The New Normal; Strength and Wholeness from Vulnerability

In May we are exploring loss and grief in a series of four journal articles and four follow-ups.  This second piece refers back to ‘Grief and Vulnerability’…that which we most want to see in others and least want to be seen in ourselves. 

When deep wounding comes from our losses, the tendency is to build up barriers and secure what we still have.  Metal detectors, armed guards, alarm systems, and iron bars greet our visitors where there was once an open door and warm hospitality.  Our desire is to make ourselves invulnerable to further loss and pain.  We don’t ever want to go through this kind of grief again. But try as we may, modern technology makes it almost impossible to escape a daily barrage of tragedy.  Everywhere you turn there seems to be another senseless act of brutality. Something screams out for us to be strong and brave.  For God’s sake…just restore me to wholeness.

“We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we cannot have both. Not at the same time. ~ Brene Brown

Here is the problem with strength and wholeness.  We have a misconception of what they are and are not. Instead of coming from invulnerability, they are the underpinning of vulnerability.

Thing One: Strength is about facing a situation head on and dealing with it. This is the essence of courage and bravery.  It is not about protecting yourself or walling yourself off.  Though this may feel strong and tough at first, it is a strategy that only causes disconnection and isolation.  The pain can only be masked and hidden in a self-constructed Fortress of Solitude.  The ones who think they are invulnerable will always find a piece of green, red or gold kryptonite in unlikely places. The most extraordinary weakness comes from a sense of supposed invulnerability.  Just ask Superman.

Thing Two: Wholeness is achieved by accepting the help and love of others which is done by embracing the reality of your brokenness. The New Normal which comes after loss is not about being made whole again. That just doesn’t happen.  We are restored to a different life over time.  This rebirth of broken wholeness cannot happen in the short haul.  Hope and comfort ease back in to replace the devastation as grief is integrated into our day-to-day existence. Dr. Sherry Cormier wrote a good book called “Sweet Sorrow; Finding Enduring Wholeness after Grief and Loss”. It is an invaluable resource for starting over.

We hear quite a bit about The New Normal nowadays. There are always references to it after a horrific school shooting, a massive hurricane or wildfires, and other tragedies. But just what is this New Normal? Certainly, nothing will ever be “normal” again. That is for sure. My definition of it is the emergence of dawn as we become vulnerable. This vulnerability allows the light of New Normal to enter into the darkness of loss.  With that light, there comes a transformation which exposes the inner self which is connected to something greater than our ego-driven desires.  This paradigm shift brings a spiritual awakening to the truth of our oneness. There is a movement from the mind to the heart which is the foundation of vulnerability.  This New Normal will shine as a beacon to others who have loss and are lost.

Welcome the New Normal, for this is the lesson of grief and loss.  Life has meaning beyond our own well-being. And this is the gift.  We have become wounded healers with a strength and wholeness never imagined before our deep sorrow.

Learn more about The Wounded Healer by reading Henri Nouwen’s best selling book: The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society.

Grief and Vulnerability; So Hard to Go There

Someone once told me that vulnerability is what we most want to see in others and least want to be seen in ourselves. Becoming vulnerable can be one of the most difficult and uncomfortable experiences. Exposure of secrets, mistakes, flaws, and sins leave a person open to scrutiny which is hard to bear. We seem to be set up for all kinds of personal loss. Reputations painstakingly built up over long periods of time are rendered precarious or come crashing down in unmendable pieces. The grief which follows is almost impossible to bear.

We live in an age where it is increasingly difficult or even impossible to escape from who we are.  Rabbi Moshe Scheiner recently taught that suicide rates are increasing in adults partly due to the dynamic of transparency created by instant background checks on the internet.  Good names are destroyed every day. Children who suffer the loss of character due to perceptions of peers, bullying and cyber victimization can feel so trapped and hopeless that they consider or commit suicide. Becoming vulnerable can create the deepest feelings of shame when those whom we trust wound us. 

When we are grieving we become vulnerable.  In fact, it has been said that grief and vulnerability go together hand-in-hand.  Either can come first but neither walk alone. The word vulnerable comes from the Latin word vulnera which means to wound.  In our most wounded times, we are laid bare.  Lost is our stature and resolve.  No longer can we appear strong and self-reliant.  Our pain is visible to everyone. This begs a rather obvious solution.  Just never allow yourself to become vulnerable and then the grief would remain private. manageable, and controlled.  Voilà. Unfortunately, there is a horrible downside to that.  If we don’t allow vulnerability, we will never experience authentic friendships, belonging, trust, or love. What we all have in common is our brokenness and when the risk of vulnerability is rejected true connections are impossible. If all of this is true then how could vulnerability and grief be so discouraged in our society? I guess because it is just so hard to go there.

Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on 16 November 1581 is a painting by Russian realist artist Ilya Repin made between 1883 and 1885. The picture portrays a grief-stricken Ivan the Terrible cradling his mortally wounded son, the Tsarevich Ivan Ivanovich. The elder Ivan himself is believed to have dealt the fatal blow to his son

Perhaps we could find some answers from Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, author, and popular TED Talk personality. Dr. Brown has made it her mission to explore the power of vulnerability.  She emphases how important it is to dare greatly in order to live life fully and to achieve success. And more can be discovered in the spiritual wisdom of Richard Rohr, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation who tells us that vulnerability is the path to wholeness and holiness.

In the final analysis, we have to come to the realization that it is not only okay to grieve and to become vulnerable, but it is also necessary.  If we are to heal we must be touched.  The work can never be accomplished alone.  There are big risks associated with all of this to be certain.  But from our perceived weakness will come a new kind of strength. Not the strength of the invulnerable but the strength of love.  For, as scripture tells us, the one who stumbles “shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary,” (See Isaiah 40:31).

A Time to Kneel

“A desire to kneel down sometimes pulses through my body, or rather it is as if my body has been meant and made for the act of kneeling.  Sometimes, in moments of deep gratitude, kneeling down becomes an overwhelming urge, head deeply bowed, my hands before my face.” ~ Etty Hillesum

Etty Hillesum 1939

There was a deep peace in the heart of Etty Hillesum.  She wrote extensively about her love for fellow human beings while being persecuted and awaiting the certain fate of deportation from her home in Amsterdam during World War II.  She was one of 1.1 million who died at Auschwitz concentration camp but her faith in God and people live on in the many letters and diaries she left behind. The thought that kneeling was Etty’s demonstration of awe is one that should inspire us today.

I wonder what it might be like if we all knelt a little bit more and stood tall a bit less.  The thought of making ourselves vulnerable in the kneeling position is a foreign one to us.  But the image of getting on both knees to help a child or to pray at night is universally embraced. The reverence and wonder demonstrated by such an act can only be matched by how defenseless we become in this position.  It is time for more kneeling.  It is time for becoming so open to God and each other that we are once again willing to find the common ground necessary for a cessation of all the misunderstandings and animosity which are destroying us.