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Devotional

Cultivating Vulnerability

by GINNY LUPKA VULNERABILITY Finding community Team unity & dynamics Feeling known & understood
Cultivating Vulnerability
“How great a forest is set ablaze by such a strong fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. […] It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.”
James 3:5b-6, 8b-9
“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
Proverbs 12:18

You may have noticed, but one of the current buzzwords within popular Christian culture is the word “vulnerability.” We are supposed to be vulnerable with our “community” consistently and authentically in order to care for each other well and build up the body of Christ. These goals are beautiful and worthy of our efforts and prayers. However, if you’re like me, the concept of being told to be vulnerable in a small group Bible study makes me feel like a racoon backed into a corner. I won’t be vulnerable. You can’t make me. 


Sure, this response reveals layers of my insecurity and brokenness, but I share this because I know I can’t be alone in this gut reaction. We have probably all experienced the well-meaning small group that pushes us into a place of vulnerability before we truly feel safe to share our hearts.


If vulnerability truly serves to deepen relationships and enable us to receive and ask for wisdom and care, we should certainly do our due diligence in pondering how to wisely share our stories with our church family and our friends. More importantly, I’d like to encourage us to think through what the Bible says about creating safe spaces to invite our people to be vulnerable without making them feel unsafe, judged, or pressured. 


The reality is that our tongue primarily serves to share love and welcome, or offend and hurt. If we are to cultivate opportunities for our friends to feel comfortable to be vulnerable with us, we need to tame our tongues. James delivers a bit of a gut-punch throughout his entire letter, especially in regard to this practice. “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a strong fire!” he writes in James 3:5, “And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.” He goes on to write that the tongue is a “restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.” James 3:8b-9


As I’m sure you know, our words can do massive damage in just a blink of an eye. We can use words that are judgmental, harsh, or impatient, and cause our friend to halt in her willingness to share her story with us. In a moment of anger or defense, we can say things that don’t honor the Lord and that hurt people instead. I’ve single-handedly done this many times, so asking the Lord to control my tongue is one of my enduring prayers. 


Similarly, Proverbs 12:18 states, “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” I want my tongue to bring healing. Regardless of the setting, I want to make my people feel safe and comfortable, loved and seen, regardless of what they do or do not share with me. 


As I think of an ideal space to welcome and share our hearts, I think of a setting marked by the Fruits of the Spirit described in Galatians 5:22: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Now that’s the kind of small group leader I’d be comfortable sharing with–someone who treats me with gentleness and grace, patience and good-will. 


Maybe the key to both cultivating and engaging with vulnerability is to ask the Holy Spirit to grow us in humility and the fruits of the Spirit. I pray that as a global Church, our tongues will flow with words that uplift and encourage so everyone can feel comfortable to open their hearts to a community that cares deeply about them.


Closing Prayer
Father God, please help me to control my tongue. I don’t always speak well of others. I don’t always respond with grace and patience. Rather, I respond with anger and pride. Please forgive me of the things I’ve said that are hurtful and dishonoring to you. Heal me of my tendency to speak poorly of others, rather than lifting them up as fellow image-bearers. Please send your spirit to grow me in the fruits of the Spirit so that my words point others to you. Please help me to make other people feel safe to share their stories with me if they’d like. Give me courage to be vulnerable with others as well. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Resources
Book: Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer I found Bonhoeffer’s description of Christian community uplifting and challenging, especially in comparison to our modern concepts of Christian fellowship. I recommend this book as a good think piece about the purpose and function of beneficial, Christ-oriented community.
Question for Reflection

What do you think one benefit of being vulnerable with a safe community could be?

Comments
Ginny Lupka
September 21, 2021

In a past small group Bible study, I summoned the courage to share something on my heart that I had been wrestling with. One of the women took the time to walk over to me, lay her hands on me, and pray for me. Her tender prayer lifted me up in ways I had not anticipated. If I had not felt safe to share and had the courage to talk about what was on my heart, I would never have been blessed by her prayer on my behalf.


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