In Defense of Vulnerability

In Defense of Vulnerability

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A few summers ago I was chatting with a friend and casually mentioned a guy who had become a new friend. Sensing my hesitancy to provide much detail even though I was interested in him, my friend told me she would stop asking me about it. “I know you’re just trying to guard your heart,” she told me. I bristled at that phrase because it seemed totally out of context. I was hesitant because I had been getting to know this guy over a few months, and at the moment it was just a friendship. I was hopeful it would turn into more, but my wanting to not talk about it was more an issue of not having much to say other than “we’re friends.”

We talk a lot about guarding our hearts in the Christian community, especially when it comes to dating and courting. And of course it’s essential to date with wisdom and integrity, being discerning of someone’s character, morals and relationship with God. But sometimes we can assume that admitting we like someone or opening ourselves up to heartache by being vulnerable is a bad thing. I knew there was a possibility my new friend didn’t see me as someone he would want to date, and I was OK with that possibility. I hoped we would date, but I also knew that even if we did, there was no guarantee it would lead to marriage.

Being vulnerable is essential to the Christian life, I think. That’s why I keep this quote from C.S. Lewis’ book The Four Loves on my fridge.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

My friend Lindy wrote about this idea a few years ago. She said the context for guarding our hearts (see Proverbs 4:23) is guarding it from sin. Not against being vulnerable and potentially hurt/disappointed/wounded/heartbroken in a relationship. She writes,

“The problem with this approach is that it demands that God give us a guarantee of 'happily ever after' before we ever become vulnerable with someone we care about. But because marriage is always between two sinful people, it will always be a leap of faith. And for two God-followers considering the possibility of marriage, there will often be fears, misgivings and hurts as we grasp what it means to be an imperfect person who deeply loves an imperfect person. And this, I think, is the core of the heart-guarding issue. We may say we're guarding our hearts to honor God, but if we're really honest, we're trying to keep ourselves from getting hurt.

"Instead, we ought to see dating and courtship as a time of trusting uncertainty. We find someone who could potentially be a godly spouse. Sparks fly — hopefully for both people — and somehow or another (depending on which books we've read), we become intentional about getting to know each other.”

There was no guarantee that my new friend from a few summers ago would ask me out. But he did, we dated, and broke up right after Valentine’s Day (I know, incredibly bad timing). But I’m so glad I was willing to risk the pain because God used it in some amazing ways. I learned a lot about myself and saw a lot of areas of selfishness and pride in my heart. I learned (yet again) that God could be trusted with my deepest desires and biggest dreams. And had I been so concerned with guarding my heart, I would have missed all of that.

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  • In one of my my memorable, beneficial small groups from college, I remember talking about the idea of this concept. One of the girls had this brilliant description, that I think is still the best I've ever heard on the topic of guarding your heart. She said that when we guard our own hearts, we put it in a locked, metal box and wrap in it chains and weigh it down, but when we trust God to guard our hearts it's like putting it out for the world to see, surrounded by a clear, impenatrable force field. People can see in, and they can try to come at us, but our idenity and our hope and our trust are not in what they think of us or how they can get to us, it's in God, who gives us those things. I think that's spot on. We've become so "good" at making rule about guarding our own hearts, that we forget that God is right there with the assist. We think that the rules make us safe instead of God.

  • I just want to say the past few blogs you have written have been so SPOT ON with my life right now. It's almost like you are secretly following and observing inside my head (looks around nervously).  This one is no different.  I too love that CS Lewis quote. And I have been known to do the same thing...not wanting to admit my heart had changed because I was so scared about getting hurt.  But learning to have to trust God has done amazing things, and it's help me know that even when my heart does get hurt, he's always there.  And that is so much better than trying to keep avoiding the hurt because I was scared.

  • "Being vulnerable is essential to the Christina life" - This brought me great amusement.  :)  My thanks to you Ashley, also was a very good and insightful article as well.

  • Thanks for this post! It's really encouraging to me. I'm a very guarded person naturally so sometimes it's really easy to not be vulnerable. However, I have been learning, and even when I'm uncomfortable I feel better after opening up to someone because I know that my friend can better pray for me and know me better because I shared.

