For a number of years on my journey, I embraced the pain of honest self-exposure. At that time, I continually made myself vulnerable in my relational interactions. Truthfully, I can’t say that my vulnerability was well-received or treated well. I can’t report that my availability was appreciated or taken advantage of in a positive manner. From my world perspective, it seemed that my quest to love and befriend others should have resulted with me hating all those who spitefully hated and misused me. Fortunately, it’s my position in God’s Kingdom that shapes the perspective I consciously choose to act upon.
This is not a bad report though! I have learned a great deal in my effort to repeatedly submit myself, not to the whim or avarice of people, but to the written will of God. Outwardly, I look the same as I did when I began this journey, but inwardly, I am a completely transformed being!
Then they heard the Lord God walking in the garden during the cool part of the day, and the man and his wife hid from the Lord God among the trees in the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said, “Where are you?”
The man answered, “I heard you walking in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.” ~ Genesis 3:8-10, NCV
One of my pastors paraphrased during a sermon, “We were afraid and ashamed, so we hid in the fig leaves.” Afraid and ashamed…so we hid. That statement got me to thinking about my emotional state. I hadn’t thought of my own status as a Hider as resulting from fear and shame. I saw myself as a self-preservationist. I was preventing the possibility of hurt. I was being proactive….
ashamed: feeling shame; distressed or embarrassed by feelings of guilt, foolishness, or disgrace; unwilling or restrained because of fear of shame, ridicule, or disapproval
However, despite the spin I gave to my emotional state, when I began to hide from people, I was essentially acting out of shame for over-exposing myself. I came to believe I had been too open; too honest; too forward. So much so that I couldn’t gracefully retreat. I was undone. I was uncovered. I felt foolish. Disgraced. I felt as if I had placed my precious honor before people only to have them trample my priceless, irreplaceable gift. And in the end, it was all my fault for trusting mere humans to handle me with care.
Coming out of the dark
Over the past couple of years, I have been in the trees earnestly trying to camouflage my earlier self-exposure with fig leaves. It’s more effort than I would have imagined to re-emerge from hiding. Learning to embrace myself again is much harder than just being myself was in the first instance. I have had to not only relearn who I am, but also learn to not shy away from the light bursting forth within me.
And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.” ~ John 3:19-21, NLT
Here is the biggest lesson I learned during my season of over-exposure and vulnerability: do not trust people.
Nearly every person I have ever come into contact with has been preoccupied with hiding in their own trees (darkness). I have not understood this consistently throughout my journey, but it’s clear now: a person living in darkness is unable to see another person’s honest sincerity with the same heart. So, while one person stands exposed (without any covering) and sincerely offers love, friendship and hospitality, the intended recipient(s) burrow(s) deeper into the trees (their darkness), seeking the deep cover of leaves over the revealing exposure of honesty. The Hider views such tender offers with deep suspicion. Even though love, friendship and hospitality can only truly be offered from a well-lit heart, a person intent on remaining in their own dark place will refuse to see any light, therefore they will only see a reflection of their own darkness in the offer. Suspicion will lead the Hider to reject the offer of light because they don’t trust it. Or they will ignore the offer of grace because they don’t believe it. Then again, sometimes the Hider will accept the offer of mercy, but abuse it because they don’t know enough to care.
I, like you, have experienced many such responses. After the dismally disappointing responses I received during my season of sincere self-exposure, I found myself entering into a season of hiding. Hiding is painful – more so after you’ve exposed all, because you feel as if everything you naturally are has been rejected, hence the desire to hide away. Prior to my season of hiding, I can’t recall another period in my life where I had the desire to hide myself away so completely. There had been times when I had played small, run away or otherwise avoided confrontations… but even during those times, I accepted my emotions as they were. Those who hide inevitably end up hiding from themselves as well. They lose the ability to honestly assess their own emotional state. When you can’t assess your emotional state, you are also unable to acknowledge who you are and what you want at whatever point you are in life.
Hiding had not been part of my story prior to my self-exposure. I think this is because hiding hadn’t been a necessity until after I realized how incredibly vulnerable I am and how, in contrast, incredibly reckless people are with any exposed vulnerabilities. Being able to not only walk, but also to gain strength through your vulnerabilities require the active presence of God’s Holy Spirit in your life. Unfortunately, in the world, vulnerability is seen as weakness and it’s also reviled as such. So, I entered a season of trying to hide my vulnerability in order to survive in the world. Oxymoron…. I was essentially setting aside my true strength (what I gained through the Holy Spirit’s enabling) for a false positive (a lie I tried to apply to my life).
I didn’t know how this leg of my journey would end. I was rather apprehensive actually thinking it would cripple me emotionally and spiritually, but as I exit on the other side of the battlefield where the fight for my awareness of my nakedness took place, I am beyond grateful for the process of metamorphosis. The fearful caterpillar that entered the cocoon in the shadow of the Most High had no idea how much the shelter of His protective covering would not only transform her, but strengthen her as well.
