Pockets of Paradise

God desires our communities to be safe places where one can live in intimate relationship with God, with self and with others. Genesis 2:25 describes the quality of such a fellowship beautifully and poetically, “And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.”

A gathering of God’s beloved children should be characterized by people who are “naked and not ashamed.” Wow! Of course I am speaking metaphorically and spiritually, but consider with me the definitions and implications of what it means to be naked and not experience any shame in the context of community.

Although Adam and Eve were literally naked, the Hebrew word translated naked also means a person without pretense or uniform. Police officers wear uniforms so they can easily be identified. A police uniform tells you how to relate to the person wearing it and what you can expect from them. The uniform defines the role they’ll play in your life and how you should interact with them. You don’t know the person behind the uniform, you don’t even care about the person behind the uniform, your relationship with them is defined by the role they play.

When physically naked, there is nothing covering your body, your beauty and your flaws are seen by all. To be naked spiritually and relationally is to be yourself, without pretending to be someone you are not, or hiding within the safety of a role you play. It’s “what you see is what you get”, no pretense, no hiding, just guileless authenticity.

And (here’s the kicker) this person, in their absolute nakedness feels no sense of shame. Shame is the feeling that follows disappointment of opinion, hope or expectation. They are purely themselves and have complete confidence that who they are will not disappoint in any way. There is no shadow of doubt cast on their personhood, they live from a place of sufficiency, value and acceptance.

I think of my grandkids when I think about this type of unashamed nakedness. Eliza and Jack both jump out of the bath and run around in naked exuberance, unaware of their bodies, conscious only of joy and life. This is the experience God desires for us in our communities. To live with one another in the freedom that unselfconscious nakedness would allow. Imagine outposts of Eden where God’s kingdom is realized, where brothers and sisters can live together Naked and Not Ashamed. This is paradise!

What are your thoughts about this concept? Do you have any place where you experience the type of community described in Genesis 2:25?

When a friend hurts you

It is not enemies who taunt me—I could bear that;
it is not adversaries who deal insolently with me—I could hide from them.
But it is you, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend,
with whom I kept pleasant company; we walked in the house of God with the throng.  
Ps 55:12-14

I can hide from my enemies (my ego-driven impulses) and I expect my adversaries (worldly temptations) to lie in wait for me. To a small degree, I can proactively defend against the known and expected assaults of these ego- and worldly-based affronts. But, when a friend, an equal, a companion, a brother or sister in the Lord speaks wounding words or whose actions disrespect me – I am emotionally crushed and have no where to go to escape the pain.

It hurts deeply because of trust. With my friend I’ve lowered my guard; he is allowed access to the real me, the vulnerable me; with him I can relax; I’ve trusted him. So, I’m taken by surprise when something he says or does cuts to my core.

He is usually not malicious in his harm of me. He is just being his broken and loving self. That’s the deal, though. His broken and loving self is in an intimate relationship with me, also a broken and loving soul. Pain and hurt feelings are inevitable and unescapable. I can avoid such pain by not letting anyone close enough to hurt me. (This causes an altogether different type of pain, though.)

OR

I can allow God to use this incident to show me the places my soul needs additional healing or my character additional refinement.

My only hope for survival or continued connection with the one I love is to let God stand between me and my enemies and between me and my friends; providing gracious protection from the former and healing truth from the latter.

Do you live in the house of love?

You are God's loved garden

Depending on emotional/relational fig leaves to keep ourselves safe is not a very good strategy. First off, they don’t provide much protection and when they die, they dry up and crumble apart, leaving us vulnerable to the pain, shame and hurt they were intended to guard against. What then can be done? Does God have a plan to protect and keep us?

Yes, thank God, there is a means of getting back to the garden. “God clothed Adam and Eve in garments of flesh.” Genesis 3:21 God replaced their fig leaves with the soft, supple, warm skin of an animal. God did not leave them naked and vulnerable to cold and hurt. (Sadly, though, an animal had to die to provide this covering, a foreshadowing of the crucifixion.)

