on why being vulnerable is a beautiful thing: John 12

meread John 12.  Have you ever poured out your heart to someone, only to be met with indifference? Have you ever explained how deeply you love them, only to be told in a cold voice that they don’t love you back? We think the solution is to never be that vulnerable again. But God asks us to be this vulnerable all the time — with Him and with others — if we want true joy. In other words, the thing we think is the worst possible thing, is actually the best. Here’s what I mean:

In John 12, we find Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with perfume at a dinner party in front of all the other guests: “The house was filled with the fragrance.”  Mary wipes Jesus’ feet with her hair. Mary displays the vulnerability to God to which we are all called.

The Psalms articulate the desperate, honest vulnerable cries for help that Mary’s actions imply. “From the depths of despair, O LORD, I call for your help.” (Psalm 130:1).  “I think of God, and I moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help.”  (Psalm 77:3). “O God, why have you rejected us so long?” (Psalm 74:1). “Rescue me from the mud; don’t let me sink any deeper.” (Psalm 69:14). “I am exhausted from crying for help; my throat is parched. My eyes are swollen with weeping, waiting for my God to help me. Those who hate me without cause outnumber the hairs on my head.” (Psalm 69:2-4). “From the ends of the earth, I cry to you for help when my heart is overwhelmed.” (Psalm 61:2.) “My heart pounds in my chest. The terror of death assaults me. Fear and trembling overwhelm me, and I can’t stop shaking.” (Psalm 55:4). “As a deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God.” (Psalm 42:1-2). “My heart is breaking as I remember how it used to be.” (Psalm 42:4). “Why am I so discouraged?  Why is my heart so sad?” (Psalm 42:5.)  “My heart beats wildly, my strength fails, and I am going blind.”  (Psalm 38:10.)

David and Mary know the secret to living an abundant life lies in becoming vulnerable to God. Judas criticizes Mary for wasting money that could have been given to the poor, but Jesus praises her for doing “a good thing.” See Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 7:36-50 (it’s probable the Luke account is of a different anointing). Jesus had earlier also praised Mary for sitting at his feet listening. He says she chose the “only thing” necessary, Jesus said. Luke 10:38-42.  Similarly, David spent so much time alone with his sheep on the hillside as a young boy, that he stormed onto the battlefield armed only with a slingshot because He trusted the “living God” to help him defeat a giant named Goliath. When you spend this kind of time alone with God, you learn that God looks down on humans with love and understanding: “He made their hearts, so he understands everything they do.”  Psalm 33:15.

We, on the other hand, don’t understand our hearts. We can see evil in others, but we have a lot of trouble seeing it in ourselves. That’s why God asks us to pour our hearts out to Him. He knows that if we do so, He’ll expose our hearts. He doesn’t expose them to condemn us but rather to heal and transform us. It’s also why God asks us to read the Bible. The Bible is called the Living Word. It cuts between bone and marrow. The Bible exposes our heart. Here in John 12, for instance, the vulnerability of Mary is contrasted with the greed of Judas who steals from the disciples; the flightiness of the crowd who worship him with palm branches only to turn on him and scream “crucify him” a few days later; the religious leaders’s desire to kill Christ out of envy; and peoples’ fear of admitting they believed in Jesus, because they “loved human praise more than the praise of God.”

In other words, the light of the gospel exposes the human heart in its greed, infidelity, jealousy and weakness. But the gospel doesn’t end with our darkness. It exposes the darkness in our hearts for the very reason that God wants to give us His light instead. The only requirement is our honesty, vulnerability and humility. The only requirement for receiving God’s help is asking for it. That’s why David can cry out to God with such vulnerability. The only way to receive help is to admit our need of it.

The pivotal verses of this chapter are Jesus’ terrifying words: “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels – a plentiful harvest of new lives. Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.” John 12:23-25. Jesus is talking about His own sacrificial death, in which He died for our sins.  He is also talking, however, about gospel living. He’s talking about a life in which we make ourselves vulnerable to God and others. He’s saying that true fulfillment doesn’t come the way we think it does –through our striving, achieving, conquering and acquiring.  True joy and fulfillment come through sacrificing ourselves for others. It comes through being vulnerable even to those who reject us. It comes through pouring out ourselves for others, and trusting God to fill us back up.

I don’t know about you, but while I can write that, and while I know it’s true, I can’t do it.  It’s terrifying. It sounds like it will hurt too much. The good news is that sometimes God brings all of us to the place where we have no choice but to die to ourselves. He uses the circumstances of our lives, especially our places of woundedness, brokenness, disappointment and rejection, for good. We are all completely and utterly reliant on God all the time –but we fail to realize this. When bad things happen, we turn to God, as David did in the Psalms, with our fears, trembling, despair and brokenness because we have nowhere else to go. We discover no friend, no doctor, no medication can fill the deepest longings of our hearts, and so we cry out to the living God…

and He meets us right there in our place of deepest emptiness. He gives us His strength in place of our weakness. He gives us His love in place of our selfishness. He gives us His joy in place of our despair. He gives us His hope in place of our hopelessness. It’s God’s nature to give, because He is love. And so that’s why being vulnerable feels like the worst thing but is really the best.

