I’m often referred to as an ‘over-sharer’.
My Maid of Honour warned my husband about this trait of mine in her speech at our wedding: “With Maddy, you’ll never have to worry about things being swept under the rug,” she started. “...In fact, you might as well just throw the rug out now!” The whole room laughed, because anyone who knows me has likely borne witness to my tendency to put everything out in the open.
For me, being deeply honest about my feelings and struggles comes easily. I feel freed when I speak those things out into the open. But I know that isn’t the case for a lot of people.
My two younger sisters, for example, often complain that I set unrealistic expectations for my parents when it comes to how much they’ll share with them. “We’re not like Maddy,” my sisters say when my parents probe for updates on their personal lives.
Despite my natural inclination towards being very open with others, I’ve come to learn that vulnerability is not mere honesty, nor is it a personality trait. Being vulnerable isn’t primarily about unburdening ourselves, either. It’s actually about opening ourselves up for the sake of serving others.
We see this in action when Paul is vulnerable with the believers in Corinth. In beautiful, open-handed language, he writes to the Corinthian church, saying that he and Timothy have “opened wide our hearts to you” (2 Corinthians 6:11). Throughout the rest of the letter, Paul unpacks why he’s so open with them, showing them that it’s for their sake that they might grow in Christ.
Being vulnerable, then, isn’t just a way for us to ‘vent’ and share our burdens; instead, it’s a way to serve others, and it’s something that we can all work towards and foster in our relationships and communities.
Why Should We Practise Vulnerability?
Vulnerability can be hard. Uncomfortable. Scary. But that’s exactly why it’s so important for us to practise in our relationships. We have been saved by “the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble…” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
But how can we comfort the people in our lives if we don’t even know they’re struggling?
When we can find the courage to take the first step in opening up to someone, we invite them to do the same. And as we share our burdens and struggles with each other, we’re better able to love those around us in the way Jesus calls us to.
In Galatians 6:2, Paul urges us as a church body to “carry each other’s burdens” so that we can fulfil the law of Christ. It’s God’s will for us that we would live in harmony, comforting each other and carrying one another’s burdens. To do this, we need to practise vulnerability and share with those around us how we’re really doing and what we’re struggling with.
After all, how can we carry someone else’s burden if they haven’t shared it with us?
Whether it’s opening up about our mental illness or sharing about unconfessed sin in our lives (see James 5:16), taking a step towards vulnerability in our friendships and communities is incredibly powerful.
So What Does Vulnerability Take?
There’s a difference between being open and honest and being vulnerable. Vulnerability implies trust, and a deeper investment into the person (or people) you’re opening up to.
Vulnerability takes humility, because it means letting go of our pride and allowing other people to know that we haven’t got it all figured out. It also takes courage, because when we’re vulnerable, there’s an element of ‘risk’ that something we share might turn others away or be used against us. This is why vulnerability works best in close, loving friendships.
It’s important to recognise that not everyone is comfortable with sharing vulnerably on a larger scale, and that’s okay. We won’t all feel led to share our stories with bigger groups, or from a stage or across online platforms, and that’s fine; as long as we’re each practising vulnerability with the people close to us.
Vulnerability in the Bible
In the Bible, we see many examples of vulnerable people coming to Jesus in their humility. They needed Him, and they made sure He knew it.
Take blind Bartimaeus in Mark 10:48, for example: “Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Bartimaeus knew he needed help, and that to get it, he needed to be vulnerable about his needs and share them with the people around him, even in the face of embarrassment and rejection. He didn’t keep his struggles to himself; he spoke them out boldly, knowing that was the first step to receiving help.
At the same time, Jesus Himself wasn’t afraid to be vulnerable. In fact, He took on human flesh and became a vulnerable baby, just like us at birth. Later in His life, rather than appear staunchly unmoved and stoic in the face of real pain, we see Jesus being real with His disciples about what He was going through. One of the most well known instances of Jesus displaying vulnerable emotions was when His friend Lazarus died. John 11:33 tells us that “When Jesus saw [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.”
Even though, as the Son of God, Jesus knew His friend would live again, as one of us, in our own human nature, He grieved with those around Him and didn’t try to hide it. In verse 35, we read one of the most simple yet evocative sentences in Scripture: “Jesus wept.” Knowing that Jesus Himself shared His raw moments of joy and pain with the disciples–His closest friends–should encourage us to do the same.
As we read the Bible, it’s clear that we were created to be in community. God created Eve because He knew Adam needed companionship. We don’t grow in isolation, and it’s hard to live in unity with each other if we can’t be real about what’s happening in our lives. As C.S. Lewis wrote in his book The Four Loves: “To love at all is to be vulnerable.”
Vulnerability is Contagious
Have you ever noticed that when someone opens up about their struggles, it makes you want to share openly in return?
I learned this firsthand when I wrote my very first blog post a few years ago about my anxiety disorder, and again when I decided to open up about my struggle with lust and sexual temptation.
It’s like people had been desperate to hear that someone else got it. They were relieved to hear they weren’t alone in those struggles, and then, they wanted to share in return.
My inbox was flooded with messages. Me too, many people said. I’ve never told anyone this because I thought it was just me, they wrote. I was blown away by the response, because I hadn’t asked people to get in touch with me. But it helped me realise the power of vulnerability; that when we share candidly about the struggles in our lives, we open the door for others to start sharing, too.
It didn’t stop there. There was a knock-on effect from the things I’d shared, and it was beautiful to see. The Young Adults pastor from my church reached out and organised a girls’ night, where we invited different women in our congregation to share their own stories.
It was a night of transparency and community, and I left there feeling like something special had taken place. We grew closer to each other and, by knowing we shared the same struggles, we were able to love each other better. All because I’d broken my silence and hit ‘publish’ on sharing my story in all its raw, ugly realness.
Maybe, like me, you’re a natural ‘over-sharer’ and it’s harder to keep things in than it is to get them out. Or maybe, you’re a private person who finds it hard to open up to others.
Wherever you are on that spectrum, there’s space for us all to continue seeking God and His will for us to carry each other’s burdens by practising vulnerability within our friendships and our communities.
Is there something you’re struggling through that no one knows about? Who can you share that with this week?
This blog post was originally published at anxiousfaith.org, the site where I write for work. Anxious Faith is a community of people sharing real, raw stories and tackling the big questions around faith and mental health. Come join us on the site or socials (@anxious_faith)!