Vulnerability: character – n. the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual; an aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of a person
I have never sought to be vulnerable. It’s never been one of those character traits that I lusted after, or that I even admired in others. In fact, for a long time, vulnerable people made me uncomfortable. How was I supposed to react to such honesty, such free flowing emotion? They seemed…well, weak. Not strong.
Strength Worked – Until it Didn’t
Strength was important to me. And someone who was strong like me holds it all together. Never let ‘em see me sweat. Manage your image. Tightly, ever so tightly. I controlled my feelings and reactions and intentions. That was me. That was my character. I was strong.
Until I wasn’t.
Sometimes life pushes you out of character. Sometimes life just has its way with you and gives self-insight even beyond your own self-awareness.
Six years ago, my sister who was my best friend and biggest cheerleader, was stricken with a rare, incurable cancer. She battled well, but in less than a year died. On the night that we put her into hospice care, only six months after the battle began, I drove away more numb than I had ever felt before. I arrived at a friend’s house where I was scheduled to meet that evening with several other women to discuss women’s programming at our church.
I probably should have cancelled out but I figured that my mask of control was intact, that I could be sad but not vulnerable, strong but not overly honest about my feelings. As always.
Vulnerability in All It’s Messy Detail
I was certainly not planning to fall apart. But I did. Completely. And these women, a couple of whom I had known for years, had never seen me do that. Not ever.
Geesh. I can’t even remember ever doing that in front of anyone but my husband. Maybe. Seldom. Ah, never.
As I stood at the kitchen counter, weeping uncontrollably, no one touched me, no one hugged me. None of them made a move toward me. Somehow they knew, instinctively, that this was a sacred moment. Not so much between myself and them, but between myself and my God. (As I write this, sitting in Starbucks, I am again weeping at the thought of that moment, and how God worked through it all.)
A breakdown of this magnitude may be status quo for many women, and for many others in similar emotional situations. But it was completely out of character for me. I was the woman of great strength, of controlled emotion. I was not supposed to cry, to weep, to lose control at all, and definitely not in front of others.
Or so I thought.
What happened was more than expressing my grief, it was more than just losing it after months of hoping and praying. It was so much more.
Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. - Romans 12.2
I was renewing me. I was stripping away a level of self-protection, showing a deeper level of myself, of my character. Getting out from under a layer or two of self-created character I had built for myself.
I had built a fortress on fear – fear that I will not be accepted, loved, noticed, cared for if the peelings come away. But I learned the hard way that the peelings had to go to expose the character that God wanted me to have.
SIDE NOTE: I am still learning how much trust in God the peeling requires!!
Character is like an Onion – And Not Just Because It Makes You Cry
I learned that character is like an onion. Lots of layers, lots of peeling to get to the core. With each layer comes a new degree of vulnerability, a unique experience in a sometimes-tear-inducing uncomfortableness.
But what is most curious about the onion-peeling way we grow, is that with each layer peeled away comes a new authenticity. With each layer there is more truth. Tomorrow’s ‘authentic’ may be different than today’s with each peeling producing yet another level of truth, of authenticity, of vulnerability, a new courageous rawness for the world to see.
But there is something good that comes of it. There will be a moment, in the rawness, that you will Get It. When it all becomes so worthwhile, so normal and expected.
If you watch and wait, you will notice more and more peeling opportunities, more ways to get closer to the authentic that we all crave.
And the beauty is that you get to choose. You get to choose how to react to the peelings. To learn from them, to hurt from them, to ignore them and push the peel back into place.
I could have decided to push my peel back into place. Smooth it over, pretend that the meltdown never happened. To reset the control mask and to hide for awhile longer.
But I chose to rip it off.
There is something so very powerful about exposure that transcends the norm. Like the deep, peaceful yoga-breath of release and calm.
And it remains.
Free to Feel
Although I still don’t let my feelings spill out as easy as others can, I feel the freedom to do it whenever I want. That’s a whole lot different than it used to be. I am no longer embarrassed by the thought of it. I no longer see that level of vulnerability as a weakness. In fact, I feel stronger because of it.
From that sobbing, blubbering pool of tears came something else. A serendipity that I did not expect. A friendship emerged that is deeper than most any I had before. A woman who had only been a peripheral friend at the time, more of an acquaintance, became the kind of friend who always shows up, always remembers. The one who asks me the hard questions, the one who listens to the hard issues. And vice versa.
She became a friend because I had given her, in my shattering, permission to do the same. At that point of letting go, I had given her rough, highly controlled onion, the freedom to peel away, to let go, to escape and become real. For the first time in her life.
We were both being freed.
SIDE NOTE: Just think what would happen if we all gave each other permission to be completely peeled? Staggering to think about, right?
I will close with this.
One of my biggest learnings from the past six years of peeling and shedding and rawness…
I need to get over my need to be finished.
I am still an unpeeled onion in so many ways. I believe, that the best is yet to be.
Think of yourself with sober judgement and press on to take hold of what God sees in you. (personal paraphrase of Romans 12.3 and Philippians 3.12)
More on Diane
Believe.com is so happy to have Diane writing with us. Diane is a writer and blogger and has authored Losing the Mask: Overcoming the Fear of Failure. She lives with her husband in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has two adult children, both married, and one incredibly cute and loveable granddaughter.
Photo credit: Photo found on Pinterest with original image sourced from Cosmopolitan.com.