On Being Vulnerable

Posted: March 10, 2020 in Courage
Tags: , ,

For spiritual reflection during Lent this year, I am using a “Living Compass” guide, part of an initiative of the Rev. Dr, Scott Stone. Several contributors have joined him in writing the daily reflections. The theme around which these reflections are organized is courage. In the introduction, Scott writes, “When facing change and uncertainty, few practices are more central to that life than courage—the courage to be vulnerable, the courage to grow, the courage to change direction, the courage to let go, the courage to act with grace, and the courage to walk the way of love.” I anticipate the six weeks of Lent—either because of my thick headedness or my shallow soul-ness—will leave me feeling that a week on each of these themes is not long enough to allow God’s Spirit to take me deep into my interior and find what I need to celebrate and what I need to work on.

Take vulnerability, which was the theme for the first week of Lent. As I began to reflect on vulnerability in my life, images, instances, and thoughts began to cascade past until I saw myself as a preschooler and how I controlled my thoughts to keep people out of my interior life. Even before I entered public school, when I was six years old, I began keeping certain feelings and thoughts tucked away inside to control how people, my parents primarily, perceived me. I did not hide thoughts and feelings out of fear of punishment; rather, it was because I thought that what went on in my head was different than it should be. If I said what I thought, I would not be understood; instead, I would be made to feel more immature and stupid than my six years demanded of me—that was my perception.

Rather than opening myself to such feelings by taking the risk to talk about them, I kept them as an activity in my interior world, shielded from everyone; no one would know what I really thought or believed about anything. To open that world leaving those thoughts and feelings exposed would have made me vulnerable to being thought of as someone less than, or simply different from, who I really was.

Through the years, those feelings, incidents and thoughts become furniture in my interior world. I increasingly pushed concepts or ideas of which I had any uncertainty how they would be received—particularly truth about my authentic self—into the corners of my interior world where they would sit out of view but constantly nag me to let them be exposed to the outer world. Some of this truth about myself—the authentic me, the “real” me—would sneak out at unfortunate times and embarrass me and even bring false shame into my life because it didn’t measure up to who people perceived me to be. Even in those times, I mustered control to squash them and shove them back into my inner world where they wriggled around trying to find a new way to surface. The authentic me yearned to scream out, “Hey, this is me, the real David Wigger; but I allowed the fear of shame to control me.

The realization of how much of life I lived in a tightly monitored environment grew; yet vulnerability scared me. How could I open my hermetically sealed life? If I exposed my thoughts and feelings, dreams and desires, life would be over. This falsely fabricated life was built on keeping truth at smothered.

The visible structure I built called David Wigger was filled with good things of life. I had become pastor of a Baptist church when I was in high school and continued in pastorates during my secondary educational career and off and on throughout my life. In addition to being a pastor, I was also an international missionary, taught at the University of Saigon, managed national programs for starting churches, administered university and seminary educational programs, and wrote denominational promotional material, magazine articles and guidebooks. Following graduate school, I married my wife, who had a career of her own in women’s ministry and mission work. We had two children, who are each successful in their professions. After forty-five years of marriage, my wife died of cancer shortly after we began our final retirement.

My life appeared to be a successful, well-lived life of seventy-plus years and counting, yet my interior world was filled with thoughts and feelings and incidents as though they were furniture pushed to the edges and dust covers thrown over them. Some of them had been sitting there for years and seldom used as others were added and pushed to the side and covered with dust covers as well. I say seldom, occasionally I would remove the cover from a chair or couch or table and tentatively use them though feeling uncomfortable, even guilty. I longed to bring them into the open and invite other people to join me sitting at the table or on the couch or in the comfortable chairs. But, to do so would risk destroying the inauthentic life I had built.

I’m not talking about some huge sin or sins I have committed. I’m talking about not being willing to speak out when I fear I may say the wrong thing, or not reaching out to someone fearing my action may be misunderstood. On a deeper level, I’m talking about keeping hidden important information about the real me, about not being willing to let people see me authentically. To be transparent and vulnerable would mean dismantling the superstructure I had built, the life from which some people drew assumptions leading to a false understanding about me. Nothing would have changed had I not confronted my vulnerability. When I opened my life to expose my authentic self, albeit gradually, my interior life and the life I lived before the world began to slowly merge. This is a work in progress. I’m still learning how to be transparent. The reward of being open, vulnerable, and transparent is so much greater than building a superstructure fabricated out of what I wanted people to believe, a structure not consistent with who I truly am. Vulnerability erases deception and lies.

In Saturday’s comments, Stoner wrote, “When we talk about the courage to be vulnerable we are really talking about the courage to allow our vulnerability to be seen and to be known by others. A quote at the beginning of Saturday’s thoughts was from Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly: “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” I’m working on it.

Comments are closed.