The rest of you

There is the you that people see, and then there is the rest of you.
– Brennan Manning

The rest of me doubts and doubts and doubts, my faith and the trivial things people say and God and especially myself. The rest of me is gripped with fear of the future as she shrugs my shoulders when others ask about it. She is terrified that half the people in her life will find out that she’s a religious prude, an out-of-touch mumbo-jumbo moralistic weirdo, and that the other half will find out that she’s a backslidden liberal beer-swilling heathen. She waits to be judged as she learned to judge, listing shoulds and crafting airtight moral systems without a pause to say, ‘yes. life is harder than it looks.’

The rest of me longs for tenderness but comes up only with analysis, longs for God but comes up only with theology, longs to forgive and musters only resignation. She daily asserts her bigness while hiding behind her smallness. She equivocates, rationalizes, and then does the selfish, lazy thing.

She hopes. She harbors the most outlandish wishes, for herself and the whole entire wide world, that she hardly dares whisper to the hardwood floors of this empty house. Hopes to be remembered for listening, to be recognized for writing, to hear the voice of God again and again. Hopes for “spiritual awakening”, I glibly say, but what she means is an awesome rumble of freedom and love spilling over from city to city, drowning greed and fear. All these she keeps in the walls, moving the hiding spots and changing the passwords on her kryptonite.

She is very frightened. She never stops trying to argue her way out. She clings tightly to her judgments of others, and she is often more baffled than drawn by Jesus. She has been keeping me from writing for all my life.

She wants only one thing: to protect me.

Funny how you can think you’re being honest when really you’re hiding. How you can wander over to God, petulant, demanding he fix everything roiling inside your gnarly, spiny urchin-heart, without ever letting him crack it open. I’m gonna hold on to my rock-solid armor, I say to God without really meaning to; you just magic your way in there, fix things up inside, and I’ll take care of keeping them that way. I’ll stand the sentries. I’ll fortify the defenses.

Tenderness.

The word catching me up lately is tenderness. To resist hardening – here is a real kind of strength. How many of the niceties of polite society – and even the unspoken agreements between close, close friends – are aimed at allowing one another to preserve some desperate bravado, pretending not to notice others’ soft spots? Ask about the facts, never the feelings.

Tenderness – I was overwhelmed when grad school began, utterly weary of feeling for others. A few years of intense volunteer ministry and personal troubles had all the great tragedies of the world piled onto them – hurricanes, slavery, warfare and the death of Oscar Romero. Really, we were all overwhelmed by the hurt in the world, in our worlds. But diversions were afforded: cynicism, anger, alcohol, busyness, theological arguments and workarounds. It was good not to be raw all the time. I learned a great deal.

And. Yet. What is learning if we do not learn tenderness? What even is wisdom if there is not compassion first? We students have been allowed to confuse righteous anger with blind rage; our learned pomposities, too, have been indulged, along with our self-soothing tactics and addictions. Never have we simply been with our wounds, hurt together and waiting for grace. We have been too eager to protect ourselves. We have built bridges across the valley of the shadow, bridges that bear a dangerous resemblance to the tower over Babel.

Yes, I do need protection. I am only skin and sinew and some utterly unuseful bits of squish, blood flowing impossibly close to the surface – and that is why every thought of self-preservation is a lie. I do not need the protections of my other self; she wants to help, but she only creates messes. A child alongside God in the heart’s garden, encouraging easy weeds that choke late-blooming flowers, and stomping on spiders that would have consumed pests sabotaging the fruit. And here is God in a floppy hat, pulling her close, sitting her down, teaching her wisdom and patience without fear and pride.

That way lies much pain, Jesus said, but that way lies also the wide and long and high and deep love of Christ. To hide one’s heart in God – tenderness wrapped in tenderness – there is the daily task. To leave aside hardness and will, let oneself be moved even to tears – there is the invincible folly of Jesus.

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2 Comments

  1. So refreshing to read, and oh so hard to live after the dew of realization evaporates in the heat of the everyday.

    I need reminders like this often.

    Reply
  2. Todd

     /  July 9, 2015

    Powerful. Eloquent. A Gift with words you have. Excellent read.

    Reply

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