We discover our complete reliance on God –and since God is love, we begin to rely on the best thing we could ask for or imagine. When our hearts break, we find God’s love right there to mend us. Broken hearts hurt. But that very brokenness that we hate and dread, brings us to a place of such vulnerability that our hearts finally melt with compassion and love when we encounter other people. We stop seeing people as competition to be feared, and instead see them as fellow servants of the Living God, who are just as needy, thirsty, hungry and afraid as we are. We can embrace others in love, not needing anything from them, because our hearts are overflowing – our cups runneth over – with the love of God, a love that we find only when everything else in the world fails us.  This is abundant living. And it’s the only way to find joy. When circumstances and other people hurt us, and we start to live dependent and vulnerable to God out of our brokenness, we discover that our whole houses become filled with the most expensive perfume of all – the fragrance of God’s love.

And when we feel like we can’t do it, and we don’t want to be vulnerable, and we’re too afraid to trust God – we can remind ourselves that God became completely vulnerable to us. He died naked, abandoned, and alone on the cross. Even God turned His back on Jesus on the cross, so that Jesus could experience hell for us. If God didn’t scorn the shame of the cross, who are we to be ashamed of anything? Just as the cross is ugly, and yet God transformed it into the most beautiful thing, so our shame, rejection and vulnerability seem ugly to us – and yet if we bring them to the foot of the cross, God can transform our weakest ugliest most shameful places into sources of transcendent beauty.

posted by Caroline Coleman on May 17, 2012 xoxo in carolinecoleman.com

Note: you can subscribe to this blog and receive an email about once a week which goes through a chapter of the NT. Or to receive a short, daily email from me, in which I am currently going through the gospel of Luke verse by verse, you can subscribe to my new blog, a verse a day.

Lastly, if you want to support my blogging the fun way and/or see vulnerability in action, you can buy my historical novel LOVING SOREN. It tells the true story of a woman who saved her marriage by becoming vulnerable to her husband. Deborah Norville called LOVING SOREN: “a beautifully written love story.” Set in Copenhagen and the Danish West Indies, it tells the true story of a woman who loved the Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard.  It’s ranked #832 in religious, historical novels. In kindle or paperback.

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42 thoughts on “on why being vulnerable is a beautiful thing: John 12

  1. I appreciated your article. the wording was written so I “heard” the message.
    Thank you for God using you to put his word out for all of us to “hear” it.

  2. Though this article is for all I feel that it is taliored just for me. Even down to the date it was posted means so much. I Thank God for allowing Caroline Coleman to be an instrument, through her, another great blessing has been added to my life. God has set me free by way of this article tonight and I pray that it may only add blessings to all who read it.

    • Sheila K., thank you so much for your kind words and for taking the time to write them. You gave me such a gift by saying the words every writer wants to hear. Thank you! xo Caroline

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  4. I am normally not one to comment on blogs, but this time I HAD to. This spoke volumes to me and just as others stated I felt like it was written just for me. This is exactly where I am in this moment and God definitely spoke through you. Thank you for allowing yourself to be guided and used by God. You have been a blessing to my life through this one article, and I pray. God blesses you in return for doing so.

  5. Awesome article. Today in church the pastor challenged us to allow God to speak one word to us that would be a focus area of change over 2014 . He said to take a few days to pray and listen but the Holy Spirit spoke to me almost immediately…. My word was vulnerability. When I googled it searching for some supporting scripture to encourage me throughout the year, your website and article came up and….WOW. Like others, couldn’t have been written more tailored to me at this stage in my life! Isn’t God awesome! His word is LIVING and powerful. I Never comment on these things but wanted to encourage you, my sister in Christ, to continue to share the gift God has given you with the Body of Christ. Your words brought many tears as I read and we’re just what I needed to motivate me and confirm what God is speaking to me personally. Thank you and God Bless!

  6. In tears as I read this. God is really trying to get this message through to me. Last year I was in the most broken state of my life. I’m in a recovery program now where I finally admitted: I am not God and I am powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing. I still struggle with fully revealing my true self, but the masks are starting to peel off slowly. Thank you!

    • Dear Christina: every Christian is in a “recovery” program. We all have to admit there is a God, and we are not Him! I’ve sat by the fireplace in the office where the first Twelve Step program was written in NYC. It is a Spirit filled place, and every one of us needs step one every day. May God bless you on your beautiful journey toward him through our brokenness to His love and perfection. xox Caroline

  7. I’m facilitating a support group with the book “Changes that Heal” In chapter 5 Learning to Bond one of the skills is to be vulnerable. I wanted to understand in a deeper way what that word meant, my search brought me to your blog. It was just what I needed not only personally but to share with others. God is so good and knows just what we need! Thank you for being faithful to Him in writing this blog. God bless you in your spiritual journey!

