Today, we live in a culture that says it’s perfectly normal for one to dress provocatively grabbing attention for all to see. It’s become normal to be almost naked on television, in magazines, and expressway billboards. Then there’s the pornography industry that brings in billions of dollars! Yet, for one to display vulnerability and be completely emotionally naked raises an eye brow or two. It’s often frowned upon. In fact, it even makes Christians uncomfortable.
I’ve been asked four surprising questions this Lent and when God surprises you there’s always an invitation to more and this time it addresses vulnerability.
- What could you possibly give up for Lent? You have nothing left to give away.
- Why are you crying? Multiple occasions after mass.
- Do you think you are going too deep and spending too much time in prayer?
- Is it hard to write what you do?
Here’s my feeble attempt to answer. Spending two months on mission was life changing. In many ways the graces from my trip are still unfolding layer by layer. For me nothing is ever as it seems. There’s always more. The spiritual life is deep and never ending, that’s the mystery of God. Would we ever think a great saint spent time too much time in prayer? Contemplating the works of God and the mystery of His love? Probably not…
To this woman some of the most beautiful moments on mission were when I sat in front of grown men and witnessed tears roll down their cheeks. I greatly admired and respected their vulnerability. What I witnessed was incredible strength, courage and bravery. It was holy ground, as I held the most scared of spaces. I silently listened to their stories of tragedy, sorrow, sin, and triumph, as I prayed and talked with them. I often remembered the shortest verse in scripture “Jesus wept”.
So what about tears makes us so uncomfortable? Is it the open display of vulnerability? Are we a fish out of water when we do not have the answers, words, or actions to fix and help? Are we one that wants to swoon in like an eagle looking for prey to fix or do we run for the hills when we don’t have answers? And why the desire for either when it’s clear the healing power of God is at work? Tears are a beautiful gift and a display of love. So why is it we want to stop the flow of such healing grace and force one into hiding?
In the garden, God calls out, “Where are you?” Gn 3:9 It’s God doing the calling, trust me He knows exactly where Adam is, it’s God after all. The creator of the universe, the Alpha and Omega, all knowing, all powerful God. God knows all about the eating of the forbidden fruit. He knows they went and covered themselves. In fact, it’s God who says “who told you that you were naked”? Gn 3:11 So have you ever wondered then why God calls for Adam? Why He questions their covering? God by far is the most patient person we will ever meet. Hands down, He holds the most stock in the waiting business. In fact, I think He may have the largest waiting room in the universe because He’s always waiting for us to respond.
By the time God calls out, Adam & Eve have covered themselves and are hiding. Have you ever wondered how often you cover yourself with fig leaves and hide? It could be intentional or completely sub-conscious. We all do it. We hide all the time, because being vulnerable is a scary space to live. The material things are easy to see and detect in our hiding, but what about the things one can’t always physically see? The things underneath and beneath? The places deep within, where shame and fear live for free? The places in which the voices of the dark speak; you’re weak, you don’t have what it takes, you’re not enough, you’re not that smart, who told you you’re beautiful, you’re ugly? Why are you always grabbing for attention, to be noticed? You better stay hidden, no one will like you. You will be laughed at, mocked, rebuked and not loved.
At the beginning of Lent someone said to me, “what could you possibly give up for Lent? You have nothing left?” I wish they could’ve seen my belly laugh on the inside. Are you kidding me I thought? You see the externals are like spiritual clutter, they cloud and blind us from what lives on the inside. However, once you start dumping that clutter and you start climbing the spiritual staircase it’s the interior weight that keeps one from going any higher. The weight is far too heavy for the trip God’s got you on, but the struggle is still real and letting go of the rope often happens fray by fray with God’s grace.
So what must go you ask? Well, that wisdom, knowledge and self-awareness only comes from sitting and paying attention to what’s hidden in the garden behind your fig leaves. In the beginning, it’s often material things, but once we remove those from being idols, other idols, wounds and lies are left behind. Things like striving, busyness, achievement and performance seeking. Going back to the garden is hard, it’s not for the the faint of heart. It takes an enormous amount of courage, patience, tenacity, and grace. It requires vulnerability.
When we don’t know who we are in God the Father we hide just like Adam and Eve. We fear being found out, because behind the wall of the the fig leaf we feel like a fake, fraud, poser, coward, impostor, sham, defector, traitor, turncoat, pretender or Judas. We fear that we may be rejected, mocked, rebuked, laughed at and ultimately not liked or loved.
Yet, who is the most vulnerable person you know who experienced each and every one of these human emotions, situations, and possibilities? Can you even imagine what it was like for Jesus on the way to the cross? The spitting, mocking, jeering, laughing, and taunting. Yet, we run from vulnerability. We live in fear. We become slaves to fear and not sons and daughters of the Father. What if we lived in freedom?
When I was five years old, my head caught a milk crate in our back yard, the night before I was to start the first grade. It was an accident that initially caused a lot of blood and a visit to the ER, but ended up being so much more. What I remember most was this; the incident it self was not scary, or painful really maybe that was shock I don’t know, but watching the adults around me in panic was frightening. No one talked to me. Instead they all talked around me, above me, about me, all right in front of me, as if the accident caused some form of deafness and blindness oppose to a whole lot of blood. As it turned out, my head is not as tough as some people think because I ended up with a skull fracture which required brain surgery, lots of wire stitches, my head getting shaved and home schooling.
