Several self-introductions by Regent professors during orientation week disturbed me. They shared about their ongoing struggles with personal pain and tragedy, and were deeply honest about still walking through the dark valley. I learnt that Regent College itself was birthed in the midst of death. While I was refreshed by this honesty and vulnerability, I struggled to reconcile it with the victorious Christian life I am called to live. Christ has defeated sin and death on the cross – I am more than a conqueror in Christ Jesus. Shouldn’t the professors have ended off with some measure of victory over their circumstances?
The first 2 chapels of term were an extension of this theme. Rod Wilson shared deep personal experiences of the world not really being a ‘happy’ place; Diane Stinton on being stripped of all her identity in Kenya and feeling extremely vulnerable before God. Jacob’s limp was not a sign of weakness, but of spiritual strength. The same question nagged me each Tuesday night – where is the victory?
Today I watched a video sent to me by my vocal teacher some weeks back. It was entitled ‘The Power Of Vulnerability’. I had assumed it to be about vulnerability in singing. Wrong. God was putting in the final piece of the puzzle. The speaker, Brene Brown, is a professor in social work who spent a decade in research on human connection. She found that a consistent barrier to human connection was ‘shame’ (or the fear of disconnection). The element that underpinned shame was ‘excruciating vulnerability’ (or allowing ourselves to be really seen). The fear that ‘I’m not good enough’ (or thin, or smart enough…) made one feel unworthy of connection. Hence the coping mechanism of ‘numbing ourselves to vulnerability’, which includes indulging in alternatives to hide the pain. The result in society: rising debt, mounting obesity, over-medication and addiction. Yet in doing so, we also numb ourselves to the good things in life, such as joy, gratitude and happiness.
The startling finding on the other side of the story led her to a breakdown as she struggled with her own issues about being vulnerable. She studied the opposite group of people characterised by ‘worthiness’ (or a strong sense of love and belonging). The one element that enabled this group of people to connect was –gasp – ‘vulnerability’. They had the courage to be imperfect and compassion to be kind to self and others. They believed that what made them vulnerable, made them beautiful.
The key, then, to ‘good vulnerability’ is self-worth. That is great news because, as a Christian, my worthiness is found in the Cross. Jesus has redeemed me from sin and shame, I am a new creation in Christ. There is therefore now no condemnation in Christ Jesus. I am eternally worthy in God’s eyes!
This frees me to be completely open and honest with God. Telling Him I’m struggling to believe Him in certain areas does not mean I’m not already victorious in Christ. God showed me that victory is a process. Just as we need to ‘work out our salvation’ (after God has worked it in), I need to work out my victory in the area of healing, prosperity etc. I believe I am healed in Jesus’ Name, but the healing may not come immediately. Being vulnerable in the process draws in power from God. Jesus was a picture of vulnerability before God in the garden of Gethsemane. Luke records that an angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him (ok, some may argue that this verse is a late addition, but I believe that the Holy Spirit allowed it in for a reason). Putting up a ‘front’ of victory when I’m having trouble believing in the victory cuts out this supply of strength. But conversely, when the victory comes, I should stop lamenting and burst forth in songs of praise!
I am also free to be vulnerable before others, because what they think of me cannot change my sense of who I am in Christ. Nothing enhances human connection more than someone being open about their struggles and weaknesses – we’ve all experienced that in Christian group settings. Often we even get a bonus of encouragement and prayer support from letting others into our difficulties. And I believe this is how deep and lasting relationships are formed in Regent. For starters, our professors look more human and connectable now!