C. S. Lewis wrote that to love is to be vulnerable.
The full quote is a beautiful one. It’s one I’ve held onto for a while, one that reminds me I have to give up safe in order to receive something so much better. But that doesn’t mean vulnerability is easy, by any means. And slowly, I am peeling back the layers of my life to reveal the fear and the imperfection, and I am learning to find joy.
As a culture, we talk a lot about vulnerability, authenticity, and radical honesty. On Instagram, it all sounds lovely and wonderful and easy. We cheer those who post selfies without makeup and candids without filters. We encourage those who share about struggling with insecurities, and with simply being human. And I love that — I love that we’re allowing each other to be real with the things we all face, and finding solace as we silently shout, “You too? I thought I was the only one.”
But sharing an occasional imperfection is very different than letting someone inside to see everything.
I’m dating now. That’s a weird sentence to put down, because for so long I never thought I’d say those three words. But I’m in a relationship, an incredibly good one, where this kind of vulnerability is required of me on a daily basis. There’s only so much I can hide behind, and it’s messy and uncomfortable and occasionally freaks me out.
But I’m realizing how good and sweet and necessary it is.
Letting one specific person in is an entirely different kind of vulnerability than the social media kind. It’s more than just the sharing of an insecurity or a struggle — it’s a kind of honesty that goes deeper than just words. Real, relational vulnerability is to be truly seen and deeply known, with no guarantee of being fully loved. And that’s terrifying.
Because here’s the truth about pretty much all of us:
We want to be known.
We want to be accepted.
We want to be loved.
But we shrink away from the risk of rejection.
There’s a song by Julien Baker called “Everybody Does,” and that song has stuck with me since the very first time I heard it.
“You’re gonna run when you find out who I am / … / You’re gonna run, it’s alright, everybody does.”
You’re gonna run when you find out who I am. That’s a real fear. To be exposed is an uncomfortable, scary place to be, because you give people the option of seeing you for all of who you are, and saying, “No thanks, I don’t want to deal with that.” This kind of rejection isn’t for what your hair looks like, or who you are before coffee in the morning, but the deep-down, gut-wrenching, soul-things that are pretty impossible to change or control. It’s shattering.
Unconditional love is never a guarantee, and the more authentic we are, the more reasons we give to others to run. But as Lewis says, to love at all is to be vulnerable. If we want to experience the beauty of love, we have to risk.
To truly love is to truly be seen – opening ourselves up to be rejected for the ugliest, messiest pieces of our souls. The core, unchangeable, deeply flawed, human things. Fears, mess-ups, selfishness, scars, bad habits, all of it.
But in order to be fully loved, we must let ourselves be deeply known. And it is a risk. It’s painful and terrifying. But when our hearts are treasured instead of cast aside, loved instead of left, accepted instead of rejected, vulnerability leads to a joy that is otherwise impossible: the joy of been fully seen, deeply known, and wholly loved.
Because here’s the thing about love: love says, “I don’t need you to be perfect. I just want you.”
As I’ve grown, I’ve realized that our relationship with God is a whole lot like this. It’s a lot easier to wrap our minds around the idea of God cosmically loving us, but we wrestle and fight when we’re told that God personally loves us too. That He likes us. That He wants us. Because why should He?
We’re so used to seeing all the messes that comprise our hearts that we hesitate to bring all of who we are to Him – we’re ashamed. And so, we create comfortable cushions of religion around ourselves to avoid the kind of vulnerability with God that causes us to face the mess and humbly seek Him in all of His grace and goodness, because it’s so not what we are. So we run to rules, to-do lists, forced holiness. We fill our lives and our schedules with the things we think we should do for God in order to avoid the discomfort of standing in front of Him, bare souled and inadequate to meet His standards. “Maybe if I did enough,” we rationalize, “then He’d be pleased with me.”
But if only we’d bring or mess and lay it down at His feet, we’d find His love to be abundant and gracious and free. We’d see that He looks at us as holy and blameless and beautiful and enough because of what Christ did on or behalf. We’d stop running and rest in the shadow of His glory.
But first, we have to humble ourselves to be seen – so He can fully introduce us to grace.
God’s grace is so cool. Cool feels like such a weak word to describe such an incredible, awe-inspiring reality. Hulu is cool, and so is ice skating, and here I am, claiming that the Creator of the universe is at the same rank as two things that cost $6. But here’s why God’s grace is cool: when we bring Him our failure, He brings us His joy. Where else can we find that kind of unconditional love?
One of my favorite truths is here, in this: God doesn’t love us because we’re good; He loves us because He’s good.
And therefore, when we choose to let ourselves be seen by Him, to give Him our hearts when we want to run, to lay down our lives at His feet and say “this is all I have – and I trust You” – our souls find redemption and healing and peace.
I don’t think vulnerability ever gets any easier, but these truths remain:
If we want to experience love, we have to be vulnerable.
And if we want to know the love God so freely lavishes, we have to let ourselves be exposed.
But here, and only here – in the wild adventure of breaking open and being fully seen – will we find the kind of joy our souls crave.