Most people aren’t crazy about the word “vulnerable.” We might like to see it in others, but have no intention of being vulnerable ourselves to anyone. If you have ever poured out your heart to someone or a group of people and only got blank stares in return; if you sincerely loved someone and they did not love you back; if you have ever shared your genuine thoughts on something important to you and received only criticism; then, we may think that being vulnerable is a bad thing and not worth the emotional effort.
Yet, vulnerability is an important, even vital practice for Christians. In the Gospel of John, Mary displayed vulnerability in pouring expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiping them with her hair, all the while exposing her true feelings for her Lord. In return Mary got pushback and criticism from Judas. But Jesus upheld Mary’s actions and told Judas to leave her alone. Mary was clearly not concerned with how she might appear to others, but was completely focused on Jesus (John 12:1-8).
When we go to the book of Psalms, even a cursory reading reveals a psalmist who is not afraid to explore the depth of human emotion, misery, joy, and praise of God. It would be weird to think of King David as a man who was self-conscious about what others thought about him. Instead, we get a wealth of vulnerable statements: “All my longings lie open before you, O Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you” (Psalm 38:9); “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’” (Psalm 42:1-3). One does not get more real, raw, and vulnerable than this: “My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death assail me. Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me. I said, ‘Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest” (Psalm 55:4-6); “I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God” (Psalm 69:3).
This is all a far cry from many contemporary Christians who feel the need to wear plastic smiles and insist everything is “fine.” Maybe we need the person who will stand up and say they are finally learning patience by being among a group of really annoying co-workers. Perhaps instead of laboring so hard to keep a check on ourselves, church will become a place that lends itself to a person bawling their eyes out with a whole cadre of others who will just sit and cry with them.
But this kind of vulnerability will not happen unless we are first real with God, who is never fooled by our deceitful hearts. Our evil-radar might be carefully attuned to others’ sin, but we are woefully inept at identifying the blackness within ourselves. This is what makes places like the Psalms such counter-cultural texts; the psalmist sees his sin in stark relief to the holiness of God, and it absolutely slays him to know that his sin has offended God (Psalm 51).
What is so amazing about all this is that God himself became completely exposed, naked, abandoned, alone and vulnerable on a cruel cross. Yet, instead of being shamed by the whole thing, Jesus scorned the shaming power of his crucifixion and embraced the suffering as the means of victory for our salvation. Vulnerability might seem ugly, but it turns whatever it touches into beauty. God can change our weakest, worst, and most shameful places into incredible strength and newfound love.
Therefore, any ministry worth its Christian salt will not forsake the broken and despised, the struggling and the lost. Whenever we are too afraid to walk into the mud of people’s lives, including our own, and are enamored instead with every spiritually shiny thing that comes along, we have lost sight of our Lord whom we are to imitate in his vulnerability. When Christian leaders pretend like they have all the answers and know what always should be done, they have lost touch with the Scriptures and need to take a Sabbath hiatus to read the entirety of the Psalms and connect with God.
So, where do you go from here? Stop running long enough to listen well, read carefully, rest liberally, and feel passionately with emotions both good and bad. Just maybe you will find solidarity with Mary of old and “waste” your resources on simply being with Jesus.