The Practice of Vulnerability

The Practice of Vulnerability 
Sermon Reflection on Grief & Loss 
by Andy Gilstrap 
I was fixated during the sermon on the timing of the whole thing.  Where it actually fell on the calendar.  The plan.  The irony, if you will, of a sermon dealing with loss, grief, and pain, along with our response within a community to these experiences in our life and in the lives of those around us.  The process of grief and loss.  All the difficulty and discomfort of dealing with these inevitable life experiences right before the start of Advent.  Seriously, we talked about this yesterday and Advent starts next Sunday.  A season where we talk of peace, joy, and light.  A season that centers around the preparation and celebration of the birth of a child.  A baby.  Joy to men, peace on earth, and all that stuff.  These two seemingly opposed human experiences colliding together on the schedule and in our hearts and minds.  What do we do with that?  What are we to think?

I would dare say we already have beliefs about it all.  Even if we if we are unaware of our beliefs.  We move, live, breathe, and make our choices out of our “real” belief system.  Thats in there somewhere.  The really weird thing here, if I’m not reaching too much, is that both experiences of loss and of child birth will deeply challenge those already held belief systems. Not only that, it has been my experience that they will strip you down in all sorts of way, expected and unexpected. You will not find many more times in your life where you feel more empty, simple, small, and dependent than you will in these experiences.   You are suddenly thrust into a deep understanding of your smallness in the universe.  Filled with questions.  Searching for larger and bigger truths.  What is it all about?  The pain, the anger, and the questions that come usually find their way back to God with the ultimate, why.  It is good to question.  It is ok.  It is safe.  Let it out.  Expose your soul.

I have to come to realize that there is one important truth that is unavoidable at these times.  This truth is a posture we should take more often in life when things are more of the mundane nature.  


A brand new baby is so small and dependent.  Fragile.  Unaware of the world around them. Whether you are holding new life and pondering the state of that child, or whether you are experiencing deep pain and loss, there is a deep state of vulnerability at work.  You feel so….exposed.  

It is certainly countercultural and counterintuitive for us, but we should practice vulnerability in our daily lives.  I know we are taught, even if its indirectly, to hold it all in, hold it all together, to be self-reliant.  The strange thing is the lack of life giving energy that is at work there.  When we experience loss or new life for the first time, we eventually reach a point where we are keenly aware that we cannot do it alone.  It uncovers all sorts of things within us.  True vulnerability leads us to the need for community.  The difficult part is that it is so hard to be vulnerable with others.  When we lose someone we love, we are thrust into a true state of vulnerability whether we like or not.  We need help.  We need hope.  We need someone to be there. Yet we still have a hard time being, open, honest, or asking for help.

Vulnerability is a practice.  It takes practice.  We must practice it.  I think real life depends on it.  Being connected truly to current of the universe and the things that eternal, takes being honest and real…with ourselves and with others.  It also takes a safe and dependable community of others.  Being that we are human beings living here in this century and in this culture, we are not good at being safe or dependable.  Vulnerability takes practice from all and with all.  

May we move towards vulnerability one step at a time, just as we move towards the vulnerability of our Creator, day by day, to the birth of His Son, this Advent season.

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