2 Corinthians 12:9-10:
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
These verses hold a precious paradox that flies in the face of a lot of our cultural messaging. We all know it deep down, that the model of stoic strength comes often at a massive and dysfunctional price. So many people have known fathers or male senior figures who could not articulate feelings or demonstrate emotional intelligence. They could not model vulnerability or sensitivity without running the risk of being overwhelmed by the torrent of unprocessed emotion and becoming a laughing stock in the community. These hard men and women ‘just got on with it’, got stuff done. They were not moaning about the relative quality of the £4 latte and the poor foam achieved with oat milk over and against cow’s milk. These people were rinsing heavy cotton in a mangle in the back yard with forearms like Popeye the Sailor Man. Or they were affecting a John Wayne/Clint Eastwood/Vin Diesel (use whatever culturally relevant and identifiable star you wish) demeanour with an ice-cold measured and often violent air about them.
In my experience some deeply emotionally sensitive people have, in order to get through, supressed their vulnerability and drawn down the thin and brittle barriers of cynicism and judgmentalism as a buttress against the complexity and challenge of navigating the world in sensitivity and vulnerability. In my experience they have managed to hold this façade until their middle age and that’s when the cracks often really appear. Heart disease, alcoholism, you name it, few can hold out till old age.
There is a malleability that comes from acceptance of our vulnerability. The hard rigid shell of dysfunctional strength cannot absorb, mold, process and adapt to the challenges of reality of the lived experience. Hardness results in being cut off from experiences, good and bad. It requires a degree of ‘numbing out’ in order to maintain the front. No wonder it wears out the host in time!
Hard people are rarely born, they are crafted by their environments. Good people, born beautiful and in the image of God who find the best way to cope is to shut down and numb out to the possibility of their inner-most parts being exposed to abuse or damage. Think of the amount of dysfunction and generational harms that come about because being hard or tough is perceived as the right approach to the challenges of the world? Really think about it.
Darth Vader was a lad wasn’t he? Tough, impressive, powerful, striking stature and wardrobe. Luke was such a disappointment. Small, effete, nothing like his Da. Probablycouldnaekickabaw. But as many of you will know, it is only when Darth opens himself up to the love he feels for his son, and removes the shell that has kept him alive that he is restored and the light of the universal force floods back in and he is made right. He dies right enough, but he has made peace with himself and with the force. There is something in that. Only in vulnerability will we grow in our real strength, become who we truly are, move towards who we are called to be and become effective in Gods hands.
I brought down the emotional shutters once. To hurt others mostly and to protect myself. I held tight for about a decade and then they got smashed open and I was called to be made new. We watch young people use this tactic all of the time, a buttress against the flood of feeling, thought and emotion that comes with transitioning from youth into responsibility and adulthood. In the end though only love can win. Do we dare to love and risk exposing our most precious inner-most part to strangers? If we do, we must become familiar and well-practised at vulnerability, just as our Lord did and which Paul articulates so beautifully.
Note on the latte thing: there is a difference between vulnerability and self-indulgence, a blog for another day!