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“How are you doing?”
It’s a pet peeve of mine — that I’m also guilty of — when those words are used as a greeting rather than as a question. It’s easy to say, “How are you doing?” without actually wanting a substantive answer. Sometimes people will ask me that without even breaking stride as they pass me by. The only appropriate, or even physically possible, answer becomes “Oh, fine” or “Good!” — even if things may not be so. This type of shallow greeting embodies a lot of our everyday interactions. We often hum along the surface in relationships but rarely plunge beneath to the real state of our hearts.
Community: A Place for Reality
Christian community should be one of the places where people can actually be vulnerable. Gathering with fellow Christians should be one of the few times where we don’t hide the realities of life. To be vulnerable may mean to be honest about sin, or brokenness, or weakness, or just the general mess of life. Vulnerability encompasses guilt from the past, low-level anxiety, loneliness, sadness, or a general lack of joy or satisfaction. Some may be doubting God, feeling overwhelmed or inadequate as a Christian, husband, wife, parent, or employee.
There’s a danger when Christians are expected to be open and honest, but are not. If someone opens up about an issue, and others respond with flippant attitudes, Christian clichés, total silence, shock and disgust, or perhaps even indifference, this discourages and even prevents openness. It communicates to the one who shared, as well as to the others in the group, that what was shared is unimportant. Others will remember this experience and never share anything vulnerable about themselves. When Christians fail to respond well to tender moments it stunts friendships and ministry, and it leads to nice, but superficial relationships.
What Is Redemptive Vulnerability?
So what is redemptive vulnerability? To be vulnerable is to be susceptible to being wounded or hurt. In the context of community, vulnerability is opening up about one’s humanity. It’s to admit that we are not perfect people. We have not arrived. We are broken, unfinished people who live in a world that itself is broken because of the fall. We experience depression, burn out, cancer, sadness, death, grief, disability, disease, relational strife, loneliness, lust, anxiety, and the list goes on.
But our story doesn’t need to end with brokenness. Redemptive vulnerability — a vulnerability that leads to life — is where we share our brokenness in order to display the surpassing power and sufficiency of Christ and the gospel, which transforms us increasingly into the likeness of Christ. Vulnerability is not an end in itself. Rather, our vulnerability should point us, individually and together with other believers, to the sufficiency of Jesus. It looks at and hopes in the redemption we have in Christ Jesus and the work of the cross.
God Uses Weak People for His Best Work
Paul calls the Corinthians to remember that they were not the cultural elite, the politically powerful, or the materially rich, but rather the foolish, weak, low, and despised (1 Corinthians 1:26–31). The principle at work here is that God intentionally uses weak things to accomplish his glorious purposes. The reason God does it this way is so that “no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:29). God alone is to get the glory.
God doesn’t need the powerful, influential, or the cultural movers and shakers to accomplish his work. God actually goes out of his way to give disproportionate impact to the weak, humble, and foolish so that Christ receives all the glory. God intentionally uses weak people to do his best work. When we recognize that we are weak people, we can stop trying to keep up a façade and instead look to the sufficiency and goodness of our God that brings redemption, healing, and comfort to our struggles.
Bringing Redemption to Our Vulnerability
Recently, a friend shared that their small group — in one year — had walked through the death of a parent, a felony crime, drug-related charges, psychological issues, same-sex attraction, marital discord, job transition, and disability. Yet they weren’t stalled on any one of those issues. They prayed, studied God’s word, supported each other, and reminded one another of who God is and what he has done. They didn’t become a self-help group. They didn’t just listen and lament. They listened, and then they looked to God together. They let the truths and promises of Scripture fill their hearts and minds as they walked through those challenging situations and circumstances.
To bring redemption to our vulnerability means we open up not to wallow in our situation, but to lift our eyes together to God in hope. We can look together at his promises. We cry out together for comfort, wisdom, help, and faith. We listen to one another, and to labor together in prayer because sometimes we’re too feeble to pray alone. Weakness and vulnerability remind us that we are dependent and God is sufficient. God loves to meet us in our moments of need and to give us more of his grace as we seek it moment by moment, especially with others.
No Quick Fixes
How this plays out in our individual communities and relationships will require wisdom. It’s not simple or clear-cut. We walk with each other through hard things that may not have tidy conclusions or ever end this side of heaven. We don’t apply the gospel like someone putting a Band-Aid on cancer. Instead, we let the truth of the gospel and the power of the indwelling Spirit fill our bodies like chemotherapy drugs that enter into our spiritual bloodstream. There are rarely quick fixes or simple solutions for life’s problems, but we can look to a powerful, merciful, loving, and sufficient Father who has loved us thoroughly through his Son at Calvary.
Redemptive vulnerability does not put a spotlight on vulnerability, brokenness, or sin. Redemptive vulnerability highlights and magnifies how good, sufficient, kind, persistent, and gracious God is. It’s his grace that makes us aware of our need for him. It’s his grace that causes us to cry out in dependence, to turn away from sin, and to remind us of his love.
We can embrace our varied weaknesses in order that God’s power might be displayed. It’s the reminder we all need daily. God is sufficient. God is good. God loves you. And Jesus Christ will never leave you nor forsake you. No matter how weak or vulnerable we may be, we can look to Christ, whose grace is sufficient for us and made perfect in our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9).