I confess I hate it when I am not in control. The word ‘vulnerability’ to me is exactly that: opening up too much, being physically weak or taking a miscalculated risk. I squirm when I meet the over-sharers, the ‘I have no secrets’ types, nonchalant to the opinion of others. I struggle at the sight of my physically weak great uncle, his frail body dependent on a carer to get him up each day. I feel shame when I remember asking the wrong person out, failing a job interview and trusting too much with my heart. This is what vulnerability feels like to me.
Now in my thirties, I’ve already experienced enough rejection, disappointment and shame to put me off vulnerability for life. Still, I can’t help but feel that in my attempts to sidestep pain and keep everything under control, I am missing out.
On vulnerability, the author Ernest Hemingway wrote:
The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable; they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed.
Isn’t it frustrating how the virtues that make us ‘the best people’ also mean we are unavoidably vulnerable?
When Andy Murray cried on TV after losing Wimbledon in 2012, the BBC described it as ‘the moment when respect and admiration became something more’.
As he stepped onto Centre Court, Murray took a huge risk. Britain hoped to see its first Wimbledon Champion in seventy-seven years. After years of sacrifice, it looked like Murray had lost a trophy and gained a nation’s disappointment. However, when he spoke, wounded and unable to hold back his tears, we didn’t jeer as he might have feared, we found new admiration and more respect than ever before. The public and the press embraced Murray because he was vulnerable and just like us.
Instead of belonging only to the pitied, can vulnerability be a virtue that belongs to the gallant, those unafraid to embrace their weakness for the glory of a fuller life?
"Still, I can’t help but feel that in my attempts to sidestep pain and keep everything under control, I am missing out."
In the Bible, St Paul writes, ‘for when I am weak, then I am strong’. To him, it is not money, muscle, notoriety or power that gives him strength – it is vulnerability. He believes power comes not from his own doing but from something or someone else, not from within but through the love of God. To believe in God is incredibly vulnerable – it means putting your security in a hope, a belief that we can’t do it all ourselves, that there is someone else we were created to lean on. As Bear Grylls recently described:
My Christian faith has been a real quiet strength, like a backbone that’s run through a lot of the stuff I do. I’ve learnt through my experiences with the military or high mountains, it takes a proud man to say that he never needs anything.
Perhaps a person appears weak if they believe in God or if they explore the existence of God but maybe it’s time to reconsider what being comfortable with our weakness actually means. If the idea of exploring faith and asking questions about God both scares and excites you, I encourage you to give Alpha a try.
As President Theodore Roosevelt once said, and as Andy Murray, Wimbledon Champion 2013 well knows:
It is not the critic who counts … the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly … who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
I want to find the courage to embrace vulnerability because I can’t shake the feeling that there’s more to life than the alternative.
Alpha is an opportunity to explore the meaning of life. Find an Alpha near you
Photography by Alex Douglas