“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. – Teddy Roosevelt
Sometimes it is difficult to stick our necks out there and take risks. Vulnerability is not something that many of us are comfortable with, especially in a hyper critical culture. In an age of “cancel culture”, you have to be very careful about what you say and do. You might get erased from the pages of history, rejected, or shamed into hiding.
Of course, we should all be very careful about what we say and do, right? How many times have we heard the expression “think before you speak”? James 1:19 says, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” I’m definitely guilty of speaking before thinking and doing, open mouth and insert both feet. But that’s not really what I’m talking about.
Vulnerability is the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally. There is an element of fear that comes with vulnerability, the fear of engagement. The fear of entering into the “arena” that Roosevelt mentions in this quote.
One of my favorite author-speakers is Brene` Brown. She is an American professor, lecturer, author, and podcast host. Brown is CEO of “The Daring Way,” a professional training and certification program on the topics of vulnerability, courage, shame, and empathy. She does use a little bit of colorful language in her videos, but it’s relatively tame compared to most. I’m not making any judgments. Just making you aware in case you checked her out.
Brown used this quote from former President Teddy Roosevelt as the basis for her book “Daring Greatly”. According to Brown, Roosevelt’s quote is really about Vulnerability.
“Everything I’ve learned from over a decade of research on vulnerability has taught me this exact lesson. Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. It’s being all in.
Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.
We spend out lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make.
Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience. We must walk into the arena, whatever it may be-a new relationship, an important meeting, our creative process, or difficult family conversation-with courage and the willingness to engage. Rather than sitting on the sidelines and hurling judgment and advice, we must dare to show up and let ourselves be seen. This is vulnerability. This is daring greatly.” (taken from Brene` Brown-“Daring Greatly”)
So, let’s unpack this a little bit. Feel free to make a list of your own and send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. It may be saying something different to you than it does to me, so it would be cool to hear your thoughts. Here are a few things that stood out to me:
- Vulnerability is not weakness! It’s a willingness to engage, to be “all in”.
- Vulnerability is courage. The courage to step into the arena in spite of the risks involved. Win or lose vulnerability steps into the arena.
- Fear is the enemy of vulnerability.
- The state of being “perfect” or “bulletproof” does not exist for anyone. Waiting until we have “arrived” deprives us of opportunities to use our gifts and make unique contributions.
- It’s easy to be a critic of those who choose to engage, to enter the “arena”.
One of the challenges we face is choosing “when” to step into the arena. I don’t think Brene` is saying we need to jump headfirst into relationships, conversations, or opportunities without a reason or without counting the cost. Daring Greatly is an encouragement to overcome our fear of engagement, to not allow fear or criticism to rob us of meaningful opportunities.
This topic has huge spiritual implications that I would like to explore a little more over the next few weeks. The Bible is full of examples of people that God called to step into dangerous and uncertain arenas. These individuals where not perfect or bulletproof.
Jesus, in my opinion, is vulnerability personified. Jesus, God in human form, was willing to make himself vulnerable on our account at great risk for the purpose of our salvation and reconciliation.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Philippians 2:5-8 (NIV)
Humility, like vulnerability, is seen as a weakness in our “survival of the fittest” culture. Human beings use whatever we can get our hands on to gain an advantage. Taking the form of a humble servant automatically put Jesus at a disadvantage, but that was the plan. He voluntarily kicked the pedestal of power out from under himself.
As I said, we will dig into this a little deeper next week. Here are a couple of things to think about until then:
- What if Jesus hadn’t stepped into the arena?
- How vulnerable does Jesus want us to be?
- Did Jesus experience the fear of engagement?
- Jesus entered the arena and paid the price. He is calling us to enter the arena, to “make disciples”, so how do we do that?
- As Christians, we don’t step into the arena alone. God promises to be with us.
- In order for us to engage, to enter the arena, is it enough to know that God can use us even when we are not perfect or bulletproof?
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Management