy one. And so it makes sense when this happens as Jesus is on his way back to Jerusalem in Matthew 21:
In the morning, as Jesus was returning to Jerusalem, he was hungry, and he noticed a fig tree beside the road. He went over to see if there were any figs, but there were only leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” And immediately the fig tree withered up.
The fig tree that Jesus ran into was chock full of fig leaves, but had no fruit. And if we are not careful – if we live lives that are constantly consumed with masking our vulnerabilities and sins with man-made coverings and false identities – we too may find ourselves like that fig tree, giving the illusion of maturity, but with no fruit to show for it. People can look at you and you can look all great and spiritual, but until you are able to be vulnerable with your fellow man and with God, you will never produce the fruit that God wants in your life.
This year God has been instilling in me the importance of vulnerability. In order to grow and bear fruit, you have to be willing to be vulnerable with both God and man. And there are four things I’m really beginning to grasp about this whole vulnerability thing:
- God cannot work through you if He cannot work in you. We are in a constant process of refinement and if we choose to hide those areas that cause us shame and pain from Him instead of letting Him in to work on them, then we become like the fig tree in Luke 13:
And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?
- God built community so we could be vulnerable. You don’t need to let the world in on your problems, but God’s heart for us is not only to have people in our lives who will love us, but people who will love us even when we take off our fig leaves and they see the mess underneath. Better yet, God wants us to be in relationship with people that will hold us accountable so we don’t have to wear those fig leaves ever again.
- When we find the courage to lay down our fig leaves, others find the courage to lay down theirs. There is something about people being vulnerable with you that causes you to want to be vulnerable with them – suddenly shame is dethroned and people are able to live freely in Grace because they see you step boldly into it.
- Jesus came to replace our fig leaves with Grace. The Bible continues in Luke 13:
And [the vinedresser] answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good;
Jesus is the vinedresser, able to make what was formerly unfruitful, fruitful again. In Genesis 3, when God was sending Adam and Eve out of the Garden, the Bible tells us that God fashioned for them coverings out of animal skin. A sacrifice was made so they wouldn’t have to cover their nakedness with fig leaves. In the same way, Jesus was made a sacrifice, so that we would not have to cover our shame up with our own self-righteousness. He clothed us in his righteousness so we wouldn’t have to hide away, but so we would be able to approach Him boldly without fear or shame, and be made fruitful.
As I work on getting rid of my fig leaves, I see how God is honoring that by bringing people into my life who I can be vulnerable with – who are walking the same road I’m on and, for lack of a better phrase, I feel comfortable getting ‘naked’ with. And I’m beginning to let God into those painful insecure areas that I previously left covered up so He can start healing them to. I’m learning to hand in my leaves for His righteousness, especially when I feel most undeserving of it, and I’m learning to really believe that His strength can and will be made perfect in my weakness.