photo“I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.” –Brené Brown

The day before Thanksgiving the right side of my body and a sidewalk had an abrupt and violent encounter.
My shoulder burst into searing pain, I tried to stand, felt the world close in, sat down again on the sidewalk, and felt the vulnerability of pain.

A few weeks later I sit on the rug in my bedroom and feel the muscles around my upper arm and back twinge as I use careful motions as my pen moves across the page.

“It feels vulnerable” is how I described my shoulder when the doc and then the acupuncturist moved it around to access the damage. Painful, tender, and vulnerable.

Vulnerability is a word that has been present in my life of late. It’s vulnerable to move yet again to a new place, with new people, start from scratch building relationships and community. Vulnerable to be staring the end of graduate school in the face and knowing that student loans end in May, and salary, health insurance, housing, and all those other necessary things are not yet a known quantity on the other side. Vulnerability of yet again taking large life steps as a single person, with the freedom, and the deep loneliness of moving through these decisions on my own. Vulnerability around my family of origin as final steps of my parents recent divorce are approaching. And vulnerability that over the last few months I have said out loud in a variety of settings, “I am going to plant a church.” Without knowing exactly where, when, or how, I keep saying out loud this call and vision that God is growing within me and around me. Speaking something into being that I have yet to know is possible. It’s audacious. It’s vulnerable.

Mary, Mary the mother of Jesus comes into my meditation as I walk up the hill. Great with Child, traveling away from home, prepared to birth the Son of God, carrying the one who she knew was destined to turn the world upside down. And yet, here she was, in Bethlehem, far from her family and community, and without even a room at the in. I wonder if she wished that she were back home in her own bed, with her mother and sisters nearby. I wonder if she would have said she felt vulnerable.

I go home and pull up the Ted Talk on Vulnerability. Damn your deep, wise, hits-too-close-to-home, wisdom Brene Brown. She winds up her talk with with these words:

“Let ourselves be seen…deeply seen, vulnerability seen. To love with our whole hearts, knowing that there is no guarantee. Practicing gratitude and joy in the moments of terror… I’m so grateful—to feel this vulnerable means I am alive.”

To feel this vulnerable means I am alive. The crisp air at the top of the mountain had a similar effect.

As does Advent. Divinity incarnated through deep vulnerability. God didn’t show up fully-grown, clothed in armor, or sleek and strong with black-belt karate moves. God came to this earth and slipped into the skin of baby Jesus. Carried by a mother who as young and vulnerable herself. Traveling far from home, no place to lay her head, let alone give birth to the Son of God. And it is this tale of vulnerability that ushers in the Divine presence in human form. It is this Christ, this anointed one, who says “come and follow me.” The One who embodied vulnerability as the gateway to life.

It’s scary writing this blog post. I don’t like being vulnerable. Especially in public. And yet this is part of being alive. Being human. Being created by the Divine.

And so I write. And share. And remember. And pray. And I keep rubbing Arnica in my shoulder, honoring this world of flesh and divinity, strength in vulnerability.

A gift of physical pain can be the reminder of vulnerability. And a gift of vulnerability is being open to others and alive to life. May it be.

14 Replies to “Vulnerability”

  1. Anna, what a beautiful and thought-provoking post! I love how one of your responses to your own vulnerability is to write about it and tell the story. Thank you for sharing that gift. I have been spending some time recently reading the Desert Fathers and Mothers. Your essay recalled for me their struggles to abandon the trappings of a conventional life that kept them from experiencing God–and instead their choice to seek vulnerability, presence, and wisdom in the desert. “We entreat you, make us truly alive”–goes a 4th c. Eucharistic prayer of Sarapion of Thmuis. After reading your piece, I want to add: Gracious and Tender Spirit, make us truly vulnerable so that we may respond with love. (And prayers for that shoulder of yours, too!!)

    1. Oooo…. I love this addition Jennie. …truly vulnerable so we may respond with love. I’m preaching at Richmond Church of the Brethren on the 12th and Matt just suggested maybe I do something on this whole vulnerability topic. Your addition…may I?

  2. Precious Anna,/beautifully expresses the experience of vulnerability… and if I may dare say so, more than I hear from Brene. I loved her talk, have watched it several times, but you go deeper into the experience of being vulnerable and I thank you for that.

  3. So sorry to hear about your injury, but loving hearing about your church plant mission.

    I love Brene Brown’s Ted Talk, usually end my marriage and families course with it. She is so wise and so good at modeling the thing she wants us to understand. My diagnosis of MS has forced me to live in that place much of the time. Trusting that everything that happens is leading us to good makes it a little easier for me to be vulnerable. Wishing you comfort and quick healing, and God’s leading for your plant! 🙂

    1. Thanks Nancy! (If you want to hear more about teh church planting mission, I would love to have you join the Cultivation Prayer team–I send out an email every few weeks with prayer requests and updates).

      Yes! I’m so sorry about your MS–AND isn’t it amazing how these things can be gifts in their ways?

  4. So sorry to hear about your shoulder injury, Anna. All best wishes with the church planting; you have my thoughts and prayers. <3

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