As the world re-opens, we have a chance for a critical shift.
Rarely is the whole world so united in a common struggle. There were many articles written by mental health professionals trying to name what we all felt during COVID, but I think I know what it was because I experience it up close in my profession every day.
I’m the executive director of an organization, CityLink Center, which supports people to end the cycles of generational poverty. The feeling we all felt during the pandemic was vulnerability. For most Americans, it was the most intense time we’ve been so physically, financially, and relationally vulnerable. We couldn’t control what was happening, and for most of us, vulnerability is terrifying.
This past year’s health and economic crisis, along with the highlighted racial inequality, has exacted a horrible toll on many lives.
Yet, I see two massive opportunities we can capitalize on before the emotional impact of COVID begins to fade.
I never realized how much energy I have expended to avoid vulnerability in my life. I am a planner by nature. I have always been a planner. I like to bring order and structure to chaos.
Planning gives me some false sense of control over an unknown future, which gives me comfort. This desire for order is so acute that when something in life feels really out of control (like the impending birth of a child, a familial health crisis, or a pandemic), I resort to organizing our basement, a closet, our shed. Just something that brings order to chaos in a small way and allows me to breathe a little easier.
While this results in an amazingly organized basement, through distraction, I can fail to dig into understanding my fear, robbing myself of growing in trust. Through distraction, I also neglect those around me who may most need me to just be present in those moments.
We all seek comfort in some way. It may be our finances, our homes, our friendships, our accomplishments, our relationships—none of which is a bad thing. But unfortunately, they all fail.
As someone who follows God, I’m continually reminded that anytime I pursue a short-term, self-focused form of comfort, it always disappoints. As COVID and this past year stripped away our comforts, and therefore our perceived certainties, we were left feeling vulnerable.
There is a verse in the New Testament where a disciple of Jesus named Peter tells us, “do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.”
The fire of challenges can either burn away the impurities of our character (fear, control, ambition), making us stronger, OR it can melt us—but in either circumstance, we do not emerge the same.
My first hope is that this past year’s vulnerability can strip away my illusions of control and allow me to walk in the tension of trusting God as a part of a longer story.
Vulnerability can make me cling to my plan, or it can turn me to trusting an eternal God.
Vulnerability can narrow my focus to the circumstances of this moment, or it can broaden my focus to see beyond myself.
Appreciating Our Neighbors
The second reason I tried to be still in this past year of vulnerability is that it creates a deeper empathy for the 1/3 of our neighbors who face vulnerability every day due to ongoing lack of economic resources. The very workers deemed essential are those facing these vulnerabilities.
The concern about food, clothing, shelter, employment, childcare, and health we all experienced is an everyday struggle, year after year, for 1/3 of our community.
The stress we all felt can become chronic stress for 1/3 of our neighbors struggling to provide for their families in the best of circumstances, let alone in challenging times like this past year. This crisis had devastating effects on our neighbors who had no economic margin before our world ground to a halt.
Andy Crouch writes in the book “Strong and Weak” about the interplay of authority (capacity to take meaningful action) and vulnerability (exposure to meaningful risk) in our lives. The book incredibly outlines the powerful paradigm of how many of us spend our lives trying to maximize authority and minimize vulnerability; a combination Andy labels control. A different combination that many of our neighbors are born into is tremendous vulnerability without authority, a combination Andy labels as poverty.
“Strong and Weak” argues that only when we experience full vulnerability and full authority can we truly flourish. But taking a step to flourishing always includes risk.
CityLink Center serves courageous individuals who cast a vision and embark on a journey to improve their lives and the lives of their families. As a CityLink employee, I have the privilege of witnessing these individuals take a risk of building authority to improve their lives through a new career, a new education, a new discipline, and new relationships. We get to see them flourish through this growth.
During this time of health, social, and economic crisis, those of us who struggle with control can actually move to flourishing by embracing the vulnerability we feel and even stepping into it.
My second hope is that this crisis creates a profound and lasting empathy for our neighbors who deeply experience the vulnerability of economic uncertainty in their everyday life.
As Winston Churchill stated towards the end of World War II, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” What if we chose to remember our experience and lean into supporting more of our neighbors?
I invite you to stop running from vulnerability to see what you can learn from it. As this crisis passes, let your new appreciation of vulnerability strengthen you and fuel a commitment to support all of our neighbors in building the authority to flourish.
You can do that by simply giving grace and kindness to front-line workers, who are likely living with the stress you have felt over the last year. You can step further into volunteering to walk alongside individuals at social service organizations like CityLink Center and our partners, supporting those organizations financially, creating more quality jobs in your community, or working to increase wages and benefits at your place of employment.
Let’s not let this crisis go to waste. Let’s reorient how we live our lives and love our neighbors.
CityLink Center is a faith-based, client-centered, and data-driven social service collaborative focused on supporting neighbors to advance their lives from poverty to flourishing. We support clients by creating one place where they can create one plan, with one guide through the collaborative 15 agency partners. Services include education, employment, career training, financial education, transportation, childcare, optical, dental, counseling, and more. To learn more about CityLink and our incredible partners, go to: citylinkcenter.org