From the time I was very young, until I moved away from home, I was taught to stuff my emotions. In a move that still strikes me as over-the-top, when I was in the third or fourth grade my parents sent me to counseling where I learned to stuff my emotions more effectively.
My father rarely showed emotion, and if he was caught doing so, he would be embarrassed and deny having done so, offering some silly excuse or explanation of how we misread him.
Only one time in my life did my father say to me, “I love you,” and that statement was couched in an expression of obligation – “Your mother said I’m supposed to tell you ‘I love you.'” So, he said it but not really.
I have no doubt that he loved me. He just had difficulty expressing it.
Similarly, I was raised to not show vulnerability, error, or failure. While I have learned, over the years, to express myself emotionally in appropriate ways, the vulnerability and failure issue still haunts me. It can be terribly frightening to admit failure, or to lay bare your inner-man or inner-woman to another human being. But refusal to do so will lead to a lonely existence.
The challenge we face is the pervasive societal perception that vulnerability equates to weakness. The truth is that vulnerability in the proper context (say, with your spouse) is a sign of tremendous strength. Handing your heart and emotions to another person, and giving them permission to do with them what they will, requires tremendous courage and strength. Refusing to admit failure, or refusing to allow vulnerability will negate any possibility of true intimacy in the relationship.
Just as being vulnerable with my wife intensifies my intimacy with her, being vulnerable with God intensifies my intimacy with him. And just as my wife will not behave cruelly with my vulnerability, neither will God do so. Indeed, in my times of lonliness, pain, vulnerability, guilt, the God of all grace and God of all comfort will shower me with love to sustain and strengthen me.
The God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. – 1 Peter 5:10b, ESV
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. – 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, ESV
God is not put off by my messiness. No matter how great or small my burden, no matter how deep my distress, God is there to hear me and to lift my burden.
Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
You have given me relief when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!
– Psalm 4:1, ESV
In an act of intense vulnerability, we can pour out the burden of our hearts to God. “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.” (Psalm 62:8, ESV) We can commit this outpouring in both safety and sincerity. Not only do we have freedom to call upon the Lord Creator of the universe, but we have the assurance that he is “near” to us when we call.
The LORD is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;
he also hears their cry and saves them. – Psalm 145:18–19, ESV
If you are not at a place where you can be completely vulnerable with another person, I plead with you to at least be vulnerable with God. He knows already! But lay your heart bare before him. Let this be your prayer every morning…
Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting! – Psalm 139:23-24, ESV