Sunday, November 9, 2014

Is Vulnerability a Bad Word?

“We're never so vulnerable than when we trust someone - but paradoxically, if we cannot trust, neither can we find love or joy.” ― Frank Crane

“Sometimes we must yield control to others and accept our vulnerability so we can be healed.”
― Kathy Magliato
Healing Hearts: A Memoir of a Female Heart Surgeon

“And maybe that was love. Being so vulnerable and allowing someone else in so far they could hurt you, but they also give you everything.” ― Christine FeehanWater Bound

To be vulnerable is a bad thing when it comes to protecting a fort, a country, or computer software from attack. If one is vulnerable, they have weaknesses that can be used against them by their enemies to infiltrate, harm, damage or control. But is vulnerability in a relationship a bad word, or is it necessary to achieve true love and intimacy?  In many respects to have faith in, trust, and to believe in someone, is to be vulnerable. It leaves us open to disappointment, perhaps even harm or attack if we let someone in and they violate our trust. Unfortunately, there is no way to achieve the one-flesh marriage that God has designed unless both spouses are willing to be vulnerable with each other.

I believe the King James Bible uses the words “to know” when speaking of sexual intimacy, not just because of the vulnerable state one puts themselves in when naked and unashamed, enjoying the joys of the marriage bed, but because the goal of a marriage should be “to know” each other fully. To in a sense “bare all” before our spouse, warts, blemishes and all, even perhaps our most embarrassing fears and besetting sins.

There is something quite freeing when you are in your spouse’s arms and you confess your faults and sins, asking for forgiveness, and exposing your innermost being to them. This follows the apostle’s admonition to “confess your sins to one another that you may be healed” {James 5:16}, and it goes to the heart of oneness. How can I be one with my spouse if she does not know me fully and still accept me with love for who I am? How can I know her fully if she is hiding a part of her life where she will not let me in? Can we achieve what God desires for our marriage if she is unwilling or unable to trust me fully that I have her best interest at heart?

In a post on Vulnerably a year ago, I {Ken} wrote that it is a very scary word. To place yourself in a position where you can be hurt, or feel hurt, is not easy, but I do believe that it is the only pathway to a full and complete marriage. Oh, you can have a good marriage and keep secrets. You can stay at arm’s length from each other emotionally and yet have a great sex life. But true and abiding intimacy comes only when we can place our life into the hands of our spouse, the one who says they love us most in this whole world, and share our inner being and spirit with them; our hopes, our fears, our joys, and perhaps our vulnerable thoughts and desires. To know that even if my spouse does not agree with me they accept me, and choose to love all of me for who I am.

The ideals of a one-flesh biblical marriage are often missed like “a forest for the trees.” We often can see the parts of a sacrificially loving husband leading a submissive and respectful wife, but if we lose focus on God’s fuller purpose for the Christian marriage the roles and behaviors become rote and legalistic, instead of flowing towards true intimacy. At the heart of what God desires for the Christian marriage is exactly what He desires for Christ’s relationship with the church, and for our own individual relationship with Him. God wants to be our God, and He wants us to love Him and have faith in Him, believe in Him so that we may experience the thrill of knowing how trust turns into a vulnerable faith, and in turn a deep and abiding intimacy. God knows us fully, yet He still chooses to love us deeply enough to send His Son to die for us. Only when we trust Him fully can we in turn taste the intimacy He wants with us.

Just as our connections with the Creator take on various levels of trust, so too a marriage has its levels of love and intimacy. Most people sense that deep within their being is a piece of their heart that they want so badly to be filled up fully and completely by someone or something else. The scriptures make it quite clear that God never intended us to live solo lives. We were always intended to be connected with Him, and connected to others. In particular we are designed to perfectly fit one other person on this earth, or to be filled up completely by God for those who are called to be single. God creates Adam’s complement, Eve, precisely because she is the one who can complete him, and make him whole; the one who can be his true soul mate and to be fully known by him as “naked but not ashamed, physically, emotionally, intellectually and vulnerably.”