I’ve written about the need to trust God and not people before [see How’s Your Heart?], when I was in the thickest part of my battle. After receiving the truths that were revealed during that time of reflection, the remaining struggles in my battle for self-awareness tapered off relatively quickly. Once you acquire the meat of the lesson, all else is easy (relatively speaking) to digest.
The issue of trust can be difficult to navigate in our daily relationships. It’s okay to reveal ourselves to people, but we shouldn’t expose ourselves to such a degree that we are not able to regain our covering after the trauma of rejection.
What do I mean by that?
Well, we sometimes give loved ones such influence in our lives that their slightest displeasure, or lack of support, or disinterest or whatever can send us into an emotional tailspin. When our relationships aren’t right, we usually aren’t right within ourselves either. Recovery in either case is painful and difficult at best, and impossible if you’re in hiding.
When all is said and done, this was a necessary process for me. In addition to learning not to trust people with the essence of who I am, I have learned not to seek darkness to camouflage my pain. I have also learned that hiding or shutting down emotionally is not the cure to over-exposing myself.
Most importantly, I have learned to seek refuge in God always for He willingly, and eagerly, covers His chosen ones.
My heart belongs to God
Lord, I give myself to you; my God, I trust you. Do not let me be disgraced; do not let my enemies laugh at me. No one who trusts you will be disgraced, but those who sin without excuse will be disgraced.
Lord, tell me your ways. Show me how to live. Guide me in your truth, and teach me, my God, my Savior. I trust you all day long. Lord, remember your mercy and love that you have shown since long ago. Do not remember the sins and wrong things I did when I was young. But remember to love me always because you are good, Lord. ~ Psalm 25:1-7, NCV
A young woman I’ve been helping this year has been seeking to get closer to me. As people are wont to do, she’s been attempting to manipulate me to maximize on the benefits I bring to her life. Because I am aware of her nature, I keep myself guarded. One of my biggest tests to date in this area came through her last week. She was trying to get me to commit my Thanksgiving to her and her daughters. I told her I wasn’t sure if I would even be in the City during Thanksgiving, as I often travel during the holidays. This had been her second time asking and I told her I would let her know closer to the time. She then said this to me, “Ms. Jones, I know you are holding yourself back. I know you’ve been hurt and you don’t want to trust anyone; I promise I will never hurt you. I’m not asking you to trust me with your heart, but you can trust my daughters with your heart – they will never hurt you either.”
I saw her sincerity, but I also heard the lie of her words. Anyone who promises to never hurt you has either lied to you or just told you they don’t plan on being a part of your life. And since she was asking me to be fully emotionally and spiritually available indefinitely to her daughters at the same time she claimed they would never hurt me – well that gave the lie to her words: people hurt people.
I tell you the truth as I know it, whenever I am with her, the Holy Spirit answers her for me. These words came from my mouth, “One thing I’ve learned in recent years is that my heart is not to be entrusted to people. I have given my heart to God – it’s no longer mine to give to you or your daughters. However, through His grace and mercy He will leave my heart open to whomever He sees fit for me to be open to, and for as long as He will have me be open to them.
When I play this conversation back in my mind, it seems as if she was trying to secure a promise and a blessing from me (think Jacob conning Isaac), because even though she claimed to accept my statement she then asked that I just promise to help her daughters and always be there for them as a resource. To which I replied, “I’m here now. I’m helping you now, aren’t I? I can’t do more than God will have me do. He’s made me available to you. It’s for you to step-up and follow-through on the opportunities He’s presenting to you through me.”
Though she continues to try to cover herself and her daughters with me, I know I am not their covering. Another lesson learned in recent years: the quickest way to end a relationship is by attempting to be more than I’ve been called or sent to be.
Ready for Love
“Later when I passed by you and looked at you, I saw that you were old enough for love. So I spread my robe over you and covered your nakedness. I also made a promise to you and entered into an agreement with you so that you became mine,” says the Lord God. ~ Ezekiel 16:8
God knows that we are naked. He is ever aware of our vulnerabilities – He created us with them. We need to maintain an awareness of our own nakedness and stop trying to cover it up. We also need to accept our nakedness/our weaknesses/our vulnerabilities as opportunities for God’s grace to work in us and through us.
Ezekiel 16:8 points out that there is an appointed time for us to wallow and wander in our weakness and there is also an appointed time when our weakness will be accepted and covered by love. Being naked – exposed – is not a sin. Opening yourself with sincerity and honesty is not disgraceful. It is in the process of being that we better understand and accept who we are becoming. And it is only in Jesus Christ, by the power of His Spirit, that our weaknesses can become strengths in our lives and that we can receive God’s love covering. The process of time brings our transformation to fruition. Free yourself to live through the processes God puts you through because at the appointed time He will cause you to bear much fruit – all for the purpose of glorifying Him in the world.