New Year, Same Fear? The Fear of Vulnerability

“We have to be willing to take off our masks and let down our guard, to set aside our pretenses and to share what is shaping us and directing our lives. This is the greatest gift we can give to another human being: to allow him or her to simply see us for who we are.” — Matthew Kelly 1

Author and teacher Paul Hinnebusch defines closeness in relationships as being fully known and appreciated by another person. He describes this type of confidence in another as “… a love which accepts me fully, even when it sees that I am far from perfect.” 2 This is the type of relationship that our hearts long for — one that gives us the space to be our most authentic selves without worry that we will be rejected. However, for many of us, there’s a significant fear at the prospect of revealing ourselves to others in this way.

Each of us has pieces of ourselves that we keep hidden from the outside world. These are the fragile parts of us — places where we’ve been wounded, painful whispers from the past, sides of ourselves that we’re ashamed of. We tend to bury these things and keep them concealed, afraid that we are unlovable because of them.

In his book, The Seven Levels of Intimacy, Matthew Kelly describes the hidden, shadowy parts of us as our “dark side.”3 Each of us has one. They are the variables that seem to dismantle us when we least expect them to. We often try to protect them from further hurt or exposure, wrapping them up in layers of ourselves and doing our best to carry on as if they didn’t exist.

But when we are truly vulnerable with another human being, we choose to reveal our whole self to that person — the best of the good and the worst of the mess. We no longer keep our dark side buried underneath the surface but choose to open the Pandora’s Box of our humanness for better or worse.

God created us for connection and closeness — first with Himself and then with His creation. This model is first revealed in Genesis 2 when God establishes a relationship with Adam, then forms Eve as a good and beautiful companion for him. It’s not that God isn’t enough on His own. The Lord designed our deep love for each other to mirror His overwhelming love for us, continuously pointing us back to Himself. In love, our Father calls us to be intimately transparent in our relationship with Him — confessing our sins and coming to Him in repentance (1 John 1:9). This is reflected in the grace and prayers that we receive from our brothers and sisters in Christ when we are following God’s design for confession.

Marriage is specifically intended to embody this type of beautiful connection, especially as it points us to the love and respect of our spouse in the intimacy of the one-flesh relationship (Genesis 2:24). But true vulnerability cannot be confined to one relational context. We can become authentically known and fully appreciated within our families, by our friends, and within mentorships. In fact, when we choose to be open to the Holy Spirit’s direction in this, we may be surprised at where — and to whom — we are led. In each example of partnership, we can walk in a manner worthy of the life that God calls us to:

…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. — Ephesians 4:2

As we begin pursuing lives of intentional vulnerability, there are a few important things to pay attention to:

1️⃣ Know Yourself and Your Identity
Before we can genuinely begin sharing our hearts with others, we first need to accurately understand who we are. This requires honesty and humility. We have to look in the mirror and be willing to face the best and the worst of ourselves. The purpose of this isn’t to incite vanity or self-criticism but to establish the ability to look at ourselves truthfully — as no better and no worse than we actually are. When we have done this, we will be much better equipped to accept our identity, which is who God says we are as His sons and daughters. Understanding our identity is the key to authentically revealing ourselves to others because we already understand how much the Lord values us. We don’t need to wear a mask because even in our imperfection, we are already enough.

2️⃣ Choose to See Others as They Are
If we are to be fully received by another person, we must choose to fully receive them in return. This begins with seeing others for who they are: created Imago Dei — in the image of God. When we understand that each person, no matter who they are, is an actualization of God’s image on earth, we start to see them accordingly: as infinitely valuable, truly worthwhile, and intrinsically beautiful. This understanding gives us a foothold to grow in knowledge and love of those we are in connection with, prompting us to deliberately invest in them. What do they love? What do they fear? Where have they been hurt? What do they hope for? As we learn about the hidden things within another person, we then have the opportunity to accept and love them in the same way that we are each loved and accepted by the Father.

3️⃣Be Discerning
Not everyone will have the capacity or maturity to fully receive and appreciate the gift of your heart. This is where we need to be discerning about who we choose to be vulnerable with. It’s wise to evaluate the trustworthiness and depth of others before we reveal the fragile parts of ourselves to them. Jesus warns his disciples in Matthew 7:6 to avoid giving “pearls” of great value to those who don’t have the ability to understand their worth. We can apply this to the “pearls” of our interior self, even as we grow in our capability to be authentic. When we perceive that someone cannot fully receive us, it does not mean we love them less. However, in these instances, it’s important that we put boundaries in place to protect ourselves from those who don’t perceive our value.

4️⃣ Embrace the Uncomfortable
There’s no way around it — vulnerability requires risk, and risk is uncomfortable. Even after we’ve determined that someone is worthy of knowing us on a deeper level, we still risk the hurt of being misunderstood when we reveal ourselves to others. As we grow in our relationships, we will inevitably be confronted with difficult conversations requiring us to face things we’d rather avoid. The solution is to embrace the uncomfortable. In her book Daring Greatly, shame and empathy expert Dr. Brené Brown emphasizes the importance of discomfort as it relates to our learning and growth.4 If we are to step into the joy of closeness that we were created for, we need to find our courage as we face the challenges that come with it. We only need faith to do this with the Lord, remembering that the wholeness of our worth is forever set by Him — measured by Christ’s holy blood on the cross.

Wirtten by: Sierra Okoniewski
Published by Woodside Bible Church,

1. Kelly, M. (2007). The Seven Levels of Intimacy: The Art of Loving and the Joy of being Loved (p. 9). Simon & Schuster.
2. Hinnebusch, P., O.P. (1974). Friendship in the Lord (p. 35). Ave Maria Press.
3. Kelly, M. (2007). The Seven Levels of Intimacy: The Art of Loving and the Joy of being Loved (p. 207). Simon & Schuster.
4. Brown, B., Ph.D., LMSW (2012). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (pp. 198–199). Penguin Random House.



We exist to help people belong to Christ, grow in Christ, and reach the world for Christ across Southeast Michigan and the globe.

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Woodside Bible Church

We exist to help people belong to Christ, grow in Christ, and reach the world for Christ across Southeast Michigan and the globe.