The strong invulnerable wife is often the one who will boldly demand of her husband, “I need an intimate relationship!” “OK honey,” is the response, “I need one too, so where do we begin?” Now comes the laundry list of necessary things that a husband can do to show that he truly loves his wife. This can go both ways as Lori and I went so far as to trade things we felt we needed from each other to get closer and to feel loved. I am not opposed to these exercises as such communications is often a necessary stepping stone towards true intimacy, but they fall far short. Perhaps service and submission can bring intimacy, but demands will never change a heart. 

What is at the heart of true intimacy? You will find much of it in this difficult word, “vulnerability.” Vulnerability means to trust, believe, accept, invite and welcome your spouse into the God shaped vacuum of wanting to be fully known by another, and then still loved and accepted. What makes a one-flesh marriage so powerful is precisely its bonds of trust knowing that my spouse is imperfect, yet I will risk being vulnerable for the sake of the deepest depths of love. Not settling for an ordinary marriage, but one where both spouses choose to love God fully, and in turn trust God does not let them down, even as their spouse may from time to time. Often the greatest glue that seals a marriage becomes knowing that even when I let my spouse down she loves me and accepts me anyway out of her commitment to God and her vows, and out of her love for me.

For our example we need look no further than the love between God the Father and His Son, Christ Jesus to see what true love, vulnerably and oneness looks like in a relationship; complete trust and complete dependence. God the Father asks the Son to go to the cross and have all of the sins of the world placed upon Him. To suffer a most painful and humiliating death, for what?  Obedience with a purpose, so that many could enter into the vulnerability of God Himself and become the children of God. Imagine what it was like to give up a place with God, to give up the powers and rights of the Deity to become a man who must trust completely in His Father. Then to be mocked, spit on and tortured by the creature, all out of willing obedience in faith that the Father would raise Him up and glorify the Son. Now that is true vulnerability. And given freely by Christ's own volition. 

"No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father." John 10:18

The Christian marriage is the microcosm in which you and I can experience more fully what it means to love. To “know” another person and to be” known” by them, not superficially, but deeply and fully. The Christian marriage should go so much further than the typical marriage in the depths to which we are known by our spouse and how we will serve them. We should have moments where we hold each other and cry over our deepest wounds, and rejoice over knowing that “no matter what, I will always love you!”

It is strange how those words would come so easily with our vulnerable two year old, or six year old, but when a person has the ability to hurt us, it is often then that we withdraw into our protective shell to insure that hurts and pain are minimized. We marry with such high expectations of true intimacy only to find ourselves hiding things from our spouse out of fear of being hurt or rejected. Sadly I must write that if you are convinced your spouse is untrustworthy, then no amount of pretending they can be trusted will overcome your distrust, nor their bad behavior. I do not advocate blind faith and trust, but if you want to move towards true intimacy, you must find the areas they can be trusted and in those areas trust fully and love fully.

For many of Lori’s readers you are without excuse. Your husband, or wife, has done nothing that should make you distrust them, yet you are still holding back. You hold back your affections, your submission, your love, your kind words, your joyfulness, your service and your time, out of fear that somehow he/she will take advantage, or worse yet your desires will not be met. Keeping your spouse at arm’s length has become a bad habit all for self-protection.

God wants us to love Him fully, and in turn to learn to love our spouse fully. This means being vulnerable and open to accepting our spouse’s constructive criticisms, knowing that he/she knows you better than you know yourself, and perhaps loves you better than you can love yourself. The path to true intimacy comes straight through vulnerability. Will you choose to love and accept your spouse for who they are, and allow them to love and accept you for who you are? If you are waiting for them to go first, you may never get to your destination of a one-flesh marriage. Instead we must trust God and do what He calls us to do in our marriages. To love, submit, respect and “and the two shall become one.” It is these scary parts of being connected to another that bonds us to each other and to God. Trust is scary, but can also be exhilarating when practiced by those who learn to love fully.  

But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; 
but the greatest of these is love
1 Corinthians 13:13