My fingers shook and my insides turned as I typed the blog post. I was casting aside fear. I was about to share in a way that would allow all of the world to read about the greatest darkness I had experienced: my journey with bipolar disorder. With trembling hands, I opened up my heart and life as I revealed my greatest undoing. Then, I made it real by hitting “post.”
There was no blueprint for how others would respond. I received many encouraging words about the vulnerability and courage I had shown in the past. But I knew that there would be those who would see me as a person defined by mental illness, rather than a beautiful human who struggles with bipolar disorder.
Vulnerability Makes Us Stronger
When we choose vulnerability, we choose it despite the consequences. We let go of being defined by what others will think of us, even as we keep loving them. We remember how the Only One who really counts, in the end, completely loves and delights in us. We also allow him to be the perfection we need for our real and broken selves.
But what may surprise us is that vulnerability becomes a true gem amid the mess, the rough, of our lives. In exercising vulnerability, we receive the full love of God in a way we never would have otherwise. This discipline of showing up with our whole selves makes us stronger to navigate the issues of security and identity innate to all of us.
Vulnerability Connects Us
In addition, vulnerability is a necessary heartbeat as we seek to live as a community of people who love and know God in this world. Vulnerability connects us deeply and, conversely, the lack of vulnerability cuts us off from others.
Brene Brown’s crucial work on vulnerability in her book Daring Greatly, underscores what I am seeking to say: “Many think vulnerability is weakness, but it is not. Those who refuse to be vulnerable lose the ability to understand others who are, and their fear and discomfort quickly turn into judgment and criticism.”
As I have walked this road of vulnerability, I have opened a great gift. Not only am I unlocking the key to my own heart, but also to others. Vulnerability begets vulnerability. It becomes almost contagious as our own authenticity about our brokenness opens the door wide for others to do the same. I have seen this time and time again.
Unfortunately, I have also seen in my own heart what happens when I don’t embrace the gift. The choice to be vulnerable, to be open or closed to God or others, is continually before me. And before you. Will I express with authenticity my frailty, or will I pretend I am fine? And if I do the latter, will I hold everyone else to the same standard, as the softness of compassion seeps out of me? We must all decide if vulnerability is worth the cost, a part of receiving Jesus into our hearts as that pearl of great price (Matthew 13:44 New International Version).
My story begins in early 2015 when I was hospitalized for two weeks in a Hungarian hospital because of a manic episode related to my then-undiagnosed bipolar disorder. The fallout was tremendous as my family and I left the overseas home we’d been preparing for and living in for 10 years. I had nearly completely lost my mind. I didn’t know what would be left intact on the other side of this harrowing experience. God, in his great, intentional care, laid out the surprise path of sharing my story as a means of healing.
I was walking one day just a month or two after my hospitalization and the Lord spoke to me. He said very clearly, “I want you to share your story, the one you are living now.” Before my hospitalization I had been writing a memoir of overcoming and triumph which I believed would define the rest of my life. Then came horrific weeks of no sleep, hellish delusions, and terrifying visions. My bipolar came full force and I didn’t know what my life would look like.
So, as God spoke to me about sharing the story of my mental illness, I was terrified. How could I give so much of my cracked and splintered self to the world? I determined that I would not.
He held out his hand, inviting me to learn the heart of vulnerability. His patience and kindness were like the gentle yoke Jesus encourages us to come to in Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV):
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
In obedience which has become true joy, I am walking the road of sharing my story, my journey with mental illness, with the world. At just the right time, a book concept came together, and I am now in the copy-editing stage of preparing that book to be released next spring.
I didn’t know where that initial blog post would lead. Saying “yes” in this little way has brought many more yeses. I have been able to endure the rejection of my story as it was pitched to many publishers. Also, I have been able to accept the criticism of my work. And I have allowed myself to open up so decidedly I could never fully close off again.
There is a glorious joy prepared for each one of us as we trust God and his story over our lives. As we share ourselves with the world we raise high the banner of his redemption, faithfully buying back the pain of our lives. Sometimes this means simply sharing the hard things during the first chat with a new friend and finding a beautiful beginning of relationship in our lives. Other times it means listening with a knowing heart and gently entering the pain of another through the recollecting of our own. But, it may also mean taking a bold stance before others to bring secret shame or grief out of hiding.
To be vulnerable is to know the truth and grace of love as we never would have without our decision to be vulnerable. Brene Brown also says in Daring Greatly, “Love is uncertain. It’s incredibly risky. And loving someone leaves us emotionally exposed. Yes, it’s scary, and yes, we’re open to being hurt, but can you imagine your life without loving or being loved?”
Ours is a world which is constantly blocking the way to soul-bearing, redeeming love. There are filters readily available both in our live speech and in how we appear in words and images on social media. It is not an exaggeration to say that vulnerability is a scarcity these days. And if vulnerability is rare, we can also say the deep, abiding, resilient love so tied to it is also rare.
This reality leaves each of us with a challenge as to how we will live our lives. Will we simply live out our days, denying a soul-satisfying love toward God and others? Or will we walk the uncertain and risky path of vulnerability? In walking this path, will we remember there is a diamond in the rough contours of our lives, which beyond everything, is the manifest, embracing love of God?