From one adult to another this accident became a shame fest that had lasting effects of shaming that led me to hide and create a false self.
It started the night before my surgery. The neurosurgeon yelled at me for eating a brownie. Like it’s the fault of a five year old that someone, somewhere made a mistake and gave me dinner when I was supposed to be fasting for surgery the next morning. This is what I heard at five, “it’s your fault, I now must reschedule the surgery because you are eating a brownie, you’re bad.” I learned to be silent and not speak out.
I remembered being wheeled down the hallway into surgery. I asked why I had to take off my underwear if it was my head that was being operated on, I was completely uncomfortable in a gown wearing nothing else among strangers when my parents were left behind. The nurse had no answer that made sense to me as a small child. I was so confused and never asked again! The next thing I knew, I was told to count back to ten. A man put a mask over my face, I looked up and saw the white lights above and wondered if I was going to die. Hugely scary stuff. I wondered if anyone knew the immense amount of fear that was trapped inside of me.
When I woke up in the ICU I started vomiting all over the place. My grandmother started shrieking at the top of her lungs in panic, yelling, “She’s vomiting blood, it’s blood!”. The nurse comes in and says, “no we fed her red jello earlier she’s just sick from the anesthesia”. So humiliating to have your grandmother screaming as you are covered in the vomit of red jello and at the mercy of others to clean you up because you can’t move due to being hooked up to all sorts of tubing & wires.
After the ICU, I was moved to another floor. I was chastised by the nurses for getting one too many Popsicles out of the cooler. I had a head injury, not diabetes, again “I’m bad”. Why was everyone yelling at me in this place, I often wondered? Late one night a relative comes into my room and harshly tells me “I must decide if I’m going to wear a wig or babushka (polish word for head scarf) because I can’t go out in public half bald. People will make fun of me and stare.” I heard this lie, “You are ugly, people will laugh at you, and stare because you don’t look normal.” That night, I cried alone in my hospital room so no one could see the tears. I felt ashamed and abandoned to my own devices. It would be years into adulthood before I felt beautiful.
My parents did the best they could at the time. I’m sure they had their own fears knowing a surgeon took a saw to their little girl’s cranium. That would racked any parents nerves to the core. However, they still had to work and provide for my three siblings at home so they couldn’t be with me 24/7. Therefore, I often felt alone, abandoned, ashamed, and unprotected in what seemed to be very cold, stark, and empty world.
Then, I was home schooled for five months feeling left behind. This set me up to believe I was not as smart as other kids, as I missed out on what they were learning the the classroom. Additionally, I was not allowed to play or compete in any kind of sport or rough play for two years. I was the kid sitting on the outside looking in and later needing to prove myself and my strength. My gym teacher at the time constantly choose to ignore the doctors’ note and tell me he just couldn’t understand why I couldn’t participate. In his opinion I seemed physically fine. Like I knew the answer to that question? Feeling ashamed I would sit and think, maybe you should call the doctor or my mother and not ask me all the time? Yet, I never spoke and felt ashamed for not being able to participant in gym class.
An admirable attempt to help me feel included only shamed me more. I was forced to have my class picture taken wearing the wig so that I could be in the class photo of all things! I cried the entire time because on the inside I was embarrassed how I looked, I felt ugly and was assured I looked like a boy. Why did no one understand the trauma of this experience I wondered? The tears didn’t seem to clue people in, so eventually I stopped crying for it seemed to make no difference. I became tough and hardened on the inside, tears were for the weak. It took many, many, years before I started crying again.
We live in a fallen world and no human being can love as God loves. So our parents and other adults fail and wound us. Maybe it happened to you in Utero, at 5 like me, 13 or even 17 years old. I don’t know, but I do know the little frighten girl above or boy lives in each and every one of us. God is saying let me redeem you, come to me like a little child. It is Me, Your Father who you can depend on for love, you will find safety and shelter with Me, I will provide for all you need.
So the scars on the outside healed nicely. The wounds on the inside, however is another story. At the formative age of five years old, I learned to hide and hide very well. It would be years and years before I even understand the impact this accident had on my life.
The fact that people talked around me and over me, but never to me, left me with no voice. I ended up as a young adult being too silent or way too much. I had no balance and certainly no filter. Additionally, the tape that ran in my head for years and years was “I am not smart”, “I am ugly”, therefore I must “be good” at all cost, and compete to be affirmed, accepted and loved. I became pretty good at doing all that too.
I ended up becoming a striving, preforming, competing, independent, perfectionist who must do and be good at all cost to earn, achieve, and attain love. I judged all who didn’t live like me. I hid myself in being the good girl, a stellar athlete, and good student. As I got older, my fig leafs were labels, money, titles, performance, independence and competition in fear I might be found out and exposed. I lived like an orphan and not a child of God. I didn’t know my identity.
