Why I’m Afraid of Being Vulnerable

There was a night a number of years ago that still stings a little when I recall it. I had been interested in a girl and finally found the nerve to tell her how I felt. It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done.

It wasn’t so much the idea of expressing my feelings that felt so overwhelming. It was the possibility that those feelings wouldn’t be reciprocated and as a result I’d experience the dreaded, terrifying, and humiliating wound of rejection. But after weeks of hanging out with this girl, it was time I laid it all on the line. So I did.

You know how sometimes the pain we fear (like getting a shot at the doctor) isn’t nearly as bad as we anticipate? Well this wasn’t one of those times. She rejected me and it hurt—it hurt bad. It wasn’t the fact that she didn’t feel the same way that hurt, it was the fact that I had allowed myself to be that vulnerable with someone.

That night was a low point for me. I sat awake, talking to God but not saying much. I didn’t really have words to express myself, just pain and humiliation. But in the midst of my despair that night, I was led to Isaiah 46:4, which says, “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am He, I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and rescue you.”

I felt God reassuring me that no matter what happens in my human relationships, He will always be there when I need Him. He will sustain me in happiness or heartache. As I sat alone with God, I knew rejection was something I needn’t fear from Him.

 

Why we need to be vulnerable

I’m not sure I will ever be comfortable being vulnerable, but I am learning to come to terms with it. I find that when I am vulnerable, I trust in God more; vulnerability has a way of fostering dependency on God. We learn to trust Him in situations that are beyond our control; we learn to trust His strength instead of our own. We also learn to find our validation in Him and not in man.

Vulnerability is often looked down upon in our culture. It seems many people have a difficult time opening up about their feelings, even with their closest family members. We’ve been taught to equate vulnerability with weakness, but to be vulnerable isn’t to be weak. It’s to accept the fact that we’re human—and that we need to lean on God for strength in every area of our lives.

I believe there is wisdom in caution, to be sure. Jesus said not to “cast our pearls before swine.” In other words, it is wise to be cautious about who we open up to, who we trust with important matters, particularly the matters of our heart. But this doesn’t mean we avoid all emotional connection with others, it just means we wisely discern who we choose to open up to. But perhaps many of us have used this caution as an excuse to avoid risk and emotion in life altogether.

The truth is, if we are never vulnerable, then we will never truly know love because love by its nature requires risk—risk of rejection, risk of being hurt. This applies both to romantic love and brotherly love. For love to be love, there has to be vulnerability, there has to be something to lose. Vulnerability comes with risks, but that doesn’t mean the risks aren’t worth taking. Refusing all vulnerability in life will likely do us more harm than good.

 

What to do with our hurts

So what happens when we do get hurt, when we’ve taken the risk and find we’ve been wounded?

Psalm 55 gives us a picture of how David felt after being betrayed by a close friend. David says, “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were rising against me, I could hide. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God, as we walked about among the worshippers” (Psalm 55:12-14).

David felt the sting of betrayal; he felt the bite of having someone he opened up to, someone he was vulnerable with, turn on him. We can feel his pain as he says, “My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen on me” (v 4). Anyone who has been hurt emotionally can relate to what he says. So what was David’s conclusion? To turn to the Lord.

In the midst of betrayal and brokenness, David turned to the Lord, “As for me, I call to God, and the LORD saves me” (v 16). David’s heart had been pierced by one of his friends. Yet in the midst of his heartache, he exhorts us, “Cast your cares on the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken” (v 22). When David felt the pain of betrayal and rejection, he didn’t get bitter and close himself off. Instead he pressed into the Lord where he found comfort and healing.

God has promised that those who trust in Him will not be disappointed. When we look to Him to satisfy our emotional needs, we find He is faithful to do so. And the reward of that is a deeper relationship with God and a greater understanding of who He is as our loving Father. It also frees us from the fear of showing our vulnerabilities in our human relationships because we aren’t seeking satisfaction or validation from man, but rather finding it in Christ.

 

What true vulnerability looks like

Personally, I used to hate being vulnerable (ok, I still do). The thought of being vulnerable still makes me squirm a little because it means I have to relinquish control of how people perceive me. It means I have to admit I’m human.

But I’m beginning to view vulnerability in a different light. True vulnerability is actually surrender to God. It means we are giving control to God and trusting Him instead of ourselves. If we protect ourselves from ever being vulnerable, from any and all risk, then we limit what God is able to do in our lives and we hinder the meaningful relationships He desires us to build with each other. But when we unite faith with vulnerability, it gives us a God-sustained strength capable of taking down the giants in our lives—giants like the fear of man, the need for man’s approval, or the fear of rejection.

It’s interesting how sometimes our worst pain can be looked back on and remembered with appreciation, even thankfulness. That night I was rejected, as painful and sorrowful as it was, will always be remembered as a night I experienced God and His comforting hand. The reality is had I not gone through that experience of rejection I would not have the confidence I have today that God will be with me no matter what I go through. That experience provided God the opportunity to prove He is faithful, even in my vulnerability.

I believe being more vulnerable is helping me become more like Christ. It is making me find my confidence in Jesus rather than an image I portray to others, and it has allowed me to finally be comfortable in my own skin. This doesn’t mean I don’t still struggle with insecurities, it just means I’m learning to let them go and derive my identity from Him.

When God became human, He embraced what it means to be human; He showed emotion. Jesus didn’t hide from relationships or betrayal, He didn’t run from being vulnerable. Instead He embraced vulnerability because it meant God’s purpose would be accomplished. And when I am tempted to view my vulnerabilities as weakness, I find it comforting to recall the words Jesus once spoke to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

If you, too, are struggling with vulnerability, I’d like to invite you to entrust your fears into the hands of God—who will always sustain you and carry you, even to your old age. It may be painful at first, but also incredibly freeing.

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