Vulnerability is an awful thing. Naked. No pretense. Literally, “easily wounded.” Who wants that? My way of discipleship is about as vulnerable as a steel-toed boot. I’m well-protected. I’m always a little defensive and maybe a little paranoid. I have a shirt that Ellia loves. It has a picture of a kneeling person washing another person’s feet. She asks me about the story every time I wear it. For me, the John 13 foot washing account isn’t about service as much as it’s about vulnerability. Jesus, knowing where he had come from and where he was going, takes off his outer garment and wraps a towel around his waist. Then he washes his disciples’ feet.
Jesus strips himself of whatever outward vestments he had. Culturally, no matter what Jesus had underneath, once he took off the outer garments, he was considered naked. He takes off the external clothing that would hinder this act of love and places it aside. He knows that loving and serving require vulnerability. This vulnerability is the way of the cross.
I, however, like loving from a safe distance. I like loving when I know I won’t get wounded. I’ve got incredible boundaries and know how to avoid getting too caught up in something that might hurt later.
But, Jesus lets us in on a secret: discipleship requires vulnerability. It takes vulnerability to be taught by those who are different from us, vulnerability to let people love us, and vulnerability to let others see the dirt on our souls.
Tonight, I thought about vulnerability when my three-year-old called me out. She told me she was sad I’d been mean to her daddy. In vulnerability, I sat with the weight of her observation. Self-protection tells us to move past the painful statements. Vulnerability calls us to sit in the discomfort and wait on God.
I can only be vulnerable before God as I understand that I belong to God. John 13 begins with an explanation of what is about to transpire: Jesus knew the time had come to go back to the Father. He knew who he was, and he knew where he was going. So, he took off his outer garment.
Discipleship isn’t about putting ourselves in a position to be hurt by people, although that will happen. The goal is to be defenseless before our God. It is about peeling off the protective film from our hearts—the film that blocks full openness to God’s love. Consciously or not, we recognize the potential pain and discomfort of the love of God, the love that offers correction and highlights the path to freedom. It scares me to be loved by God. Partly because I have no idea what that really means. Partly because I know God likes me better than I like myself and is guiding me into deeper good. And partly, it scares me because I know God wants me to get better, wants me to be whole, and I don’t always want wholeness. If I really let God love me, I can’t stay where I am. Vulnerability means submitting to a consuming Love and an uncomfortably intimate embrace.
But I know where I came from, and I know where I am going. This is what sustains the vulnerability—the grace of my identity as God’s. That is what I need to get up from the table and take off the outer garment, the external padding that hinders the reception and giving of love. The same wrappings that might protect will ultimately suffocate. Vulnerability before God forces me to release false control and rest in the knowledge that he is. Here, I have everything to lose, but I also have everything to gain.