Redefining Success: The Beauty in Vulnerability

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From the time we start school, we are taught to strive for success. This pressure to succeed is reinforced with renewed vigor in college, where suddenly we are suddenly faced with a whole new set of questions, including the biggest one: “Where will I go from here?” The success that we’re encouraged to pursue is the kind that will land us a stable job, a comfortable living, a bright future. It’s an individualistic sort of success that careens us to the top…and leaves others behind. I’ve always found success to be fleeting—as soon as I finally reach it, the bar is raised yet again and I find myself reaching…climbing toward something that I know I’m never going to obtain. I can’t help let my expectations for my own success creep higher and higher, leaving me exhausted and dissatisfied.

That’s why, when I first read about the spirituality of Jean Vanier, it was as if a weight had been lifted—because in the middle of all the voices yelling at me to push harder, to keep reaching for that elusive success, his was a voice that offered relief from the pressure to reach perfection. Jean Vanier is the founder of L’Arche, which is an international organization made up of homes where people with and without intellectual disabilities live together in community. In a society where flaws are normally hidden at all costs, Vanier says that only when we are vulnerable with one another, and share our weaknesses, can we live in true community. Vanier invites us to reconsider our concept of success. Do we want a success that forces us to leave others behind in our vain pursuit of perfection, or do we want a different sort of success—one where we share in the joy of one another? Reading Vanier, I realized I had been putting pressure on myself to attain the world’s concept of success, when God was calling me to something more important—love. Love can only truly be expressed when we are in communion with one another, and communion cannot exist if we hide the parts of ourselves that aren’t “successful.”

There is beauty and strength in vulnerability. From the cross, Jesus, the most perfect example of love, shows us how beautiful vulnerability can be. At the moment when Jesus was most vulnerable, when he was alone, beaten, stripped of everything, and hanging on a cross, he revealed the incredible strength of his love. If Jesus had been seeking success, he could have easily risen to power as king and forced the will of God upon people. Instead, he consistently chose vulnerability. We see it in his crucifixion, and we see it when our mighty God comes to be with us in the form of simple bread and wine in the Eucharist. Jesus freely chose to share in our daily human suffering, and in doing so he became united with us through his vulnerability—not through his success. What society encourages us to cover up at all costs, Vanier invites us to share—because it is in the sharing of our weaknesses, our fears, and our insecurities that we can truly be united with one another and give us the freedom to love. If the world shouts at us that we must be successful and perfect, Jesus gently whispers to us from the cross that God isn’t calling us to success or perfection—he is calling us to a oneness with our brothers and sisters that allows us to love and be loved.

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