Returning to the Garden, being restored to community, leaving the house of fear and entering the house of love requires us to give up our paltry attempts at self-protection and to trust God to be our covering. We can choose nakedness; we can be ourselves without pretense or fear (see here for a discussion of trust vs fear).

Such vulnerability does need wisdom, though. Jesus said in Matthew 7:6 that you should “not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.” Don’t give what is precious and valuable (your very self) to someone who is not going to honor and respect you. This is not to say you should be “hiding” your self in such situations, just use discretion in what truth you offer to the other. Jesus would not want you to be abused and trampled upon.

Living in the house of love, we choose dependent obedience; we obey God’s command to love and serve one another while depending upon the covering of Christ’s victory to be our protection. Remember the others we are in community with will (like us) tend to “clothe themselves in fig leaves.” It is not ours to force their “nakedness,” one must choose “nakedness.” It is ours to do unto them as Christ has done unto us. Such love-born actions alone can lead to trust and vulnerability.

We began these posts with a thought from St. Teresa of Avila. Let’s end them by making her thought our own.

As I pray, I am making a garden in which my Lord delights. But the soil of my garden is unfruitful and full of weeds. So Jesus uproots the weeds and plants good herbs…so that he may come often for his pleasure and to delight himself in the virtues growing in me.

This concludes the series of posts on God’s tending of us, a garden in whom our Lord delights. You can read them from the beginning by going to “How does your Garden Grow.” The thoughts were taken from the retreat Shaped at the Garden. You can contact me for more information about this retreat.

Keeping the love (part two)

Henri Nouwen says we can live either in the house of love or the house of fear

Remove Shame Cleanse the lepers: restore to community (part nine)

Henri Nouwen says we can live in either the house of love or the house of fear. The walls of fear’s house are shoddy attempts to keep our vulnerable self safe from danger, pain and displeasure. They take the form of emotional/relational styles of operating that are our best, but weak efforts at protection. They keep others at a distance, insuring our security. In my last post I began a list of some common “fig leaves.” Here the list continues. Do any of these seem familiar? Take hope, in my next post I’ll speak about how we can move into the house of love.

I tend to protect my vulnerable self by…

6. Co-Dependence  I gain a sense of value by being needed by others; when others don’t need me or appreciate me, I develop resentment and bitterness. Like the elder brother – Luke 15

7. Dependence  I am always in need or in crises. Like the man by the pool – John 5

8. Sexualization  I use my sexuality or flirtatious nature to avoid real intimacy in relationships. Like the woman caught in adultery – John 8

9. Spiritualizing  All of life’s issues are described in spiritual terms. No emotions acknowledged, hiding behind God, assigning God more than his due.  Like the Pharisees and the man born blind – John 9

10. Hyper Emotionality  The opposite of intellectualizing, intense emotions areexperienced and expressed as an attempt to garner sympathy and to avoid theissue at hand. Like the Gerasene demoniac – Mark 5

11. Verbosity  If I keep talking, I can distract you (and me) from my more vulnerable self. Like the young Debby Bellingham (see Proverbs 21:23 and others)

12. Busyness  My never ending list of things to do keeps me from slowing down enough to allow my deeper issues/fears to come to the surface. Plus it proves to everyone how important and efficient I am. Like Martha – Luke 10

13. Control  Micromanaging my life and the lives of those around me gives me a sense of safety. I am prepared for anything that might come along, nothing will take me by surprise. It is an attempt to keep fear at bay. Like Moses in Exodus 18 or Martha in Luke 10

14. Withdrawal  Literally shutting down, absenting myself from relationships,conversations and even myself. I become zombie-like, unreachable. If you can’t reach me, perhaps you’ll give up trying and I’ll be safe. Like Elijah in 1 Kings 19

15. Consumer  Using any substance to extreme. Moving from one “high” to the next in an attempt to numb my soul to it’s fear and shame. Like Esau in Genesis 25:29ff

We’ll talk about getting back to the garden in my next post.

This material is taken from the Shaped at the Garden Retreat. For information about this retreat, please contact me or check out the upcoming events.

