“Vulnerability begets vulnerability; courage is contagious” writes Brené Brown in her newest book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. I am sure many of my readers already know this but Brown is known for her others books, The Gifts of Imperfection, and I Thought It Was Just Me.
Her new book arrived last week in the mail.
What is vulnerability? Is it weakness? Is it connected to our failures? Is it letting it all hang out with boundaryless connections from a place of unmet needs?
Brown deals with these misunderstandings of vulnerability. She defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” With that definition, she writes, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.”
Uncertainty. Risk. Emotional Exposure.
Vulnerability, she admits is uncomfortable. Putting ourselves out there as she observes means there is a far greater risk of getting hurt.
I may encounter disagreements and differences of opinion on this, but I don’t think authenticity, risk, attentiveness, empathy, loyalty, connection, and deepening trust happen to men and women in friendship, ministry, and marriage without vulnerability.
This is even more so for those of us who are leading on the frontlines for deep reconciliation between men and women. You can’t lead others to where you yourself have not gone. Huge principle in leadership.
Vulnerability calls for both men and women to engage in authentic and bold tenderness—which leads to a sense of uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. As Dan Allender says, “True tenderness steps deeply and boldly into the heartache and hopes of others. It suffers, dreams, and invites a person’s heart into redemption” (Leading with a Limp).
If you have read my book, Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions, I honestly admit at the very beginning of the book that I do not have it all together. I’m not perfect. I have my weaknesses. It wasn’t an easy thing for me to step into vulnerability when I first started to intentionally befriend women. There are some things I wish I would do different knowing what I know now about myself.
Something happens when you enter into friendships with people and you step into vulnerability in friendship: you learn and discover more about yourself. Your flaws, your weaknesses, your fears. But not only that stuff. Good friends in the spirit of vulnerability call out your strengths, your gifts, your passions, your dreams, your voice.
What Brown does so well in her book is to say that vulnerability properly understood is that beautiful, courageous posture of engaging the world out of wholeheartedness. It’s learning to love and receive love, to give up our control, to not retreat into disengagement and shame.
I don’t think you get into deep connection between men and women, into deep trust between men and women, into deep mutuality between men and women without the dance of vulnerability in our marriages, churches, and communities.
Uncertainty. Risk. Emotional exposure.
Vulnerability is about engaging in connection not retreating in shame and checking out. It’s engaging as Brown says out of a wholeheartedness.
For me, it was following Christ as I began friendships. Then it was mustering through the shame as I dreamed about writing a book on friendship between men and women. So many voices (in my head and then people) telling me I either shouldn’t write it or that I had to tone it down.
Then it was Sacred Friendship Gathering in April. Okay, do I do this? Is anybody going to come? How is this going to turn out?
Part of the reason why I thought it was important for us to gather together for a Sacred Friendship Gathering was to bring people together to engage on a subject so many Christian communities have learned to settle for disengagement between men and women.
People are afraid to engage this subject with one another. They are afraid to engage it with their leaders. Leaders and pastors are afraid of engaging this issue in their communities. So they control it through shame and public disengagement. They publicly distance themselves from it because to open it up means what? Uncertainty. Risk. Emotional exposure.
Vulnerability doesn’t mean that every friendship you have is going to flourish. In fact, an essential part of mutuality is that you may reach out for connection and the other may not meet you there for whatever reason. As James Olthuis says, mutuality is drenched in vulnerability.I am dreaming about a second Sacred Friendship Gathering. I will let you know of the details in the near future. There are men and women hungering to engage each other out of a spirit of vulnerability instead of shame who want to move forward.