It was the most intimidating question I’ve ever been asked.
My husband and I were visiting a new church we’d read about. On our first Sunday the pastor, Gordon Cosby, announced that he’d be teaching a class on “Christian Growth,” and interested folks should sign up. We did.
On the first day of class, as we were looking around at 18 strangers, Gordon said, “We’re going to introduce ourselves. Don’t tell us where you’re from or what work you do. We’ll get to know that. Just tell us your name and your deepest pain.”
You could hear the drawn-in breaths around the room. One woman left. “I know what my deepest pain is,” she said as she picked up her purse. “But I couldn’t possibly share it here.” The question shocked me, but I stayed put.
Others in the circle began to speak. “I’m Brad, and I’m a third-year seminarian. I think I’ve lost my faith.” Gordon nodded silently without comment.
“I’m Carol. My husband left me with four children. For a younger woman. I can’t forgive him.”
“My 26-year-old sister died of cancer,” Phyliss said. “Where was God?”
Gordon didn’t answer, interrupt, or try to fix anyone. He just listened intently.
I had no idea what I’d say. I didn’t have any pain like these other poor souls. I was blessed!
But when my turn came, what burst out of my mouth was a confession of an unhealed family relationship for which I felt responsible. One I’d never verbalized, even to myself.
The Gift of Community
When everyone had spoken, we all sat in astonished silence. But something had happened. We’d trusted each other with our deepest longings. A community had been forged.
Rather than respond directly to what had been said, Gordon simply said quietly, “We don’t love each other for our strengths. We love each other for our vulnerability.”
I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t just experienced it. The question and answers cut right through all the false, well-defended selves we ‘d brought into the room when we came through the door. We’d let each other see us as God sees us.
And in the space of an hour and a half we had 17 new friends with whom we felt safe to be absolutely open and real.
Vulnerability gave us the gift of community.
The Gift of Humility
Vulnerability also comes bearing the gift of humility.
When everything is going well, I tend to forget that I’m the creature, not the Creator. I make plans, I execute them. No problem.
Coming face-to-face with my own vulnerability teaches me a lesson. Self-knowledge is an antidote to arrogance and a gift from God.
Not long ago I was sucked into a scam. A stranger got into my bank account. I caught on before experiencing a total disaster, but I’m still embarrassed to talk about it. Gone was any feeling of superiority I ever had over other victims. I became their sister, not their judge.
I remembered how I felt when my 90-year-old father – like thousands of others – was drawn into several magazine and other sales lotteries before they were declared illegal. Dad lost $9,000. I was angry – at him. How could he have been so gullible! So vulnerable! I thought to myself that wouldn’t have happened to me!
Yeah. Right. The humiliating embarrassment that comes with vulnerability teaches a lesson: I’m not as smart as I thought.
The Gift of Gratitude
A third gift of vulnerability is gratitude.
I am thankful for a bank email notice that told me money had been transferred from one account to another. I had not made the transfer. A light went on in my head. A stranger was in my bank account! I needed to freeze my funds.
When the email came, the bank was closed for the weekend. Incredibly, no fraud department was reachable except during open hours. In desperation I remembered that when a user hits the wrong password several times the system will often freeze an account. To get it unfrozen a customer must call the bank. I keyed in false passwords until it froze. I thanked God for the system’s designer who created that safety net.
I also overflowed with gratitude for friends who prayed (and didn’t judge). For the sympathetic young police officer who came to my home to take a report.
When the bank opened, I was grateful for bank officers in two banks who helped me transfer money out of harm’s way.
I’m still overflowing with gratitude for the grace of God that came in the plain brown wrapper of humility.
The Gift of Drawing Close to God
Most important of all, vulnerability draws us closer to God. It teaches us to trust God for everything.
A friend who was an Army chaplain in World War II told me that the most requested hymn from troops about to go into battle was “The Old Rugged Cross.” The second was “Silent Night.”Both hymns describe the two times when Jesus himself was totally vulnerable: as a baby and helpless on a cross.
When he sent out the disciples two by two Jesus ordered them to take nothing but a staff, a pair of sandals, and one tunic. He specifically said, “No bread, no money.” They would rely on the hospitality of strangers for food and shelter. If they weren’t welcomed, they would simply shake off the dust and move on (Mark 6:8-11).
I think about all the external things I rely on for protection. But a pandemic and climate change are teaching me how vulnerable I really am. My home, my money, and certainly a gun are useless against Covid or a wildfire. And nothing but death will stop me from getting older.
In the end, I have only the grace of God that carries me every day and will carry me across the river when my time comes. I am more vulnerable than I want to think.
But I am safe. I have all I need.
Photo by Mikhail Nilov from Pexels