  • So much yes Ashley. *vigorously nods head*

    Hope your breakup hasn't been too hard on you.

  • This is a very insightful post!  

    I would add that this is applicable to all friendships, not just the potentially 'romantic' ones.  It is possible to get burned in those too. One of the problems I've encountered is allowing myself to be "too vulnerable" (again, applying this to friendships in general) too quickly.   I've learned that if you try too hard to love or befriend, that can backfire too.  People don't want others to be 100% vulnerable with them too quickly.  It takes time, patience, judgment and knowing where the boundries are.  

    Unfortunately, the only way to learn this is through experience, and negative experiences can leave one wary to try again, hence why some of us tend to lock up our hearts as noted in the C.S. Lewis quote above.  

  • It's true that relationships help you see your own flaws in a healthy way--so you can work on them! Recently I read another article very similar to this one about guarding your heart vs. being vulnerable. Seems to be a popular topic. I've been thinking about this so it's funny that I ran across this article too! Thanks for sharing your and your friend's input!

  • Love the post! I've heard so many women tell me they wouldn't go to coffee with a guy because they were "guarding their heart." Then they'd complain about how they were still single...Now that may be an extreme of guarding one's heart, but how vulnerable is too vulnerable? Sometimes it's hard to know, but I love the fact this talks about the context of guarding one's heart--against sin, not against being hurt.

    I think we Christians can often think we have to be strong, or at least appear strong, especially to our non-Christian colleagues. Why? Maybe we want them to respect us and view our relationship with God as authentic, or maybe we think every other Christian has her act together, and we're the only ones who don't. The irony is that God is made known when we are weak, and he uses us, broken vessels. Several friends of mine would rant about how awful "religion" is--so many hypocritical people looking down their noses and judging others when they themselves are involved in some sex scandal. Um, yeah, that's often how the secular world views Christians. But I've explained to my friends that if people are looking down on them, these people are not acting in a way that shows they truly understand God's work in their lives. They're like the unmerciful servant who says, "pay me back the small amount you owe!" when his huge debt was forgiven. Plain and simple: I'm a horrible sinner, I need a Savior, Jesus is that Savior. As Christians, we have to be vulnerable enough to admit we need a Savior.

  • I am not good at being vulnerable. I always try to keep a stiff upper lip, no matter how bad things are (and things have been quite terrible lately). I am also not interested in getting married, so I tend to keep unattached women beyond arm's length. I am facing a major change in my life, and I am hoping that I can learn to swallow my pride.

  • Perhaps I am wrong, but I have always believed that men and women have different levels of vulnerability.  We are all human and can all feel the stinging pain of rejection.  However, men were made to be stronger and should be the most vulnerable because they can handle the most pain.

    I was my wife’s first boyfriend and she said that I was the first man who made her feel safe.   Yes ladies should try being more vulnerable, but men need to understand what scares women and how they can alleviate those fears with Christian character.

  • Ashley, this post speaks to me so much right now.  

    As AshleyTOF said, "we put it in a locked, metal box and wrap in it chains "

    YES.  I did this through all of my teen years and early 20s.  No wonder I never had a date.  No guy could even glimpse my heart let alone try to get to know it!

    Then, when I fell in love for the first time and let myself be (too) vulnerable, my heart got very broken.  So it went back into the box for another several years!

    I've always swung between the two extremes - falling in love too fast versus locking down my emotions so that not even a hint of vulnerability can show.  The second way is a much simpler life.  You're balanced, you don't have to worry about anyone hurting you and yes, you don't even dare get a pet because the pet will inevitably die and bring you pain and you really don't want that.

    It's a huge risk and I constantly have to decide if I want to experience the amazing highs and devastating lows of life, or do I want to live a stable life?  To experience joy is to know that pain will also come.  

    I'm getting to know a guy right now.  It's terrifying.  (I nearly bailed on our second date, I was so scared of getting hurt again.)  But in an act of faith, I told him that I have a tendency to fall too fast and asked him to be aware of that.  He responded positively and said that as long as we keep being honest, discussing potential issues, and KEEP TALKING, then we can work through things.

    Suddenly, I'm less scared.

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