Written by Joel Erhardt
“If fear is the great enemy of intimacy, love is its true friend.” – Henri Nouwen
Too often in our relationships, we trade honest vulnerability for a locked-up self. Sometimes, so the logic goes, it’s easier and less risky to interact with others without being fully vulnerable and honest with ourselves and with how we project ourselves to others. The risk of being vulnerable and then being rejected is too high. To a lot of us (myself included), it seems like the risk is not worth reward, but is this true? As C.S Lewis notes, “to love at all is to be vulnerable” and this is the hardest but most beautiful part of life.
Sure, all these mottos sound nice, but it’s always easier said than done (cliche intended). It’s much more comfortable to simply believe that we ought to love one another but it’s much harder to actually love people. Like our relationships with people, theology can’t just be abstract head knowledge, it needs to be practical as well. We can’t simply be stuck in intellectual thoughts that ring true in our ears, we need to act on our beliefs—otherwise what good are they?
If we are stuck in trying to have all the right answers or to live the right kind of life, we will miss out on the whole point—it’s not about us. Love is never about us; it has everything to do with letting go of ourselves, our expectations, and fears for the sake of someone else. It’s simply not enough to have your own private judgments that are only formulated by information content. Instead, our formation should involve love; for love is not just an emotion, value, or right way of thinking, it is an action directed toward the well-being of someone else. So, how do we do that? Well, it’s risky.
In my own life, the most formational place to practice love was on a campground. At camp, terms like “community” and “discipleship” were common Christianese words that we would use. Sure, they were good to hear, but these words contained more truth when I saw them being acted out. In particular, one person that I looked up to, who happened to be my direct supervisor, was helping me out while I was completing a difficult task. Upon thanking him for his help he mentioned, “I would never make you do something that I wasn’t willing to do myself.” To this day those words have stuck with me, for whenever I’m interacting with friends, I try to act on that advice. In doing so, how I relate to others is not coercive or authoritative, but vulnerable, self-sacrificing, and others-centred. The same can be said not in just doing menial tasks at work but also in community and friendship with others.
In your communities and friendships, how can you act out a vulnerable love? It’s risky… but that’s the whole point.
“We don’t believe something by merely saying we believe it, or even when we believe that we believe it. We believe something when we act as if it were true.” ― Dallas Willard