Vulnerable – Br. Luke Ditewig

Br. Luke DitewigNot long ago I shared with a Brother about a difficult experience and my emotions around it. This was something I had never told anyone before. Part of his empathic response was, “Luke, you’re human.” In the moment, I thought he meant the content of what I shared. But looking back, I see that it was in being vulnerable—risking to speak and be exposed—that I was most human.

Brené Brown is a research professor who has studied vulnerability for over ten years. Perhaps you’ve seen her online. Her 20-minute talk “The Power of Vulnerability” at a TED conference quickly became one of the most popular TED talks with over 7 million views. Brown defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.”[i] It’s putting yourself out there when anything could happen. It’s risking action in the face of fear and all other obstacles. It’s sharing your emotions.

Here are some ways people Brown interviewed described vulnerability: “sharing an unpopular opinion, standing up for myself, falling in love, asking for help, saying no, initiating sex with my [partner], calling a friend whose child just died, signing up my mom for hospice care, the first date after my divorce, bringing my new boyfriend home, stepping up to the plate after a series of strikeouts, admitting I’m afraid.”[ii] Vulnerability feels like “going out on a high limb, taking off a straightjacket, taking off a mask, free-falling, and letting go of control.”[iii]

So vulnerability stinks! I want to be in control. I avoid high limbs and free falling at all costs. I try to run away or hide. Let me blend into the background. Just wait till I can get myself together and be perfect enough before you see me. I don’t want to get hurt. The word vulnerability comes from the Latin “to wound” and its definition includes “capable of being wounded” and “open to attack or damage.”[iv] We run from fear of the potential of being hurt. That’s why I never told anyone what I finally told my Brother.

We can’t keep running away. That’s only a tempting illusion. You and I can’t be perfect, or free from pain, or free from fear. Vulnerability is “infinitely terrifying and achingly necessary.”[v] Because what’s the alternative? Running, hiding or gritting your teeth while trying to get better just binds us up. It imprisons us. It drains us of life.

Courage isn’t the absence of fear. It’s stepping into the fearful place. We can’t get courage by running, hiding or gritting our teeth. It won’t come from waiting for me or the situation to change. Courage is acting, leaning into the situation as I am. Courage isn’t the absence of fear. It’s stepping into the fearful place.

Vulnerability is courageous. In Brené Brown’s words: “It’s daring to show up and let ourselves be seen. Vulnerability is daring greatly.”[vi] Life keeps asking us to show up and be ourselves, with all the varying emotions and all the messiness. Being vulnerable is being human. Leaning into it, embracing vulnerability is life-giving. Saint Irenaeus, a second century bishop, wrote:

“The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” To be fully alive is to embrace vulnerability, to dare greatly. We see this best in Jesus.

As we’ve sung and heard in the Gospel: The Word—that is, Jesus—became flesh and dwelt among us. God dared greatly to become fully human and fully alive. The Word “through whom all things came into being” risked descending all the way down to be a baby to a young, poor, backward, soon refugee couple. God risked descending all the way down, not to perfection, not to security but to vulnerability. Jesus was fully human by constantly inviting to risk amid uncertain outcomes, first as a baby.

Jesus shared unpopular opinions, stood up for himself, asked for help, said no, made friends, reached out to the grieving, and got hurt. He wasn’t just capable of being wounded, but he also bore our wounds upon himself. All this in the last couple years of life growing up from that helpless infancy, trying and failing, being taught and discovering his way, his voice, and his identity. Jesus was fully human.

Jesus had the full spectrum of emotion and experience. He was sad and had compassion for those who suffered. He wept with a broken heart including upon the death of his friend Lazarus. He got mad at injustice and hypocrisy (“you brood of vipers!”) and got frustrated at his disciples who were continually arguing and not getting his point. Jesus changed his way of thinking as with the surprising confrontation with a Syrophoenician woman. Jesus learned and developed. Jesus was human!

Did Jesus fall in love? I think so. Sexuality with its energy, delight and confusion is part of being human for each of us. So too, Jesus had the whole range of joy. He went to many dinner parties. He must have learned to savor life. Children enjoyed interacting with him. He must have experienced wonder through their perspective. He said “consider the lilies of the field” probably because he had actually done that, gazed with wonder at nature. Jesus was human!

As we have sung, “Veiled in flesh the God-head see; hail the incarnate Deity. Pleased with us as man to dwell; Jesus, our Emmanuel.”[vii] Here is hope of Christmas: God comes in flesh as a human being. God comes to be with us, meets us where we are, as vulnerable humans. God is with us and for us as we are, creatures who keep facing terrifying and necessary exposure. Jesus fully gets us because of his humanity. He faced the fear. He was exposed. Jesus embraced vulnerability.

Saint Irenaeus also said: “Because of his boundless love, Jesus became what we are that he might make us to be what he is.” That he might make us to be what he is. What is Jesus? He’s as human as you, and he’s as human as me. And he’s more. Jesus is fully alive. He lives the abundant life and invites us to share it. Jesus models and empowers us to dare greatly. Jesus is God with us and Jesus is human. He promises to stay with us. Here is the hope of Christmas.

[i] Brené Brown (2012) Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead. New York, NY: Gotham Books, p34.

[ii] Ibid, p35-36.

[iii] Ibid, p38-39.

[iv] Ibid, p39.

[v] Ibid, p38.

[vi] Ibid, p2.

