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).

The Healing Heart of Compassion

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“When we experience the healing presence of another person, we can discover our own gifts of healing. Then our wounds allow us to enter into a deep solidarity with our wounded brothers and sisters.” ~ Henri Nouwen

Compassion is the ability to suffer-with those who are wounded. True compassion brings with it the gift of healing only because of the mutual experience of our own wounds, our own suffering, and our own healing. It is a sharing of our own brokenness in solidarity with those who are struggling, grieving and floundering. It is about making ourselves vulnerable in order to provide a source of comfort.

Giving advice is a lot easier than offering compassion. Helping to find solutions for the problems of others requires little effort. It is even easier to find a cure. When the person we are trying to help doesn’t follow our advice or chooses another solution we can shake the dust off, shrug our shoulders and walk away. Our inner voice says; ‘Well, at least I tried!’

Those who offer compassion know how to show up. They do not come with superpowers but with shared brokenness. They show up with an understanding heart free from judgment. They do not hide their scars for they are visible proof that wounds heal. Hand in hand, we shall overcome. Heart to heart, we can save each other…and by so doing will, as Michael Jackson sang, Heal the World. We will be doing God’s work.

“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” ~ Pema Chödrön

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Robert Kenneth Jones is an innovator in the treatment of addiction and childhood abuse.

In a career spanning over four decades, his work helping people recover from childhood abuse and addiction has earned him the respect of his peers.

His blog, An Elephant for Breakfast, testifies to the power of the human spirit to overcome the worst of life’s difficulties. We encourage you to visit and share this rich source of healing, inspiration and meditation.

Contact Bob Jones on Linkedin

Bob Jones’ blog An Elephant for Breakfast

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