Vulnerability: Beauty in the Midst of Adversity

by Kim Trouten, M.A.

I enjoy jewelry.  I especially like big, chunky and colorful necklaces that add a pop of color to my outfits.  But one of my favorite and most meaningful pieces is not big or chunky or colorful but is rather small and doesn’t make much of a statement.  It is a 1”x1” picture of red flowers on branch hung on a simple wire loop.

It is handmade by an artist in California utilizing Japanese art and techniques.  On its own it’s beautiful, but it carries a deeper meaning.   When I bought it, the artist shared with me that the tree branch with red flowers is called winter plum and to the Japanese it symbolizes beauty in the midst of adversity.  The tree blooms when the weather is hard and frigid.  The blooms thrive when the world seems dead, hostile, even.  There is no other sign of life around the tree but yet it blooms, its beauty sounding like a bell in a silent world.

Beauty in the midst of adversity has become a precious phrase to me.  It gives my heart a picture of what it means to flourish as a tender yet strong woman in an often harsh world.  But what is this beauty in a woman that can grow in the midst of adversity?  I believe it is the paradoxical strength of vulnerability.

In her book Strong Women, Soft Hearts Paula Rinehart defines vulnerability as “that paradoxical place where you discover the strength God has placed in you by actually risking the pain you would normally run from—especially in close relationships.”  Vulnerability literally means “able to be wounded,” which seems to have nothing to do with our usual ideas of strength.  We all have a difficult person or situation in our lives that causes us continued pain.  It could be a bank account that’s always hovering near zero, a lingering illness or health problem, a husband who is difficult or impossible to connect with, parents whom you only seem to disappoint, children who want nothing to do with you, a miscarriage or being left out of a group.

To be vulnerable in these situations means to “voluntarily place yourself, for the sake of a larger purpose, in a situation that could bring pain.  You see something at stake—your own spiritual growth or someone else’s—and you are willing to risk your heart in a vulnerable way.”  It takes courage to be vulnerable and share your heart.  It may mean telling a friend, co-worker or relative how they impact you.  It might mean interrupting your husband’s video game to share a low point in your day and hoping he listens and responds with care and sensitivity.

To do this requires us to be aware of our desires and feelings, which can be scary, excruciating even.  We have to ask ourselves such questions as What do I really feel about this situation?  What do I think?  We allow our dreams, fears, needs and losses to matter and this takes courage.  Taking time to know our own hearts isn’t selfish but part of a process that allows us to more wholly offer ourselves to others in love.  How can I deepen a relationship if I don’t know how I feel about it?  Your feelings may be the very instrument that God uses to draw someone closer to him as they see the impact of their sin or mistake.  Or by simply sharing your own need (sharing your heart isn’t always about telling others how they hurt you) you allow someone else the opportunity to give of themselves.

I wish I could tell you that if you become aware of how you feel in a difficult situation and then offer your feelings that the other person/people will respond with understanding, gentleness or a willingness to help.  I wish I could guarantee that for you.  Sometimes that does happen, but sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes it all blows up or falls flat and you feel worse than before.  You feel shame in your gut from their response.  How others receive our vulnerability feels huge.  And it is a big deal to our hearts at first.  But over time the response we get is secondary.  “Real success is measured only by the courage it takes to do and say what needs to be done or said.  Strength becomes the amount of vulnerability you can offer.  What it comes down to, essentially, is this: What will you do with your heart, even if no one understands or offers validation?  Will you honor your heart with the dignity God does—regardless of how you are met by others?”

Vulnerability is the beauty in the mist of adversity that we are called to.  It is tenderness, openness, courage and strength all combined in our hearts and offered to others in the face of daunting circumstances.  May God give us the grace to boldly pursue it.

Categories Article | Tags: | Posted on March 25, 2014

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