Self-disclosure and Vulnerability
Updated: May 13
By Les Henson
We live in the age of social media when it appears, at least on the surface, that many people are willing and open to reveal the most intimate things about themselves. However, how open are we really to self-disclosure and vulnerability? Are we willing to disclose the depths of our true identity to those close to us? Despite trends on social media, I would suggest that most of us are reluctant and even unable to fully disclose our true selves. Most of us find self-disclosure difficult and even threatening for we are afraid of becoming vulnerable. We unconsciously set severe limitations on what and how much of ourselves we are willing to disclose even to husbands, wives, family and friends. We are afraid that if our true selves are revealed, then we will be outed, rejected, discarded or defriended. Since deep down inside, we are vulnerable and insecure. So, we secretly set limits on the levels of our self-disclosure and vulnerability lest we reveal our true identity in all its messiness and sinfulness. However, our inability to be vulnerable before others and most of all before God can leave us incomplete, unresolved and lacking in wholeness.
Perhaps the most significant reason for self-disclosure is that without it we cannot fully love. Indeed, one of the main facets of love that flourishes is a high degree of mutual self-disclosure and vulnerability. Now, this is true regardless of whether we are referring to God's love for us or our love for God, or even our love for one another. God shows the reality of this truth in and through the person of His Son. For in Jesus Christ, God has disclosed himself and displayed his utter vulnerability. In the incarnation and atonement, God demonstrated his willingness to be vulnerably, and He disclosed the fulness of his love. At Bethlehem, God became a baby, with all the weakness, frailty and vulnerability that that involved. And as Paul declares in Romans 5:8, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." The cross, above all, is the place were God discloses his love for the world. Yet it is also at the cross that he shows himself most vulnerable. However, the vulnerability of God is not merely a weakness; it is also God's strength. It is the strength of his grace and his mercy. As David Wells writes, "What we see at the cross is white-hot revelation of the character of God, of his love providing the price that holiness requires. The cross was his means of redeeming lost sinners and reconciling them to himself, but it was also a profound disclosure of his mercy."
If our love for God is to increase, then we need to be vulnerable before him. We need to stop pretending that we have it all together and disclose the true reality of our hearts to Him. We need to bring all the messiness and sin that is in our lives to him and ask him to cleanse us and make us whole. As John states in 1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."
Likewise, within the community of God's people, we need to understand the role of self-disclosure and vulnerability in creating authentic Christian community. In saying that I am not suggesting we wear out heart on our sleeve, but rather that we are open and honest concerning our weaknesses, failures and even our sin at least to a select group with the church community. I would suggest that a home group or bible study group is the place where such openness is appropriate. James, in the context of the healing prayer, commands us to confess our "sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed" (James 5:16). Walter Inglis Anderson points to an important truth when he writes, "We're never so vulnerable than when we trust someone-but paradoxically, if we cannot trust, neither can we find love or joy." It is true that "there can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability; there can be no peace, and ultimately no life without community" as M. Scott Peck points out.
Equally, we get frustrated and upset with our family and friends because they are close to us. They know us in all our frailty and weaknesses, and they understand our inadequacies and sinfulness. If only we could learn to live with the messiness and disorder of our lives, and accept our vulnerabilities, then we wouldn't need to keep pushing our loved one away. Perhaps, then our lives would become complete and whole.