Risky Business

I've been thinking a lot about vulnerability lately. Mostly because I suck at it. And I don't get it. "Vulnerability" is a huge buzzword. People loooove to talk about "being vulnerable" and "being real and authentic." I totally get it in theory, but, honestly, the practical application is wildly out of reach.

Last week my feelings got hurt, like feelings do, and I had a huge epiphany. Yes, yes, those two things are related.

I carried on through my day, being butt-hurt and thinking about how I was going to react when I saw this person who (let's be honest) did nothing more than wound my pride. I was all like, "I'll just not talk to him. That'll show him. Right?"

Then this lightning bolt came down from the heavens and I was like, WOAH.

I caught myself in the act; frantically building up concrete walls of protection to keep from getting hurt and actively choosing to shut down. It's a routine I've practiced for longer than I can remember. Whether in friendship or relationship or co-worker-ship or what have you, as soon as something goes wrong this heavy gate, not unlike the ones on medieval castles, slams shut in my heart.

I may not know what vulnerable is, but I know what it's not. And it's not that.

I swallowed my pride and went out of my way to be nice to said pride-wounder. Well, in my head I did. I'm not sure how well it translated. He probably didn't even notice. But in my mind I was going ABOVE AND BEYOND to be nice and not say something snarky or act all aloof. And you know, everything went right back to normal. 

And I had a new idea.

Imagine yourself living in a castle. A castle with big stone walls, and a moat all the way around for protection. Cool. What if your very favorite activity is to stand atop your castle and throw meaningful, expensive, lovely gifts to everyone you know on the other side of the moat? Seems legit. You are SO NICE to give all those gifts. Except that you're actually totally cut off from real life, from the flesh-and-blood people you're trying to love. You don't really know them, and they definitely don't really know you. How can they? You're on the other side of a moat surrounded by giant, impenetrable walls.

Real love steps out of the castle, out of protection, and offers itself up at the risk of getting hurt. Loving well is not about protecting oneself and only giving what is comfortable. Real love puts others first, which by definition means it doesn't primarily think about self-preservation.

Maybe vulnerability is the willingness to let yourself get hurt by others. They won't do it on purpose. But they could do it unconsciously. They'll do it without knowing it happened. And you might feel a sting, or a bruise, or a slap. But that's vulnerability. It's laying your pride on the line and say, "I'll take off my armor in order to love you for real, no matter the consequences."

Sometime's it will hurt. But sometimes, I think, it leaves us open to love in its truest form. Once the armor is off, and we offer our naked and trembling heart-- we are open not only to potential pain, but also to the potential to receive that same kind of raw, real love in return.

So the question is, is it worth it? I have spent my entire life unconsciously saying no. But all these stupid books I've been reading lately have been telling me the only way to really live is to really know love, and the only way to really know love is to be really vulnerable. I know, very deep down, I want to love raw and real. But it a risky business, actually loving people. Now that I understand it a little better I'm terrified of it. And I'm realizing I have next to no idea how to do it well. But I want to learn.

Here's to draining the moat and letting down the drawbridge and leaving the defenses behind. Here's to vulnerability.