All of us want to be truly, deeply known by others. There is a satisfaction and a joy that comes from feeling understood, valued, and really known. In his book “The Weight of Glory,” C.S. Lewis talks about this very thing: “…the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret.” Our big secret may in fact be that we long to experience the joy of being deeply known, but in reality don’t feel as if we are. Why is it that in our relationships with others, and sometimes even in our relationship with God, we don’t feel really, truly, deeply known? We know that God inherently knows us (I’ve written about that in a previous post, here), but we don’t always experience the joy of that reality. Most of us have people in our lives that we want to be close to, even feel that we should be able to be close to, yet we feel disconnected.
Few things bring us the same level of joy and satisfaction as that of being known, understood, and closely connected to another. But have you ever thought about being known as a choice? Have you ever considered that it takes something on our part in order to experience this joy? I would suggest that one of these choices is the choice to become vulnerable. Vulnerability is a key ingredient to any deep, valuable relationship.
Jesus demonstrated vulnerability in his life. He shared every aspect of his life with his disciples. He developed close friendships even when he knew they would lead to heartache (think of Jesus’ experience in Lazarus’ death). He exposed himself to betrayal (Judas) and denial (Peter and all the rest). He was even vulnerable to harm and ultimately death. All of these were choices of vulnerability that Jesus made in order to reveal Himself to the world – to be known by us!
Scripture teaches us to be vulnerable in our relationship with God. The psalmist invites God to search his heart (Psalm 139:23), opens his heart and mind to examination (Psalm 26:2), and confesses his sin before God (Psalm 32:5). We see the same posture in 1 John 1:9, which says “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” God already knows these sins that we confess, but He teaches us to humble ourselves, to be vulnerable before Him in order to be in close relationship with Him – to experience the joy of being known.
Scripture doesn’t just teach us to be vulnerable before God. It also tells us to open up to one another in order for us to experience healthy relationships. James 5:16 tells us to confess our sins to each other. Matthew 18:15 teaches us how to handle conflict in a right way, openly addressing an issue rather than avoiding discomfort and harboring bitterness. And these actions support healthy, trusting, deep relationships.
A researcher by the name of Dr. Brené Brown gave a Ted Talk on the power of vulnerability. She spent years examining the connection between individuals, and her takeaways were really intriguing. A few of them stood out to me as very relevant for our application:
- Dr. Brown said that shame was the one factor that created disconnection between people, and that shame was when someone says “if someone knew this about me, they wouldn’t want to be close with me.” Ironically, out of the fear that someone would discover their rough edges and not want to be close to them, these individuals became closed off and guarded, and struggled with connecting to others.
- Dr. Brown said that only one variable separated the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging in relationships with those that didn’t – those that did feel loved and as if they belonged believed that they were worthy of love and belonging. In Dr. Brown’s words, “they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they actually were.”
- Dr. Brown said that those who attempted to avoid vulnerability did so in order to avoid negative feelings, but they ended up numbing other feelings as well. They missed out on joy, gratitude, and happiness.
Aren’t these things consistent with the truth that God has given us for right relationships?
When we refuse to allow anyone into our lives and authentically know us, don’t we feel isolated and alone? But when we invite relationships of accountability into our lives, confessing our sins and struggles to another, don’t we discover a new depth of connection and encouragement?
When we try to craft our outward image in order to impress other people or hide our struggles, don’t we feel exhausted and inauthentic? But when we embrace our identity in Christ and the new life that we find in Him, don’t we discover a freedom from having to measure up or posture ourselves? And don’t we learn how to glorify God through our willingness to proclaim His grace in our lives?
When we avoid feelings and put walls up around our heart, don’t we miss out on deep relationships? But when we allow God to examine our heart and lead our heart, don’t we discover a joy that can’t be found elsewhere?
Vulnerability is not weakness, it’s courage. No one would call Jesus weak for the way that he lived a vulnerable life. And we have to be vulnerable in order to experience the true joy of being known.
That starts with our posture before God in our time with Him. Invite him to search your heart. Tell Him what you struggle with, what you worry about, what you see in yourself that you want Him to work on. Confess your sins to Him and humbly invite Him to search the corners of your heart.
It’s important for our relationships with others as well. I’m not suggesting that we bare our souls and deep dark secrets to everyone, all of the time. But I am saying that it’s essential to choose vulnerability on some level with anyone you want to build a connection with. With our spouse, that means complete vulnerability. With our close circle of friends or those we want to build close relationships with, real vulnerability is required in order to make that relationship valuable. Invite them in to really know you. Confess your sins to them and ask them to encourage you in your spiritual growth. Allow them to really know you, and begin to discover the joy of being known by them.
Don’t miss the ingredient of vulnerability in these important relationships. Vulnerability is not weakness, it’s courage.