When I was in high school, my family lived a few blocks from a college campus. This was tremendously convenient for my older brother and sister, who attended the school. It also came in handy for the rest of us if we wanted to visit one of them on campus, shop in the campus bookstore, or attend a concert.
I don’t remember what brought me to the campus on one particular spring day, but I do remember I was wearing my stylish lavender jacket. It was a piece of my wardrobe I was proud of: it featured a light canvas-like material, a boxy fit, and a variety of superfluous flaps and snaps (if you grew up in the 80s, you’ll understand). I loved that jacket, and I was pretty sure I looked awesome in it.
Well, on this particular occasion, walking along a campus sidewalk, I found myself walking in front of a small group of college guys. As many high school girls would, I saw an opportunity to impress some older boys, and I decided to make the most of it. I stood a little taller, I added a little more bounce to my step, and I very studiously pretended to be oblivious of their presence.
As I walked toward the glass doors of the building in front of me, I could see their reflections behind me. I opened the door and walked in, and as I did so the door handle caught firmly on one of the larger flaps of my fashionable jacket. Unaware, I took another step, jerked backward toward the door, and fell down with very little grace. I hit the ground hard but immediately jumped up and fast-walked into the building, determined not to let those boys catch up with me and see my face. And as I raced toward the women’s restroom, my face red with mortification, I could hear them laughing behind me.
I’m telling you, I could never wear, or even look at, that jacket again without thinking about how that flap was my undoing.
Besides “pride (or maybe vanity) goes before a fall (literally),” this story illustrates another important lesson. (You knew I was going somewhere with this, right?) I was embarrassed by that incident, and my first instinct was to hide in the ladies’ room. I had wanted those boys to notice me. But I hadn’t wanted them to really know me. I certainly hadn’t wanted them to see the ways I was clumsy, prideful, insecure, or weird. But without that kind of vulnerability, all the noticing in the world ultimately wouldn’t have been worth anything. If one of those guys would have been interested in getting to know me after my dramatic fall, he probably would have been worth getting to know. That could have been the start of a genuine friendship.
The ironic reality is that when we try to attract people into relationships by hiding much of the truth about us, unless we eventually come out of hiding, we develop relationships that won’t go very far. When we allow ourselves to be really known, warts and all, we expose ourselves to the possibility that we might be truly loved.
Fearful, shameful people typically believe we need to hide in order to find love. We need to put on our best jackets and strut our stuff. But we actually need to be vulnerable in order to be truly loved. We need to be authentic in order to receive real relationship. If we change who we are for the sake of winning others over, we haven’t won them at all.
The same is true in our relationship with God. Besides the fact that hiding from God is a futile effort, we need exposure to really receive grace. We naturally try the same thing with God that we try with other people: put our best side forward, show him what we think he wants to see, furiously engage in self-improvement projects to make us fit for relationship with him. Use Bible Gateway to look up “God’s love” or simply the word “loved.” You won’t find a single description of God extending his love to people because those people managed to impress God or succeed in hiding the truth about themselves.
It’s the ultimate irony of vulnerability. Only when we stop hiding and offer God, perfect and holy, the ugliest version of ourselves, do we begin to understand God’s love.
© 2017 Amy Simpson.