Keeping the love

Your greatest longing and greatest fear are one and the same

Remove Shame Cleanse the lepers: restore to community (part eight)

You are a very complex creation, a living oxymoron. Your greatest longing and your greatest fear are one and the same – to be thoroughly loved. You long for it because it is what you were created to experience. You fear it, because to be loved completely requires complete transparency. This is scary. If you are completely self-revealing I could learn some shameful thing about you that might change my mind about how lovable you are. Yikes. Better to hide the ugly and unattractive. But this hiding pollutes love, this hiding creates doubt, this hiding builds walls. Your greatest longing goes unrealized because of fear.

Hiding, born of fear and shame is our inheritance from Adam and Eve. They ate the one fruit they were asked to not eat, and their eyes were opened; they saw their nakedness, and hid because they were afraid. Fig leaves couldn’t hide their shame from God or from themselves, but that didn’t stop them from trying.

We carry on this family tradition. We have our own fig leaves, our own ways of hiding our vulnerable self. Modern day fig leaves usually take the form of emotional and relational styles of being and interacting. Following are a few common ones.  Any sound familiar? If none of these are your go-to fig leaves, don’t worry, I’ll continue the list on my next post.

I tend to protect my vulnerable self by…

1. Avoidance  Emotionally and/or physically. I am afraid of rejection; I’ll find ways to deflect from any personal attention. One tactic I use is to be a good listener; always being the one asking questions. Like the woman at the well – John 4

2. Intellectualizing  I tend to focus on tasks and reasoning to approach most of life’s situations; I analyze and talk about feelings in an emotionless manner. Like Nicodemus – John 3

3. Projection   I ascribe to others the emotions/attitudes that I would like to ignore in myself or I don’t like about myself. For instance, I will perceive/accuse others of putting me down because I feel very inadequate about myself. Like the Pharisees and Jesus – Matthew 12:22

4. Blaming  I am too insecure to assume responsibility for matters; I fear handling the consequences if I am responsible. I often appear angry. Like Pilate – Matthew 27:11-26

5. Splitting  I idealize some people or things while ascribing all the bad to others: I think in black or white, there is no room for gray. Like Judas – Mark 14:4-11

The list continues on my next post.

This material is taken from the Shaped at the Garden Retreat. For information about this retreat, please contact me or check out the upcoming events.

The great coverup

Remove ShameCleanse the lepers: restore to community (part seven)

It’s obvious we are not living anywhere near the Garden of Eden and God’s intention for our lives and relationships. What went wrong? Our continued study of Genesis gives us the answer – after the ‘fall’ Adam and Eve “clothed themselves in fig leaves.” (Genesis 3:7)

Previous to the fall, they enjoyed unadulterated fellowship with God, each other and all of creation; they were “naked and not ashamed.” In perfect partnership and according to God’s direction, they tended the garden and cared for the animals. They knew only freedom and joy.

After the fall, Adam and Eve were afraid. They hid themselves and made fig leaves to cover their nakedness. Heeding the serpent’s voice and choosing to do the one thing God has asked them not to do changed their outlook; suddenly they became self conscious, for the first time they noticed their own nakedness. Their attention and focus shifted to themselves. Their gaze moved from God, each other and the garden to their own naked bodies. They became aware of their vulnerable state and knew they had disappointed God. Out of this shame, they attempted to hide behind self-made fig leaves.

We’ve inherited this pattern. We are very self-aware, in many ways we cast ourselves as the primary character in the play of life; it’s all about us, we are the center of the universe. And sadly, because we are afraid who we are will disappoint God or others we hide and cover up. Our fear and shame causes us to use emotional/relational styles of fig leaves to cover ourselves and hide our nakedness. Fear and pretense kills the spiritual and ideal community God wants to us experience.

We can no longer enter relationships without fear and shame being present to some degree. You must earn my trust. I must grow to believe that you are a safe person with whom I can be my vulnerable self. Until then, I’ll keep myself protected and guard against the pain of disappointment by hiding behind my own version of a fig leaf.

In my next post we’ll talk about a few of the more common emotional/relational fig leaves we use to protect our vulnerable self.

This material is taken from the Shaped at the Garden Retreat. For information about this retreat, please contact me or check out the upcoming events.