The Vulnerability of Advent
“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weakness.” -Brené Brown
Whether we are aware of it or not, we all hold power in our relationships. We have the power to make someone feel something about us (even if it is negative). We have the power to shift emotions, beliefs and support in our favor. Generally we think of power in relationships as a dynamic for certain personality types, but every one of us has power over someone. This power is not always bad or harmful. Good power differentials exist inherently as a part of relationships: think of parents and children - is it bad that a parent has power over their kids? Of course not! They should protect their children with that power.
In healthy relationships the other side of power is vulnerability, not weakness. It is a subtle difference but an important one. We are vulnerable when we lay down our weapons, lower our defenses and invite others into a space that is typically only reserved for one. We are weak when we cannot exist on our own, needy, unable to function unless someone else gives us the power to. Weakness exists as a result of sin, vulnerability as a result of health.
But can we have both? Can you be a vulnerable person that still holds power? Or maybe a better question to ask: how can you be powerful as a result of vulnerability?
Our power is ultimately on loan from God, how we use it reflects how we view ourselves and grace. Jesus tells Peter the kingdom of heaven is like a king who forgives a large debt, one a man would spend his whole life trying to pay and never make a dent. But when we wield our power in sinful ways, we are like this man who just had his debt forgiven who then goes out and demands repayment for a small, pittance of a debt from his servant (Matthew 18:21-35).
Our model of power starts with a baby being born in a cattle stall. Perhaps one of the least powerful moments in the history of the cosmos. The God of all creation breathes the same air as farm animals, crying as a helpless baby - the very essence of vulnerability. Jesus could have just shown up, walking into town from the wilderness as an adult, and still lived the same life - but he chose to enter in the most vulnerable way possible. How does this change the way we see vulnerability in our relationships? Are we giving up power by being vulnerable? Did Jesus?
Can you imagine if Jesus had just shown up out of thin air as an adult? It would have been so impersonal, like a guest at a party who ducks in, shakes a hand or two then is off for something better. I think we would have been even more suspicious of his power and what he was asking of us. So it was because of his vulnerability that we are drawn into relationship with him. It was because Jesus chose the path of vulnerability that we are even open to allowing his power to change us.
What will it look like when we start choosing vulnerability in our relationships? I think it will mean that we will often feel like we’re in a smelly cattle stall, looking at a helpless baby, wondering if there is enough power in the prophecy to overcome all that is bad in this world. It will definitely mean feeling like we’re choosing weakness, giving up our last hopes of control, entering the uncomfortable sacrifice that comes with being real. But I think we will find that our power shifts from being something dangerous, holding the potential to harm, into something meaningful and encouraging. I think the power in our relationships will start to reflect a King who chooses the way of vulnerability to wield a humbling, transformative power in our hearts. Ultimately, I think it will mean we understand what power was intended to look like without sin - and by that, know Jesus more and more through each other.
What does it look like to choose vulnerability in your relationships? How do you use the power that comes from being vulnerable in your relationships?