We were sitting on the patio in half-shade/half-sun on a lazy Sunday afternoon, sipping strong french roast coffee, nibbling at coconut cake, and talking about diamonds. We got to diamonds after several rabbit trails, but mostly because we were trying to understand vulnerability.
This TED talk by Brené Brown explores her years of research on the subject and her conclusions that vulnerability is one of the most feared but most important aspects of human relationship, and specifically human thriving. The very thing that has the power to destroy someone (through shame, fear, struggle for worthiness) also has the power to birth joy, creativity, belonging, and love, so the research says.
Brown’s research actually ended up planting her in a therapist’s chair as she tried to piece through her findings. I can’t say that I’m surprised – about the research or about her breakdown (as she describes it), but I’ve been thinking about it for the past month or so.
And while I sat with Alejandra on that patio under the Minnesota Sunday sunshine, I wondered if the value of vulnerability is not the main question (I’ll defer to Brown’s extensive 10 years of research for that). I wondered, instead, if the more important question is the best place from which to be vulnerable. Of course, an analogy slowly formed as we sat (she is so patient to listen to my ramblings) about diamonds.
In relationships, if we brave vulnerability at all, we will usually attach an expectation onto the offering. In other words, we will share something (like the fear of being lonely, for example) with an often unspoken expectation that the other person not only keep the information safe, but also that s/he will know better how to care for us when we are lonely.
It’s as if we’ve all got panes of glass in our closets and when we get close enough to someone, we give them a pane of glass. We present a beautiful, transparent, perfectly cut pane of glass with shaky hands and with eyes that say, “Handle with care” because (of course) glass is breakable. We are nervous as we share things about our childhood, our nightmares, our dreams for the future, our weight, our most embarrassing moment, and our fears. We are nervous because glass is breakable and we are giving our breakable parts to someone else.
We expect that person to store the beautiful, transparent, perfectly cut pane of glass in the safest place and also to treat us differently, now that s/he can see through that window to our souls. We want them to make comments about our beauty, reassure us about the future, and know when a song triggers a painful childhood memory.
What happens when that trusted person forgets to handle the shared glass with care?
It breaks into a tiny million little pieces and a little piece of us breaks too. S/he didn’t call to say sorry on the date when your mom died, s/he fell asleep when you were sharing about a bad dream, s/he made fun of your hair/weight/style, s/he told friends your most embarrassing moment.
Glass broken. Unrepairable. Shattered.
But what if it wasn’t glass we were sharing, with the expectation that the receiver keep it safe? What if we were sharing diamonds instead?
What if we find our worth completely in someone who is only capable of being faithful, trustworthy, true, compassionate, and merciful?
I’ve been crucified with Christ, therefore I no longer live but Jesus Christ now lives in me (Galatians 2:20). If God approves of Christ, He approves of us because Christ lives in us. We know that we are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17) who are approved by God and not ashamed (2 Timothy 2:15).
This knowledge (I’ve only scratched the surface) fundamentally changes how we approach vulnerability. I am no longer offering something in relationships that can be broken because my worth and safety and joy and fulfillment is sealed in the crucifixion of Christ. I am sharing diamonds – the rock that never loses its worth, the rock that can’t be broken, the rock that sparkles from every angle.
Can diamonds be thrown in the mud or the ocean or the desert? Yep, they sure can. Diamonds can be buried in the deepest cave, but they still wouldn’t lose their worth. We worry about being vulnerable when we presume our fears and shame define us. It’s a scary thing to let someone in to see “who you really are” if the things you hide define you.
But, God made a way – a new definition – so we could be defined by His Son. Our worth and purpose and freedom are beautifully bound up in the miraculous work of the cross. There is no chance that our fears and shame and failure and struggle could makes less that miraculous work.
Our vulnerabilities are diamonds kept safe by the Creator of the Universe – whether we share it with kings or with paupers, tax collectors or pharisees, lovers or friends, enemies or allies. We are made in the image of God and transformed into the likeness of His Son with ever increasing glory (2 Corinthians 3:18).
This is how Paul describes his confidence in being a minister of the new covenant (an extremely vulnerable and visible position),
Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:4-6 ESV)
The Spirit gives life. The letter (the law) kills – even the laws we create for ourselves and the expectations we place on others to handle us with care. The law of the Spirit of life sets us free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8), so that we need only to place our expectation of being held up on the One who can hold us up.
Christ is sufficient to keep safe every vulnerability so that when we choose to share those deep things we are not afraid they can break us.