[vii] “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!” verse 2

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  1. Sandra Casey-Martus on January 20, 2018 at 06:47

    About to attend our Annual Meeting. I thank you for your wise words of encouragement, affirmation, and comfort. So much of our social cultural world denies and is suspicious of anything that smacks of vulnerability and yet our Master and Lord proudly wore it as a coat of arms. In Jesus’ vulnerability is/was his strength and utter dependency upon his Heavenly Father. To “lean into the Lord” is our greatest safety net. And, all shall be well. Again, sincere thanks for your reflection.

  2. Anders on June 30, 2017 at 07:45

    Thanks for posting this as it had a healing impact on me. Jesus was fully alive and even sexual, a truth we seem to deny. He called himself “Son of Man” or “the Human One” but we talk about his incarnation in an abstract way that detracts our vitality. Today I shall affirm the body of Christ in the space between my scalp and my toenails, and it is good.

  3. Nicki Bourne on December 22, 2016 at 10:24

    To feel vulnerable is yet to act. To act in vulnerability is to go with a subtle switch into living fully and with purpose. To do so is to welcome the Holy Spirit with trust and eagerness to be.
    Thank you Brother Luke.

  4. Roderic Brawn on October 2, 2016 at 18:17

    Thanks for this. I needed to be reminded that feeling vulnerable is to be human.

  5. Rhonda on October 2, 2016 at 10:07

    Wow. Thank you, Brother Luke. I was diagnosed a year ago with a chronic pain syndrome. A few months later, my husband died in my arms, following a six-year heart-wrenching and (for me) back-breaking journey through Alzheimer’s Disease. Two weeks after his death, I had an appendectomy, followed by a broken toe, then, ten days ago, a collapsed lung. I have missed so much work and I am so exhausted and in so much physical and emotional anguish.

    I needed this reminder to stop trying to run away from my pain. To admit how broken I feel.

  6. Rev. Ivan R. Buxeda on April 24, 2016 at 13:24

    It is an exelent article. Bro. Luke. I am an old member of St. John Fellowship in Puerto Rico.

  7. Joyce McGirr on January 25, 2016 at 11:11

    Dear Brother Luke,
    Thank you for this meaningful reflection. Often vulnerability is thought of as weakness but I have found it to be the opposite. When I am honest with my own fears and anxieties, being vulnerable often brings me to a new place of strength and confidence and liberation. Somehow in those moments when I let go and dare to be honest with myself and others, the Holy Spirit stirs my soul and lifts me to a new beginning, again and again and again— Jesus calls me to trust that power again and again and again……He did today in your reflection. Thanks be to God.

  8. Joanna Cotter on November 11, 2015 at 09:32

    Thank you -such comforting & appropriate words. Courage, the ability to step into it, is too hard right now as I sit at the vets waiting for the blood work results for my very sick Chaplin, the love of my life. God be with me.

  9. Ann on November 11, 2015 at 08:26

    That was beautiful and just what I needed today.

  10. MIchael on November 11, 2015 at 07:59

    Showing up whether we feel like it or not is hard. I still don’t have it down yet, but I’m still trying to work on it without belittling and degrading myself for the times when I am less successful

  11. Kathleen on July 9, 2015 at 11:55

    Br. Luke, thank you for this thought-provoking sermon. I find it difficult to be vulnerable in the sense of relinquishing control. You’ve given me much to think about and act upon, using the best possible role model. Keep up your excellent work!

  12. Kathryn on July 9, 2015 at 10:25

    Dear Br, Luke. T0uche. HiTs The Sp0T. Many Thanks f0r caLLing Our ATTenTi0ns T0 ReaLiTy.

  13. Dee Dee on July 9, 2015 at 08:17

    Thank you for these thoughts this morning. I am thankful for this idea that vulnerability is courageous, and that Jesus shows us over and over again what that means and how that looks. Remaining courageous and vulnerable in the face of fear and pain is hard, but I will continue to try to show up each day, as Jesus did, rather than closing myself off from life. Thank you for the reminder that a life lived from a place of fear is no life at all.

  14. Rick Porter on July 9, 2015 at 08:13

    Brother Luke, thank you for this sermon. It was exactly what I needed to take into me this morning. God bless, Rick

  15. Marta e. on July 9, 2015 at 06:36

    The image of Jesus as human makes Him closer to us. Then, in the circle of life, it also helps us realize that just as He is divine, we also have the opportunity to realize that we also have aspects of divinity within us: the opportunity to step outside of our selfish selves and forgive, find patience and understanding, with-hold our tongue and anger/frustration, be compassionate, etc. That must be why it is soo hard to do, . . . .

  16. Judith on January 5, 2015 at 10:06

    That was a beautiful, beautiful sermon, Br. Luke. It gave me additional strength with which to start the New Year. We thank God for your presence among the brothers of SSJE!

  17. Margo on January 5, 2015 at 08:32

    Love the energy of this offering. It echoes the voice of some of the other brothers, perhaps Holy Spirit .. Thank you margo

    • margo fletcher on January 20, 2018 at 06:20

      Listened to the TED talk this time. Resonated with it very much. Thank you Br. Luke.

  18. Fiona Martin on January 5, 2015 at 03:35

    There is often much over-emphasis on the divinity of Jesus and his humanity is often underplayed – this is just SO refreshing! I said a loud “amen!”

    • Virginia McLeod on January 20, 2018 at 23:45

      This was my thought also. I found the sermon refreshing, and I also found it refreshing to discover that someone else had this reaction. Thank you to both.

  19. Ruth West on January 15, 2013 at 19:06

    Br. Luke, this sermon brought out so clearly that Jesus is real God and
    real man. Glory be to the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. AMEN!

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