On the whole in our culture we do not do well with vulnerability.

Most of us will do almost anything to avoid experiencing our own vulnerability or to escape the vulnerability of another person.

What is it that makes vulnerability so difficult? Why are we so much more comfortable with hardness, independence and harshness? Why do we find ourselves so much more naturally drawn to be protective and guarded rather than open and soft?

Vulnerability feels  like weakness. To be vulnerable is to feel the possibility that I may not be able to cope with the realities of my life.

The word “vulnerable” derives from the late Latin vulnerabilis which means “wounding.” To be vulnerable is to connect with the fact that life does wound me. Sometimes life hurts. When I experience my vulnerability I am forced to acknowledge that there are situations and circumstances in life over which I have no control and which I may not be able to fix and that these situations may involve suffering.

I want to be able to fix the broken realities of life. I want to be able to live in the illusion that there is no cloud without a silver lining and that no matter what dark shadows may cross my path, I will always be able to find the glimmer of light hidden in the darkness. So much of my life is driven by my desire to avoid pain.

Paul, the apostle, did not seem to feel the need to avoid the reality of his own weakness. Describing his visit to the Christians in Corinth, Paul admitted with boldness,

I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. (I Corinthians 2:3)

Paul, the great leader of the church, did not attempt to hide his own awareness of weakness. He did not flee from the wounding that he knew was part of the human condition. The word Paul used to describe himself was ä-sthe’-nā-ä; it means “want of strength, weakness, infirmity.”

Most of us fear ä-sthe’-nā-ä because we believe there is something we may have to face that is too overwhelming. There are certain storms our mind imagines that we fear we lack the resources to navigate.

Madame Jeanne de Salzmann suggests, in the face of such a fear,

I must live the insufficiency. (The Reality of Being, p. 240)

She goes on to suggest that if, instead of fleeing from my feeling of “insufficiency,” I accept “the conditions of suffering… and my powerlessness… staying in front of my insufficiency,” then “a new feeling appears.” At the very point of my “lack,” my “powerlessness” and my “insufficiency,” I discover “an energy of a higher quality” is present.

A little further on in his letter to the Corinthians, having acknowledged honestly the awareness of weakness in his life, Paul affirms,

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (I Corinthians 3:16)

By resisting or refusing my sense of “lack,” I lose touch with the “Spirit” who dwells in the “temple” of my being. I miss this “higher quality.” When I flee from my vulnerability, I become unconscious and lose touch with my true inner strength. When I hide from my weakness and avoid the suffering life inevitably brings, I become smaller as a person. I lose touch with the possibility of a power that is greater than any circumstance I might ever face. When I refuse to “live the insufficiency” fear grows.

But, when instead of fleeing in fear, I sit with the fragile reality of life, an awareness begins to emerge that there is a “higher quality” that is my true nature. I become conscious of  a strength that cannot be overwhelmed by any circumstance. This is the gift of my vulnerability.

True strength does not need to avoid vulnerability. It does not need to hide from or deny the fragile nature of life. True strength emerges at the very heart of my experience of weakness.