Tuesday, March 23, 2010


We attended a youth gathering many years ago in Santa Clara, CA. One of the groups from somewhere south of there had t-shirts made up for the gathering. On the front was a picture of some large wooden tribal masks, carved into stoic expressions; on the back it said, "Take off your masks -- Pray Naked!" When asked about these interesting shirts, the young people wearing them explained that their group had done a Bible study on Genesis 2:25, focusing on how God wants a relationship with us that is totally vulnerable, totally open, but because we are sinners, we constantly wear masks.

John Eldredge, in his book Wild At Heart, talks about a similar thing when he describes how most guys (and I daresay the same is true for women) are posers. We swagger and strut, we pretend to know something about things when we actually don't have a clue ("Yeah, I was pretty sure when I brought it in that it was the muffler belt. Yep.") and in reality we are just pretending. Not in a good way. We're wearing masks.

In contrast, Genesis lifts up nakedness without shame as our state when we know God face to face without fear. It is only when sin enters the picture that we feel the need to cover ourselves, protect ourselves, pretend to be something we're not. If not for the presence of sin in the world, I wouldn't get antsy sitting with my back to a full restaurant. In the same way, it is the presence of sin in this world -- and my long-conditioned response to its presence -- that teaches me to cover my heart, to build the walls, to don a mask so I won't be hurt by someone's rejection or disapproval or scorn.

Nakedness is the prerequisite for not only a relationship with God, but for marriage. It is no accident that this verse comes hard on the heels of God's prescription for marriage -- leaving, cleaving, and weaving. They were naked, and they were not ashamed. Married life (which, by the way, Ephesians 5:21-33 treats as a picture, a cartoon version if you like, of Christ's relationship with the church) needs openness and vulnerability.

You've probably seen, like I have, couples that coexist. Maybe they have had their fill of conflict and they at some point just draw boundaries and say, "We'll share space but we will not get beyond each other's walls." Maybe they never figured out how to be vulnerable with each other. I'm constantly amazed when I plan a funeral and the children -- or even the spouse -- have little idea what was in their family member's heart. Spiritual beliefs? Not a clue. Deep loves? Well, she enjoyed pinochle. What was really important to him? He liked building birdfeeders. Any idea what he thought about God? We never really talked about it. What did she believe in? Oh, she was a staunch Republican.

We hide our hearts from each other not out of some noble stoicism, but out of fear of being hurt, plain and simple. We don't know how to be naked at a heart level.

And sometimes those who are most capable of being naked physically are the most guilty of hiding their hearts behind walls. Whether it's the "free love" of the 1960's or the "friendship with benefits" of today's college set, all we do by getting naked together is satisfy a temporary lust for affection. We miss the vulnerability, the intimacy for which God created us.

What makes this kind of vulnerability possible? It's fairly simple. We cannot be forced into vulnerability -- we must be loved into it. Love creates safety. Safety does not mean you will never experience pain; rather, it means that I will not selfishly hurt you. If you are in pain, I will come alongside you. God loves us by seeking us out, coming alongside us, standing with us when we are in pain, and -- hear this -- speaking no word of condemnation. By the time we see God coming alongside we have already been condemned amply and fully by the laws of the universe. (Yes, God made the universe that way, so yes they are his laws ... but God doesn't run around like a referee in a striped shirt blowing his whistle when we make a mistake.) We don't need another word of condemnation, and God knows it. We are wounded enough already, wounded to death. So Jesus comes not to condemn -- see John 3:17 or Romans 8:1 -- but to save. He comes to bring resurrection. Like the Samaritan in the story, he dresses our wounds, lifts us up and places us on his own donkey (Luke 10) and brings us to a place of safety. This is God's model for love, and indeed God's model for marriage. This is how we are to care for each other -- not by condemning or manipulating, but by coming alongside one another and caring for each other. We are wounded enough already. So if your chosen means of expressing affection is the sarcastic jibe, find a different way. Be vulnerable and give an honest compliment that might be rejected. Open your heart and speak your affection instead of offering a backhanded insult. That's just a mask. Learn to get naked, even just a little bit.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks. I hope it's not just my mail you are reading!