An Alabaster Moment
I walked into a room of men who had recently been released from prison. I was an intern working at a court-ordered treatment facility. My classes as a seminarian were filled with lessons on the beauties of vulnerability. Seeing emotional openness through rose-colored lenses, I assumed the men in my group would hold similar views.
I opened up our group discussion with a very simple question: “What does vulnerability mean to you?”
At the time, I was shocked by their responses. They characterized vulnerability as weakness and something to avoid. They told me about all the measures they had taken to avoid vulnerability. They needed to remain protective at all times.
As I listened to their tales smattered with the stains of abandonment, rejection, and pain, I quickly learned that vulnerability in an unsafe environment can be lethal. Emotionally, many of them had been imprisoned long before their sentence began.
True, many of us have never been inside a jail cell—but maybe we are emotionally imprisoned just the same.
Those of us in the LGBTQ+ community and our allies have experienced the pangs and tragedies of vulnerability gone wrong. We have been rejected by families and religious spaces. Choosing authenticity has often meant choosing isolation and hyper-vigilance. Vulnerability, for many reasons, has become a practice to avoid.
In safe spaces and with trustworthy people, however, the process of vulnerability can be rather life-giving. I often rehearse a line that has changed my approach to relationships: Trust the process of vulnerability. This mantra of sorts not only helps me adjust my emotional posture when I’d rather bask in the temporary power of pride, but it has also become a way of life.
Vulnerability comes in two distinct forms. One receives from the world. This is the type of vulnerability that requires humility to learn and be teachable. Receiving feedback, taking criticism, and being called out by those wiser than me are the moments when trusting the process of vulnerability is the hardest, but ultimately incredibly rewarding.
The other type of vulnerability gives to the world. We use this type of vulnerability to share our stories, our pain, and our insecurities. Emotional vulnerability creates connectedness, relational intimacy, and experiences of being known.
Simon the Pharisee and the woman who washed Jesus’; feet in Luke 7 demonstrate both of these types of vulnerability. Simon is critiqued by Jesus. He has not been the best host and Jesus compares him to a sinner. Simon stands exposed and takes a lesson from Jesus.
The woman, who seems to have admired Jesus a great deal, washes his feet with her tears, kisses his feet, and even rubs them with perfume from her alabaster jar. Taking a position of utter humility, she shares her affection for Jesus with a bold and sincere demonstration. I call it an alabaster moment.
Just like the woman’s alabaster jar that held the perfume poured upon Jesus’; feet, the process of vulnerability holds something precious.
Once we find ourselves exposed, whether to learn or to share, we have to trust that the openness is for our betterment. We have to push through the initial fear long enough to see vulnerability soften our pride, soothe our fears, and create safety. We begin to notice that vulnerability actually heals wounds, inspires trust, and creates intimacy. And when I am open and honest, it liberates another to do and be the same. Vulnerability breeds vulnerability.
It is true that, in an unsafe environment, vulnerability can lead to an emotionally, spiritually, or relationally lethal situation. But, in a safe and trustworthy environment, vulnerability produces life.
Sharing our stories and learning from the variety of perspectives we find at Q Christian Fellowship gives us the opportunity to trust the process of vulnerability. Walking side by side with all our stories, ranging from Side A to Side B and beyond, requires pushing past our assumptions and fears, our pride and comfort zones. It requires learning from each others history and wisdom, but also begs for your bold and sincere demonstrations of openness.
We welcome your stories.
The Side B story belongs. Side B community member, you are our sibling. Your wisdom is cherished and your perspective is honored.
The Side A story belongs. Side A community member, you are our sibling. Your wisdom is cherished and your perspective is honored.
If your position doesn’t fit neatly in Side A or Side B, your story belongs. You are our sibling. Your wisdom is cherished and your perspective is honored.
If you’ve never heard of these terms before, your story belongs. You are our sibling. Your wisdom is cherished and your perspective is honored.
May we take bold and sincere steps to learn from one another and strengthen our community as beloved children of God, side by side. Practicing Love Undivided is our opportunity for another great alabaster moment. We all hold something precious. Let us share.
Questions for this week's devotional:
In what areas of life might you take measures to guard yourself from vulnerability?
How might another grow from and find safety in your demonstrations of vulnerability? In other words, how might your story be a gift to another?
Is there an area where you are hungry to have more vulnerability? If so, where?