Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Soft in the Middle

I found these words and re-read them today. I'm glad, because I needed to hear them again. I wrote them months ago, on ruled notebook paper, with a pencil, the really old-fashioned way. Sometimes when the need to write presses me, I want to press as well, to feel the words pushing their way onto the paper as I watch. Sometimes I lose the papers, or pile them up and forget them, or put them in a "need to copy" folder. That's what happened with this work, so I don't even remember how long ago I wrote it - a few months, maybe a year, not more than two years. Regardless, I wrote it to share, so here it is.

To love, one needs to be soft, but not weak.

I am soft in the middle, not hard, like a warrior, though I've seen my share of battle.

"Love," He said, "is the greatest of these things that abide."

I abide. I endure. I persevere.

I love.

And love is strong, but never harsh.

I am soft in the middle because I wear my love, my determined commitment to open-hearted service, like body armor. No, you don't see it, because you don't know how to look. I didn't see it, either, until God gave me eyes to see. With new eyes, I can look in the mirror unashamed, look straight at that too-soft body armor, and know the truth.

Every extra pound of softness I carry around is made of tears uncried, retribution unsought, anger unraged, disappointment unexpressed. I am wrapped in bruised feelings and half-broken dreams. I carry around the rubble left over from surrender.

God didn't order that, of course. He didn't require me to clean up the battlefield. Quite the opposite: He commanded me to rise up and walk, to come and follow Him. He even said NOT to clean up - "let the dead bury their dead" - but I was bound in the habits of nursing the wounded, sitting up with the dead, cherishing mementos of the lost. I myself felt lost and wounded. I did not see that He had given me new life. So tear by tear, ounce by ounce, pound by pound, I cherished my losses and piled them on to remember the fallen, keep the hope alive.

It's not alive, though. This soft wrapper I've formed to cloak myself is made of bits and pieces of stuff I let go so I could be who I was called to be. It's scraps of immature expectations and selfish goals and specious arguments. It's shards of jealousy and strife and contentiousness that I threw down, away from the person He was making me: the rubble of surrender, the dross of purification. There is no life in this, no hope, no safety.

Yet, like the grieving mother who cannot process the murder of her son, I could not let go of the body of death from which God had raised me. I clung to the very things I'd grown beyond - the right to be heard, the entitlement to recognition, the claim to the last word. I was not made to carry these; I was ordered to put them down. Still, I carried little remembrances, battle trophies, evidences to shore up my self-esteem. "See here what I've overcome?" "See how much I've given up?"


What pride I've had in worthlessness.

And what a weight to carry! Pounds and pounds of artifacts of no use to anyone, I hauled around with me . . . because, I guess, I never really put them down when asked, so I kept cramming more and more sorrow and anger into my already-full storage, covering them with the love I sought to give.

Spiritual struggle has a way of showing up in the physical realm. My body could not hide  what I thought my spirit could. Now that I'm seeing more clearly, I can see that my spirit never hid it, either. I can look at myself and see that I don't need all that junk in the mental closet, so I'm finally letting it go. It's not a fait accompli - it's a work in progress. I'm sure it will take a long time for my body to release all I've packed into it.

So, yes, I'm soft in the middle. I have been weak. But I'm relying on love, God's love instead of mine, to help me grow stronger.

Will you please remember this when you see someone soft in the middle - even if that someone is you?