As Catholics, we understand the necessity of loving God above all else, and of loving our neighbour as ourselves. While these duties reign supreme in our spiritual lives, it is vital that we recognise the importance of letting ourselves be loved. Quite often, we work ourselves up into a frenzy in an attempt to love as much as possible, without stopping to take on the necessary fuel ourselves, which is love. As St. John says in 1 John 4:10, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us”. Loving properly and being loved go hand-in-hand, and we need to work on doing both if we’re to become the fully formed sons and daughters that God desires us to be. However, in this post, we’ll be focusing on “being loved” more so than on loving. To do this, we’re going to talk about vulnerability.
We’re a society that doesn’t do vulnerability too well. This truth is testified to everywhere: from the superficiality of our conversations and the masks we wear on social media, to our inability to go out on a limb and tell someone how we feel or ask someone on a date. We’re afraid of leaving safety behind and stepping out into a state of openness. We keep our walls up and our masks on at all times, lest the images of ourselves that we display are shattered. The problem is that this ‘hiding’ only deepens the hole we find ourselves in. We cannot receive love when we’re locked up in total security, and yet love is exactly what we need if we’re ever to live life as God intended us to. C.S. Lewis summed up the situation succinctly when he said:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. 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.”
The security of a risk-free life may seem comfortable initially, even appealing, but the truth is that a life without vulnerability is no life at all; it’s existence at a most basic level. It’s certainly not the happiness that God created us for. The difficulty with this is that if we’re not moving forward in our ability to open up and relate to people, we’re moving backwards. The war between God and Satan does not cease, and every second of this life sees each of us take steps towards one or the other. We’re either moving towards the saints God made us to be, or the demonic selves that Satan would make of us. There is no neutral ground.
This is why we live in an often cold and loveless society. A crippling fear of vulnerability affects us not only on an individual level, but also on a societal scale. A society made up of people unwilling to receive love is a society that cannot give it, either. Closing ourselves off from one another like this is ultimately making for a cold and lonely world, in which we fail to give others or ourselves a chance at attaining what God has in mind for us. It’s not too late to change our current course, however. All we need to do is face up to reality.
We’re finite, we’re weak, and we need to be loved. Our position as creatures rather than Creator means that we’re entirely vulnerable, and as a result, love involves risk. There’s no way around it; it is the one fact that must be confronted. Love involves risk. As we’ve been saying, the majority of us are shying away from the challenge that opening up presents us with, and as a result we’re living lives full of regret. The bind we find ourselves in is that true love dispels regret and imbues our past mistakes with meaning and purpose, and yet we’re unable to acquire this kind of love as we’re too afraid to be vulnerable. There is one virtue in particular that is indispensable in breaking free of this cycle; courage. Courage is the key we’ve been given to open the doors of our heart to another. When they knock, we must be courageous enough to answer. Without courage, we remain hidden away in ourselves while the people who could’ve changed our lives are left out in the cold. There is no worse feeling than regret, than recognising that you had a chance at love and you didn’t take it out of fear of being vulnerable.
Another virtue we must foster if we’re ever to become brave enough to embrace our vulnerability is humility. Humility is the virtue that allows us to live in the truth. As mentioned earlier; we’re finite, we’re weak, and we need to be loved. We can only acknowledge this fact and start down the road to love if we approach our lives in all humility. Humility helps us to recognise that God doesn’t owe us anything, and this makes it much easier to accept the difficulties that being vulnerable presents us with. We understand that, if anything, we owe God everything, and when we contemplate this truth, it compels us to live lives free of fear and full of love. It compels us to live in a manner holy and pleasing to him. What does that look like? How do we live in a manner “holy and pleasing” to God by embracing our vulnerability? We can look to Christ for the answers.
Jesus is the embodiment and fulfilment of all virtue. He is the person we must look to if we’re to see what it looks like to courageously and humbly embrace our vulnerable, weak humanity. And embrace it he did, right down to the ordinary and the everyday. Think of the encounter that took place between Jesus and the Woman of Samaria. How often do we avoid interacting with others, using such excuses as hunger, thirst, or tiredness? God ensured that the author of the gospel made mention of these very sufferings, so that we couldn’t use them as excuses again. In his weakness, in his vulnerability, Christ reached out to another. He asked her to care for him in one of the most basic ways possible, “Give me a drink” (John 4:7). With this simple question, he changed not only this woman’s life, but the lives of all those she spoke to afterwards, and the lives of all those who’ve encountered the gospel since. He shows us how to be vulnerable, and how to receive love in order to give it. This is a lesson that St. Paul learned directly from Jesus, who spoke these words to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). We must wholeheartedly accept our vulnerability if we’re to allow God to work wonders in our lives.
We began by noting that we’re living in a world that is dreadfully afraid of appearing and being vulnerable. We’ve come to understand that God’s power is made perfect in our weakness. We ought not to be afraid of sharing how we really feel with those closest to us; we ought not to be afraid of asking someone on a date if we’re ready to point them in the direction of Heaven. It takes courage and humility to open yourself up to the possibility of love, to embrace your human frailty. But we can be certain that if we do it, we will come to understand those words of St. Paul’s in his second letter to the Corinthians:
“When I am weak, then I am strong.”