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The Power of Vulnerability

by Joani Schultz


Who thinks weakness is strong?

God.

God’s ways are not our ways. The Bible says that.

“And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Here’s the crazy truth I’ve discovered, the hard way.

I have a disability. I have MS. The official name of this chronic, incurable disease is multiple sclerosis. That means “multiple scars.” These scars exist on my nerve endings and prohibit impulses to fire. So my regular functions can’t function; they’re broken. For me, that means the nerve endings that command my legs to walk and my feet to feel don’t do their duty. They’re scarred.

There. I’ve said it.

Do you know how long it’s taken for me to be comfortable saying that?

Decades.

If you’re like me, you don’t want to flaunt your weaknesses. You don’t want anyone to know you might be broken. “Not enough.” “Less than.”

You want to be in control…I know I sure did.

If you’re like me, you want to appear strong—like you’ve got it all together.

The truth is, none of us do.

And that simple admission is killing relationships—and the church.

My Book Club

I’ve grown to love the women in my book club. We’re a group of eclectic neighbors who come together once a month to talk about a favorite book. However, I’ve come to see the group more as a supportive community of caring, curious, open-minded friends.

Last time we met, I asked if they thought people were kind.

Since I’ve seen people all over the world reach out and help me with my walking problems, I wondered: Are people kinder and more helpful because they SEE my need, my brokenness?

Someone chimed in. “Oh, yes. People were much more helpful and kind to me when I had a cane and boot after my knee surgery.”

So are we kinder when we SEE another person’s need and vulnerability? Would we experience more kindness if we revealed our own brokenness?

Vulnerability Unleashes Kindness

Is this true for you? It’s Sunday morning. Time to put on our happy-face facades.

We’re afraid to show others our true selves at church. Because deep down we know we’re broken.

Paul Young, author of The Shack, says, “God knows we’re broken. When we go to the “shack”—the place we hate the most—God comes flying out and embraces us. I say, “But I thought you hated me.” God rushes toward me and says, “No, it was you who hated you.”

Nothing—even our own weakness and brokenness—can separate us from the love of Jesus and his eternal kindness.

Ah, another verse:

“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love…not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love” (Romans 8:38).

There’s freedom in truth, and it unleashes kindness. Truth disintegrates fake.

Weakness Invites Compassion

We’re attracted to those who admit they’ve made a mistake. We long for successful airline CEOs to apologize. We melt when we hear “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”

I’ve seen it myself. All it takes is one admission of “me too” for others to feel safe and open up.

It’s only then that God can work his mystery.

“This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest human strength” (1 Corinthians 1:25).

How We Invite More Truth and Love

Open up.  

I’ve discovered a rare, wonderful thing each week. Lifetree Cafe, a conversation cafe, gives tables of four the opportunity to share their stories. I know for myself, when I (or someone else) is vulnerable to share, it gives others “permission” to peel back the layers. And bonds deepen.

“ ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Take the risk to open up first.

Each week at Lifetree Cafe (and in our Dig In Sunday school curriculum), our Group resources instruct leaders to share an example story first.

Here’s the beautiful surprise: The deeper the leader goes when sharing his or her own story, the deeper the others share! This works when leading a discussion, and it works in any relationship. Vulnerability creates vulnerability, which creates honesty and authenticity. Maybe that’s why AA has succeeded for over 80 years. Alcoholics admit their weaknesses and imperfections in a safe environment where honesty is rewarded.

See each person beyond the surface.

Instead of being frustrated with the angry, negative, hard-to-love “fill in the blank,” realize beneath the harsh surface lies brokenness and pain. That’s the truth. I’ll never forget the curmudgeon in our church who did his part to make life difficult. One Sunday his vulnerability broke through when asked when he’d ever felt forsaken or abandoned like Jesus. To our amazement, he admitted his pain of growing up in an orphanage!

Now I understand. Knowing what shaped him softened my heart. It happens every time. Once we see underneath, the surface makes more sense.

I appreciate what Kathie Eldredge in Momentum (a magazine from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society) says: “Everybody has something. The more authentic you can be about what you’re dealing with in life, the more clear you can be about what you bring to a relationship. You’re not just bringing your disease—you’re bringing you.”

Now I see my brokenness as a blessing. Can you?

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The Power of Vulnerability

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