“For many businesses, coronavirus was the toughest problem they’ve ever had to face. With customers under lockdown, shops shuttered, cashflow drying up and staff on furlough, they wondered how they were going to survive. But amid all these threats, some companies found ways to forge ahead.” Coronavirus: Five firms booming despite the lockdown, BBC.
For many entrepreneurs lockdown was a time to adapt, pioneer and flourish. Think Joe Wicks, watching world class theatre in your front room or takeaway from your favourite dine in restaurant.
Thriving in lockdown
In lockdown I set up three initiatives: The Kingfisher swimmers, Community in a Crisis and Bitterne Park Family Fun. I loved it, I felt liberated and it brought a whole new world of friends and connections into my life. It felt like I had learnt afresh how to be me and how to build community in the area that we live. Looking to the immediate future this is something I didn’t want to forget.
Early on in the pandemic (June 2020) I’d been advising CMF on their new online conference. As medics on the frontline I felt it important to listen to what they had to say. They shared that one of the biggest problems for the NHS would be the impact on mental health and non COVID care. Roll on 18 months and this was no longer a prediction, it is a daily reality. Mind – a mental health charity is calling this a mental health emergency. Recent research shows that “more than half of adults and over two thirds of young people said that their mental health has gotten worse during the period of lockdown restrictions, from early April to mid-May”.
But this isn’t just “a” daily reality, its our daily reality. Huge, sad, sigh…
I won’t go into details, but one of my small family of four had a mental breakdown in March. Overnight life completely changed. Friendships, activities and commitments were all affected. Although we came out of lockdown in June, our family entered our own semi-permanent lockdown. Life was hard, sad and insular and felt incredibly vulnerable.
Brené Brown describes vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” It’s that unstable feeling we get when we step out of our comfort zone or do something that forces us to loosen control. This is exactly how we felt.
About the same time I was chatting to a friend about our situation. She knew me well and knew how I had thrived in lockdown. Just to add the comment didn’t sound as brutal at the time as it sounds here!! She said, “what are you going to do now Nay about building community? You can’t organise, you can’t gather people together, you can barely even leave the house!” She was right and it was painful. I’d been banging on about building community to anyone that would listen. But as most other peoples live were beginning to open up once again, ours wasn’t. I began to ask questions. What happens if you can no longer keep up with friends or activities you used to love? What if you are unable to do life anymore? Is it possible to contribute to your community in the midst of difficult times?
Vulnerability opens doors
Around this time a beautiful baby photo of my eldest popped up on my Facebook memories. It was a peaceful photo of her as a sleeping baby taken just a few months after she was born. It would have been so easy to share this on my feed, with no comment and leave the impression that all was well. Yet, however beautiful the photo was, at that time I was broken.
So I shared the photo and wrote honestly about my experience of childbirth; Fibroids, ICU, PTSD and the rest. The response was surprising, I received comments and private messages, friends showed not only support but they also showed gratitude. I realised that vulnerability isn’t the problem I thought it was. Instead I discovered it can open the door for true friendship.
Vulnerability isn’t the problem I thought it was. Instead I discovered it can open the door for true friendship.Tweet
A friend had recently invited me into a Facebook group called Reminds. This is a huge group (1.5k) for parents in our city who have kids with Special Educational Needs. I joined intending just to observe. However a few weeks in and life got tougher, I decided to reach out for help. I posted late one night asking for advice. Admitting you’ve got problems is still a taboo for so many and for so many reasons. What happened next led me to tears. Four local mums had seen my post and messaged me privately. Each of them saying we’re here for you, do you fancy coffee and a chat sometime? I just couldn’t believe it.
Life had changed so much for us and in such a short space of time. We were desperately clinging onto the life we’d had before, wishing we could just rewind a few years. But no, the dawning reality was that this just wasn’t the life we expected. However, into this new reality something profound and meaningful happened. As I opened up, I found others that understood, were willing to walk with us and happy to support us through this time. I love this group of people and feel grateful for them. Since that first post I’ve been on courses, posted multiple times and found help, advice and friendship.
