Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements.
Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.
One of my greatest frustrations as a pastor and a writer is the widespread inaccurate teaching on forgiveness, both in mainstream culture and the Church today. My frustration has led me to write about forgiveness, in an effort to illuminate people’s understanding of what forgiveness actually includes. The reason many of us struggle to forgive is we’re trying to do something which isn’t actually forgiving.
Some of the popular myths I’ve noticed are forgiving and forgetting being confused as the same thing, that forgiving someone means you must reconcile with them, that forgiveness is a decision and once you’ve decided to forgive, you shouldn’t struggle anymore, and that forgiveness should come easily for those who’ve been forgiven by God.
When these myths get exchanged for the truth about forgiveness, incredible clarity emerges.
This clarity doesn’t make the process of forgiveness easy, though. While some of us will embrace the clarity, face the pain, forgive the offender and discover freedom, others will shut down and refuse to let anyone else in again.
In exploring the experience of those who shut down, I recently discovered a new myth. It poses a danger to those who fear vulnerability. This myth states that we can arrive at the place where we are no longer vulnerable to wounds because we are so close to Jesus.
In her recent article, “Forgiveness Isn’t An Option,” I sensed Rachelle Dekker flirting with this myth as she extolled the value of securing our identity in Christ. I’m convinced the kind of emotional distance she described is not in our best interest. As Lewis said, “To love is to be vulnerable.”
In Order to Be Loved, We Must Be Known
In a 2013 essay for the The New York Times, Tim Krieder wrote,
Years ago a friend of mine had a dream about a strange invention; a staircase you could descend deep underground, in which you heard recordings of all the things anyone had ever said about you, both good and bad. The catch was, you had to pass through all the worst things people had said before you could get to the highest compliments at the very bottom.
It sounds a bit terrifying. The compliments would feel affirming, but the insults and wounds would be crushing!
Krieder concluded his essay with an insightful observation. “There is no way I would ever make it more than two and a half steps down such a staircase, but I understand its terrible logic: if we want the rewards of being loved, we have to submit to the mortifying ordeal of being known.”
The Bargain of Being Human
When we allow someone to get close enough to love us, we also allow them to get close enough to wound us. This is the terrible bargain we strike, living in a fallen world. After years of frustration, struggling to overcome bitterness and unforgiveness in my own life, I’ve come to some conclusions. I must mentally prepare myself to be wounded by others. I will need to exercise my forgiveness muscle. I’ll have the opportunity to continue to choose the path of authenticity and vulnerability.
The path to forgiveness and freedom is an option too. We can respond to wounds with bitterness and unforgiveness or we pull back and cease being our true selves. When we protect and isolate ourselves, we ensure future disappointment in the kind of love we will receive from others.
While we might sing songs at church where we say “All we need is Jesus,” the truth is we were designed to need each other. In the garden, God said to Himself, “It is not good that Adam is alone.” So He created Eve. And if it’s not good for Adam to be alone, then it’s also not good for us to alone or not known by those around us.
As a pastor, I seek to connect with people through vulnerable, personal stories in my sermons.
A friend recently asked me if I’ve ever been hurt in the process. Of course. But I keep doing it and often end up with what Brene Brown calls a “vulnerability hangover.”
We do not connect through our perfections but our imperfections. Our brokenness draws us together. Every time, we let someone in to our lives close enough to connect with us, we give them the chance to hurt us. That’s what tripped me up so much in that article I mentioned earlier. I love the way the writer calls us to embrace our identity in Christ, not the approval or opinion of others around us.
To be loved is to be known. To be known is to risk being wounded. This is not cynicism; it is life between the resurrection of Jesus and His return.
The Rewards of Being Known
You might say, “Is being known really worth all that risk and potential pain? Wouldn’t it be easier to settle for not being known and avoid all that vulnerability mess?”
I believe we all long to be known. We want people with whom we can share our lives. We wish people would get to know the real “us” and then extend acceptance and love. Instead of being able to feel safe and secure, we often live a life filled with anxiety, isolated from the people we love yet still tethered to our online “friends.”
Being known means we’re going to have uncomfortable conversations. Do we really expect someone to get to know the real “us” and not point out our flaws? I think we actually hope for someone to know and love us enough to challenge our thinking, behavior or attitudes. We’re not looking for “haters,” but people who know us enough to actually care.
Despite the discomfort and risks, the rewards of being known are incredible! Being known means we have someone to call at 2 a.m. when a crisis begins. Being known means we have company to celebrate success and grieve losses. It means we have encouraging voices who push us to dream and risk, believing in us even when we doubt ourselves.
The rewards of being known and loved far outweighs the risks of being known and wounded.
My wife and I wrote our own weddings vows. They’re displayed on the wall outside our bedroom. Guests often notice and read these vows during their first visit to our home.
These vows are not the best words I’ve ever written, but they are the most meaningful. Part of mine included:
I commit myself to you. I trust who I am to you. You have the power to build my confidence. You have the power to crush my spirit. I know this is the only way to our unity—I must walk the path of vulnerability to be one with you.
Vulnerability is optional. Trust is optional. Relationships are optional. And forgiveness is optional. This is why forgiveness remains a miraculously, powerful moment every time it happens.