A woman perched on a building's side

“When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability…To be alive is to be vulnerable.” — Madeleine L’Engle

When I was a child, I always imagined grown-ups were made of a different substance than me. I looked at them and thought they must not hurt as much and surely not be as scared as I was. I thought things would all just make sense, come easier and not be so hard. I remember picturing some sort of “change” that you would go through to be made of the “grown-up stuff.”

This change I long expected, which would make me impenetrable to fear and to feeling small, never came. I still find myself surprised at times that I am allowed to be this grown-up, walking around and taking care of other humans. It happened little by little, all the responsibilities, all the roles and all the bills, but every now and then I still catch myself surprised that this is what I am doing and this is what it feels like. I am not sure I signed up for this, I often think. I didn’t think it would feel so raw and in “real time” to be a grown-up. 

I didn’t think it would feel so raw and in “real time” to be a grown-up. 

When we are growing up, if we are lucky, we are being shepherded along to the next milestone—graduations, jobs, career and family. There’s not time to consider so much where you are going when you are climbing to the next step. However, then you get there, and it turns out, you are still yourself. If you’re paying attention, vulnerability is everywhere.

In one of author Anne Lamott’s books she quotes her son when he finds out that all human beings die. He says, “I didn’t sign up for this.” Those words rang like a loud bell right through my soul when I read them. Yes, I thought, exactly—wisdom only a child could poignantly express. 

I did not sign up for—for this death or this gripping fear of death of the ones I love, for sicknesses or for endings. A line from one of my favorite songwriters is: “Close my eyes. Hold my breath and wait for this to be over.” I think about this line when I think about the vulnerability we all face every moment. The inherent vulnerability in the gift of being alive can feel frankly overwhelming. 

Yet, everything good in my life has required vulnerability of me—when I opened up to a friend, deepening our bond, when I went through childbirth, when I ventured out into a new career and when I fell in love.

Everything good in my life has required vulnerability of me.

In a training class recently, I heard Professor Dr. Terry Hargrave describe faith in this way: Some of us skate out onto an icy lake, confident and carefree. While others of us get down flat onto the ground and inch by inch slide our bodies out onto the icy lake. Both are faith, just expressed in different ways.  

In the same way, both are being brave, both are an image of vulnerability. Sometimes, we will skate out. Sometimes, we are flat on the ground crawling. Some of us will have a temperament that allows us to confidently skate out onto the ice of vulnerability, heartily taking the risk. While others of us must crawl or even slide our bodies, inch by inch out onto our lake. But make no mistake, both are risk, both are vulnerability and both ways are worthy of exploring. 

Dr Brené Brown defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure” and that “vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and creativity,” all good things.

Every good thing in my life has required vulnerability. Being close to someone I love and will one day lose, exploring faith, trying to find healing, helping a neighbor and changing in any way. It doesn’t have to look bold, big or fast, but any good thing we want in life will require us to acknowledge what is already true: to be alive is to be vulnerable. 

Let’s skate or crawl out to what vulnerability may have for us.

What good things have come out of being vulnerable in your life? Why is vulnerability difficult at times?

Image via Ceci Frost

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