In counseling, in life, in love, it's such an essential (and frequently elusive) quality. Without risk, there is no chance of reward. With risk, there's unavoidable occasion for pain and heartache. CS Lewis cautions us that, "To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken."(full excerpt below) And how right he is. To make oneself vulnerable, at least this side of eternity, there's a whole lot of the bad coming in with the good, it's unavoidable and unimaginably painful, but we'd surely suffocate in our own selfishness if we refused to open up, and so many of us do.
Whether reeling from the scars of dysfunctional upbringings, encamped in the prison of addiction or substance abuse, or self-medicating with deviant sexual behavior, people are dying to be known, crying out for the slightest recognition from a world which has demonstrated to them nothing more than a passing utilitarian curiosity which has examined their usefulness and found them apparently lacking. If you are of no use, then you are of no interest, and if you cannot capture some one's interest, then you cannot possibly hope to gain their love. Bl. Mother Theresa of Calcutta lamented "There are thousands of people dying for a piece of bread. There are thousands upon thousands dying for a bit of love."
It's easy to pursue love in the capitalistic manner the world encourages, and not so very different from buying a car. You head to the dealership where you find numerous available cars, all competing for your attention, choose a few of the more eye catching models to take out for a test-drive, and then settle for the sensible and more affordable option you had in mind to begin with. As you drive off the lot though, and perhaps from time to time down the road, you may think back wistfully on the sports cars you test drove, recognizing the practicality and reliability of the SUV you brought home, but longing for the excitement which the sports car would have provided.
Is this the lasting foundation for a satisfactory and fruitful relationship though? Knowing that you were chosen not for your own unique qualities and personality, but because you edged out the competition on one or more levels?
Vulnerability comes with a steep price tag then, as there's no guarantee your efforts won't be rewarded with rejection. But it's an unavoidable prerequisite to the development of real intimacy. Between children and parents, husbands and wives, counselors and clients, self-disclosure is the fertile soil where trust can take root and blossom into real love.
(Well, perhaps not love in the case of the therapeutic relationship, but that's another post entirely!)
To really make oneself vulnerable, to truly open up to another person and reveal your intimate self, this is the most frightening thing in the world. Look where it got Jesus. Vulnerability exposes every weakness, acknowledges every shortcoming and asks, "will you love me anyway?" It's the ultimate act of self offering, and of course it's dangerous. Dangerous and wonderful and rewarding beyond our wildest expectations. Look at the Cross. Look at the most passionate and enduring love the world has ever known. And look how much it hurt.
"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell."
- CS Lewis , The Four Loves