This post is part of our Lenten series, journeying the Stations of the Cross. In this reflection on the Tenth Station of the Cross, Jesus Is Stripped of His Garments, Bridget reminds us that love requires vulnerability. We humans weren’t made to live on an island. We’re most fully alive when we allow ourselves to be in community with one another, sharing our stories of healing and nurturing broken hearts.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even 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. To love is to be vulnerable.”C.S. Lewis
At the Tenth Station of the Cross, we meditate on how Jesus was stripped of all his clothing and left in His most vulnerable human state, naked and exposed. His physical nakedness hid the power He possessed as fully Divine. He chose to be present to us, to reveal Himself as fully human in this station, allowing the humiliation to be heaped upon Him as He chose a criminal’s death over breaking away from the series of events. He didn’t have to suffer. He could have walked away from His own suffering, and our redemption.
In this life, there are different types of nakedness. There is the obvious physical, which is sometimes glorified in our pleasure- and gratification-seeking society. It also symbolizes and demonstrates the poverty of the materially poor around the world: the famous photos of the child running fully naked after the Napalm bombing in Vietnam and the survivors (and victims) in the concentration camps. Nakedness is often used for exploitation or for shock value.
There is also socioeconomic and medical vulnerability. The presence of illness, the lack of ability to support oneself financially or materially, the need for supportive services, and the knowledge that one is open to assault or further injury due to their circumstances are tremendously painful realities. I see this daily in my work as a bedside nurse: the fear, powerlessness, anger, and uncertainty of not knowing what comes next or how grave the medical issue is that the patient and family are facing. We are met with it in the complex issues of homelessness and mental health challenges faced by so many, with such limited resources available. We are angered and shamed by it.
Just as we are taught and as we need to clothe our bodies and to call out injustice when we witness it, we have an additional challenge: the nakedness of being vulnerable emotionally or spiritually. The depths of our hearts and souls are grounds in which our weaknesses and sins and fears may take root. We feel the need to cover our wounds, to live the “Instagram Life,” to compare and contrast our lives, spirituality, health, weight, possessions, credentials, and appearances with what we think is the reality demonstrated before us on social media and in ads. We keep up appearances, give our everything in work, parenting, relationships, homemaking, schooling, career aspirations, and accomplishments.
We have all been wounded, and we have all sinned. We have doubts and worries. Why are we so scared to share them with each other? Why must we live on an island of our own making and pretend that all is well when we are living the human condition, in temporary bodies, temporary situations and with temporary status symbols?
I was a member of the leadership team at a girls’ camp for over 20 years. I was the calm, dependable, solid one, not terribly physically gifted but as organized as could be. I was the administrator, the behind-the-scenes guru, and I made sure everything ran like clockwork. I knew where everything was. I was the first to wake up and the last to go to bed. I wanted to be the be-all end-all team member. Through the decades I was a camp counselor, administrator, senior leader and at one time, co-director. I wanted to demonstrate perfect calm and collectedness on the outside. It was the opposite of how I felt inside.
The entire time I was on staff, I knew in my heart that I was not the right person for the job. I believed that I was squeaking by, just because there was no one even a little better than me available. I could sense the “inner circle” which I was not part of, I always stood on the outside of the gathering tent, either just out of reach, or in the back. I anticipated the needs of the staff, drawing myself close to a few of the counselors in ways I thought would be helpful, had everything at the ready before it was needed, and had the answer for any question or crisis. At one point, one of the counselors had a job crisis and was on the verge of breaking up with her boyfriend. I decided that I was the one she could go to for comfort. Another counselor badly sprained her ankle on the last night of camp, after 2:00 am. I was there immediately with bags of ice, crutches and words of encouragement. I was the “clutch” person. But I never, never let myself be honest in front of my cohort.
I knew that if they saw the person I really was inside, the hurt, inferiority, ugliness, fear, and loneliness, I would be tossed aside and told how unfit I was to be in the presence of any of those I considered friends. I grasped at the ability to meet practical, physical, and emotional needs and offered the external expertise, preparation, and organization to provide for everyone else’s needs. I shunned my own and kept my unbelief to myself.
When another person trusts me enough to openly share their struggles, or when I hear their deep fears and they expose what they feel ashamed of, my reaction is never to shame or belittle that person. My immediate reaction is gratitude! I am honored that someone would be so vulnerable with me and have confidence that I would listen to them without judgment. It is incredibly difficult to trust that we will be heard without the lightning bolt striking us down immediately. But my goodness, the relief that comes when we have brought the darkness within us into the light, and it has been embraced by another human!
Just the other night I had a meeting with friends. After the initial small talk, the brokenness in each of our lives, the challenges of the moment and deep-seeded struggles were poured out from each of us, willing to take the step forward and share from our honest selves. We learned that we are all in similar places, facing uniquely different situations but able to hold each other up with our own stories and encouragements. We found solace in each other and in the willingness of the others to be vulnerable. We are able to love each other better when we know the full truth of the wounds we carry.
We embraced each other, we felt heard and understood, and we now share a deeper sense of how each of the others in our circle can be loved and receive edification.
Jesus stood, knelt, was lifted, and died with the shame of the entire world on His shoulders. He willed Himself to take on our sins, showing us Himself in His weakest human form, in order that we might know redemption and mercy. In that mercy, let us trust that our vulnerability is actually strength, that our openness draws others in and allows them to care for us, and that our vocation can be lived more transparently, as in our imperfect ways, we can demonstrate His perfect love.