Wounds solidified with brick and mortar when your spouse tells you in the midst of doing dishes, “You’re crazy! Are you nuts! There is no way I will ever let you stay at home and have a baby. You make way too much money”. The lie that takes root is “you are your money, your paycheck, your bonus, what you earn, and all you do, and without it, he won’t love you. You alone are not enough” And then, He leaves you for another after he blows all the money you diligently worked so hard to earn and leaves you the mess to clean up for almost twelve years. So maybe that lie has truth. It’s this lie haunts you, but you never speak it out loud until the day comes when you realize you can no longer hide and that lie will only lose its grip in the light.
So you are convinced your value is in what you do, how you preform, and how much you make because how else could he or anyone else possibly love just you. Love you alone without bringing anything else to the table, including God. As if God needs me. And it’s this lie that haunts and paralyzes you. It keeps you hidden with the biggest fig leaf of all when God starts calling your name. You know you can’t go back because that’s death’s door, but you can’t seem to go forward either. You’ve been living with shackles on your ankles that are chained to the gate of an old graveyard. You know that where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. So you ask for grace to be released from those shackles in order to receive.
When left for another, the towel of babel you built crumbles. You are left abandon, betrayed, neglected, and rejected. You have no idea who you are anymore, because you never knew who you were or who you belonged to from the beginning. You run to the one who saves and throw yourself at His feet. He does in fact save you by the grace of His hand, but as you grow in relationship with Jesus you come to see there is more of you that needs to be redeemed and you, can’t do it. You can’t change you, that’s God’s work. You depend too much on yourself and your own performance and not fully on God. You know now is the time to start claiming your inheritance.
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from he law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1
The world in which we live is fallen. The evil one prowls around seeking the ruin of souls looking for your fig leaves and a place to hide. The devil is smart, seductive, and cunning. He doesn’t have red legs and a cape so you don’t always see him, and he doesn’t go after the ones who don’t know who he is, no he already has them in captivity. He goes after the ones who are shaking and quaking for the kingdom. They’re the one winning souls for God. He taunts you and whispers potential possibilities of no life that hands down seem tempting to go back.
So what do you do when you have nothing left of your material possessions in Lent? You go into the desert. You fast and you pray, just like Jesus. You start becoming and stop doing. You get naked before God and learn to be and not do. You allow yourself to receive fully the One who loves you. The One who will never abandon you. You realize there are many layers to one’s relationship and identity in God. If you are to be completely dependent on Him, then you must rest in Him alone in a Spirit of Adoption and cry out Abba Father because in certain areas of your life you live out of fear and not a Spirit of Sonship. Like a two by four over the head you understand it’s about who you are before what you do in all things. What you do going forward will be birthed out of who you are and it’s from this position you are graced to respond in love. This is being, not doing. We are human beings, not human doings.
For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” Romans 8:15
You go to the well often, even in the middle of the day like the Samaritan woman because it’s God whose spirit dwells in your well. You know He loves you, but there’s more and it’s so much deeper than words. He created you for Him alone. He knew you before you were in your mother’s womb. You are beautiful and wonderfully made. You are chosen and brought a price. It’s in the resting you become real and authentic with the One who created you, the One who walks with you, redeems you, and calls you by name. Whether or not you respond, His love remains, true and steadfast. You become vulnerable. You cry often, in prayer, in adoration, at mass, in spiritual direction and any other time your heart is moved to tears and you don’t care who sees you because on the inside your heart is a beautiful rock concert of a mess most days that end in “Y”. You remember “Jesus wept”, and he too was misunderstood, just like you.
Your response becomes one of love, for the sake of love, nothing more, and nothing less. Simply to love God, who loved you first.
What would you do if you lived in freedom? Would you stop hiding and give your fig leaves to God? Can you imagine living fearlessly for the Gospel?
People often ask me if it’s hard to write what I write. The short answer is no. It’s a charism, so it’s absolutely supernatural and it’s so easy. Sometimes it’s only takes ten to twenty minutes. What’s hard is the posting. That’s vulnerable! It’s public which means I could be judged, mocked, critiqued or rejected.
God’s been saying come out from behind that fig leaf and into the light of my love. Share what I put on your heart. So here I am sharing my stories with you. It’s not always easy. I wrestle a whole lot with the Holy Spirit at times. This almost didn’t get posted until three female friends called and asked for wisdom on this very topic. God knows what you need to follow and draw near to Him.
Ask God, this Lent to reveal the dark, hidden places of your mind, body, and soul that are in need of healing and freedom. For without freedom you will live as a slave to fear and not a chosen, adopted, son or daughter of the Father who deeply loves you and calls you by name.
It’s time to claim your inheritance! There is resurrection power in vulnerability. Just look at the cross. Spend some time this Lent looking and sitting before the Naked One on the Cross. Ask Our Lady, Mary Undoer of knots to untangle all that keeps you tied up and place the ribbon of your life into her hands.
Because I love the work of Breene Brown. Here is the TED talk she did after the one on vulnerability. No surprise it deals with shame. Shame is not new, before her there was John Bradshaw and long before him there was Adam and Eve in the garden. If You want healing, then you have to look at shame.