Thursday, March 15, 2012

Smudged and Dented Armor

Today I’m thinking about knights in armor. Not shining armor, although that counts too, but mostly just armor – smudged and dented armor.

I could really replace every “we” in this post with “I”, but having a blog is already narcissistic enough; no need to remind you constantly that this is just my own musings.

Let’s start off by agreeing on a basic fact. We, as human beings, don’t want to get hurt. We don’t want to be affected by the world or anything in it because the world hurts. There is a planet of hurting people out there, and we don’t want to admit that we’re one of them.

First, we have to understand where this hurt comes from. This hurt is, I think, at least partly a result of our separation from God. But it’s also something we do to each other. From a young age and onward we compare and criticize our peers, and we are aware that we are subject to the same critical eye. We want to live up to the expectation of others. Sometimes we manage it, and sometimes we just don’t, and that hurts. So we get wounded. We screw up and we don’t want others to know that we aren’t perfect, and our fear of failure makes us hurt, too.

Next, we have to understand what we do about this hurt. The hurt sometimes turns into insecurities that mark us. We make mistakes; we fall, scrape our knees, and bruise our hands. Instead of brandishing our injuries for the world to see, we cover them. In order to hide all of the wounds and prevent more, we make ourselves a suit of armor. We make sure to defend ourselves against every possible onslaught. We protect our minds and our hearts. We tell ourselves that there are no chinks in the armor, that no one can pierce the strongest of metals, because we don’t want to get hurt.

But this isn’t right. Quite frankly, suits of armor look silly because they don’t make sense if we want happiness and peace. We can’t get hurt because we can’t feel the bad things in the world, but we also can’t feel the good things. Armor keeps the warm sun off our skin and prevents us from feeling the touch of other human beings. We are isolated and safe behind it, but we are lonely. We spend our lives feeling so desperately alone, but when someone comes along who wants to help, we are reluctant to let them because we feel like we don’t need them. And eventually, we get tired, because armor is very, very heavy.

My father has had this weird suit of armor ever since my parents were first married. I don’t know where it came from, or how it has survived years of moving around with an Army family, but we still have it, and it stands guard eerily in the window of the playroom. His name is Hablo, which my father found ironic, and as a child I was scared to death of Hablo. Still am, a little, actually. I’m not sure what it is about him that scares me so much. Perhaps its because he looks so very human; with the visor down, you can’t tell that there isn’t anyone inside. But when you open up the visor and look inside, there is only darkness. He is empty. He is just a shell. The armor isn’t protecting anything. The longer we wear our armor, and the thicker we make it, the emptier we become.  

Perhaps the worst part of the armor is that it is so hard to get off. Knights in medieval times wore actual armor, as I’m sure you know. This armor, like our own, was incredibly bulky and difficult to maneuver in. In fact, they needed help putting it on and taking it off. Once inside the armor, it was basically impossible to get it off without someone else doing it for you.

I think this makes sense, if you’re still able to follow my long, convoluted metaphor. We may manage to struggle into our armor by ourselves, but taking it off is another story. That’s when other people come along. We need other people to help us remove our armor. We do this by growing in relationship with them. This is true for any relationship in life – friends, family, significant other, anyone.

It is terrifying. Like knights, we have to be very, very brave in order to take off our armor. We have to let others know what is going on inside. We admit our mistakes, we confess to our fears. We show them our shame and we tell them what we’re scared of. We explore with them our hopes and dreams, and they become part of our delight and our future. And slowly, piece by piece, the armor comes off. We’re left exposed and vulnerable, but it’s okay, because we are able to trust the other person so completely that we know they won’t hurt us. That is true relationship. It takes many shapes, colors, and forms, but it is always beautiful.

I think this is also the relationship God wants with us. He wants us to bare our hearts to Him and He promises to love us, no matter what we’ve done or what we will do. But sin whispers in our ear that we are not lovable, that He wants nothing to do with us. And we start to think that if He doesn’t love us, then no one else will either. But He never wanted this separation. Adam and Eve were originally naked in the garden, at peace. He never wanted us to have to put on armor to protect ourselves, and His son died to help us take it off.

Life is hard and it hurts. Bad things happen, people damage us, we make mistakes, and we get scared. But we weren’t meant to do this alone. It is much easier to handle the hurt when you’re not walking by yourself. The dark is much less scary when you’re not facing it on your own. Wounds heal better when there is someone else taking care of them. Shame can be banished by love.

None of this is very helpful if we don’t know what to do with it. So I encourage you to try to understand what armor you are wearing. We’re all wearing something. It’s different for all of us. Figure out what it is, and then find someone who can help you take it off. Don’t be afraid to share things with a family member or a close friend, and don’t be afraid to trust the Father who always loves you. There is hope and redemption in love. Seek to make the relationships in your life more authentic by deepening them with honesty and trust. Choose wisely, of course, but choose to change.

I know. Wearing all that armor feels safe and strong. But trust me.

Taking it off is so, so much better.

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