Vulnerable is what we are
For many the last 18 months has been a wake up call. Life has changed so much and in such a short space of time. Our senses have been heightened and our own mortality seems closer than ever. For some of us we’re beginning to realise how vulnerable we actually are.
So how do we live with this fresh awareness of our own fragility? I guess for many it exposes what we really think about life and whether it works or not. I’m thinking of worldviews that celebrate strength and penalise weakness. Or where vulnerability is not discussed and its all about keeping up with the Jone’s. For me this awakening of vulnerability has led me to draw in closer to my reason for life, my reason for building community in the first place.
A major motivation and model for me in building community is the character of God. Let me explain a little of what I mean…
“you loved me before the creation of the world” John 17:24
Love because you are loved – God is relational. Since the beginning of time there was love, relationships and community, these were created and sustained in the relationships of God the Father, Son and Spirit. But this love was never meant to be kept a secret. It was a gift for us.
“Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” John 17:20
“We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness” Hebrews 4:15
Love gets involved – This love was given to us as a gift in the person of Jesus. Jesus himself faced uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure for us. Just take the start of Jesus life as an example. Born an illegitimate son and soon became a child refugee, forced to flee his homeland for fear of persecution. This is a love that gets weakness and vulnerability.
Dane Ortland says this “in Jesus, you have a Friend who, in your sorrow, will never lob down a penny from heaven. He cannot bear to hold himself at a distance. Nothing can hold him back. His heart is too bound up with yours”
The character of God motivates and inspires me. But it is more than that. It is my ultimate support as I live in the ever increasing tension of feeling vulnerable in my own skin.
One thought on “Building community through vulnerability”
Thank you Nay for this thoughtful piece on vulnerability; it is a theme that has been catapulted into my thoughts, life and experience in the past two years, when before that everything seemed to be ‘going well’.
November 2019, my wife died unexpectedly. A year later I was diagnosed with incurable, advanced prostate cancer and a few months after that, my son became long-term seriously depressed, from which he has not yet recovered.
Our immediate reaction is to pray that there will be a rapid healing of our suffering and this is not wrong. However, we are confused and bewildered when God does not seem to hear, let alone answer in our timescale or at all. As you said, we feel helpless and bewildered.
But, as you hinted, vulnerability is a central theme in scripture and once you start looking, you find it EVERYWHERE – in fact, you can say that it is a key principle of how God works most effectively in us and through us.
Jesus is absolutely our primary example……
Phil 2. 7-8….. “he made himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a slave….. and humbled himself.”
Isaiah 50.6 “I offered my back to those who beat me……I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting…..”
Isaiah 53. 2ff He was despised, rejected, familiar with suffering, stricken, crushed, oppressed and afflicted……
Three times he cried out to the Father to remove his cup of suffering from him.
We could go on..
Jesus’ entire ministry was not built on vaunting his rightful glory and power, but in meek and lowly humility and vulnerability, through which God perfectly ushered in his coming Kingdom.
If you study Paul, the apostle who wore his heart on his sleeve, you see exactly the same principle played out – in his utter weakness and vulnerability, God’s grace and power were manifest in his extraordinary, pioneering, Gospel ministry around the Mediterranean. (He also pleaded three times with God to remove his suffering, but God said ‘No’).
In contrast so often, we long for our lives and ministries to be characterized by great competence, acclaim, recognition and success. We are certain that if we are at full strength, self-assured and confident, we can serve God so much better than if we are broken and struggling.
Sadly for us, this is not God’s usual way.
Jesus said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it produces many seeds.” John 12.24
Paul said, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” 2 Cor. 4.7
This is God’s principle; we shy away from it, it’s the last thing we want, but if we can come to embrace it, however painful, Kingdom fruitfulness is the result.