    • Thank you so much, Paula. I like Townsend and Cloud’s books a lot. They’ve helped me a lot draw a distinction between doormat and love. May God bless your group and help you all grow closer to Him and each other. All the best, Caroline

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  9. Caroline,

    This is a great blog entry, I very much appreciate it. Being male, I have a hard time with the concept of being “vulnerable”, and your blog entry with John 12 was a great encouragement. For the past 33 years of my life, I’ve been living in my head and not my heart. I only came to this realization a few days ago, which has led me on a search to understand what it means to be heart-driven (vulnerable & open) and not head-driven (on-guard and critical). This has been an immense challenge for me and my family the past few days, and I wanted to thank you for putting up your blog post and being vulnerable yourself for others to see.


  10. It is only today on my 35th birthday that I realized what I’ve been going through for the past 5 years. I am happy to come across your blog and hear it more clearly.

  11. Right now God is speaking into my life on vulnerability. I’ve never been good at it, very much afraid, and scared of what others will think, and i love that God knows this and is helping me through it. Whilst on this journey i came across this and it truely spoke to me, and helped me to realise vulnerability isn’t bad, it’s good! God is vulnerable and since we are made in God’s image we are also vulnerable and this alongside our empathy is there to help us engage with others and build relationships. Thankyou for your wisdom and insight, Thankyou so much!

    • Dear Amy – I’m not sure any of us are “very good” at vulnerability. We’re all afraid of being hurt – because we WILL be hurt. It takes time to get to know God’s character well enough, I think, that we start to trust Him enough to try things His way. We are all on this journey together! Thank you for YOUR vulnerability in taking the time to post a comment on the blog of someone you don’t know. Many blessings, and prayers for you now, xo Caroline

  12. This spoke to me. I am so alone and struggle with anxiety. I push everyone who tries to help away. I have previous experiences with being vulnerable and they haven’t gone well, deterring me from doing it again. Your blog post has really shown me the light and shown me that being vulnerable to God isn’t all that is important. He will use my vulnerability and make it beautiful through others. So thank you graciously!! God bless you in everything you do!

    • Hi there! You’re so not alone. Everyone feels that way. We’re all together in our aloneness! Really. And everyone’s scared of being hurt, because it’s one of the necessary side effects of love. You can’t have love without pain. Loving opens us up to pain. And we all need reminding, every day, that God invites us to walk with Him in our pain, and that He will redeem it for His glory. To be loving is its own reward, I think. So don’t worry! Keep going. It will get better! And you have already blessed me by writing this! xoxo Caroline

  13. omgoodness,this was an awesome insight into understanding why God told me to search vulnerable,to become broken so Jesus can do work in and through us, God keep you and bless you Caroline.

    • Dear Jennifer: Thank you for your kind words… and for taking the time to post them! I so appreciate your thoughtfulness! Blessings and prayers for you, xoxo Caroline

  14. I have just walked into the life of living vulnerable. I am thankful for the blog post! It has directed me to be able to understand exactly what I need to do. I Had started thinking I needed to be vulnerable to everyone .. Instead of only God. That would have opened me up to much pain and sorrow since people are fallible. (I just had it a bit backwards) Vulnerable to Christ first and then all else will follow. thank you so much!!

  15. Great post! I’m teaching on Corporate Vulnerability at a men’s retreat next weekend. I don’t know why, but I’ve never looked at John 12 through the eyes of vulnerability. Thanks!

  16. Wonderfully and truthfully written.. I, too, understand this vulnerability which happens with an indwelling of God’s spirit in us as we are called to be broken bread and poured out wine. I believe part is this is the sharing in the Lord’s suffering. It is very difficult being vulnerable in world of hard and closed in hearts around us. Your words are of truth and anointing and sharing of Christ’s spirit my sister and I share in this spirit as well! Oh, it is a difficult. lonely path that we must go through to enter the narrow gate and it helps me to know I have brothers and sisters, the salt and light throughout the world and that we are all part of the body of Christ. IT truly does get hard and lonely and we long for home. Thank you so much for sharing. I put a link on my google page for your blog.
    michele traveler

    • Hi Michele: thank you so much for taking the time not only to read my post, but also to comment. I so appreciate your beautifully written thoughts and couldn’t agree more. God bless you! xo Caroline

  17. I was sitting crying because of my brokenness and had no hope for breathing even but i came online and found your words..they are so powerful meaningful,I’m speechless,stunned at peace after reading this now..everyday is a struggle and my heart stuffers.
    I just want to say THANK YOU.
    This was for me
    This is something to stop and admire .

    • Dear Hybre, I’m so sorry you were so sad. I hate when you can’t even cry because you need to breathe to cry. 🙁 Praying that you are in a better place and feeling God’s love. Xo Caroline

  18. God has brought me to this place of vulnerability. It is as you say a terrifying to journey there but a major blessing. He peels back our defences and we feel naked BUT He clothes us with Himself!

  19. This was awesome! Thank you for sharing your perspective of the gospel! Learning to embrace my weaknesses and take courage in vulnerability and in God! God bless

  20. thanks so much, and i thank God for using you. we go through different situation but we forget that God is in control, thanks so much and i pray God Add you more life under this earth and bless you

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