Saturday, June 25, 2016

Mother Hens, Wedding Anniversaries, & Vulnerability

It has been twenty-two years since Danelle and I said, "I do" at the altar. Looking at this photo of a very young us, I can't help but think about those rough first two years that could have easily ended our marriage. It took a lot of adjustment, acceptance and growing up on both of our parts (but especially mine). Certainly we come into marriage with unrealistic expectations. We are attracted to our spouse because they remind us of something about our own parents, while at the same time we want them to correct the mistakes that our parents made. So those first years are tough to navigate the "you" and "me" into "we," particularly when you are a solitary person like myself. Two becoming one flesh can be a lot bumpier than an airplane in turbulence. Marriage takes a lot of caring and compromise. Balancing these two things is critical in any season of a marriage.

While ruminating on these last twenty-two years, it may seem a strange that the verse that came to mind is found in Luke 13:34. This is the verse in which Jesus laments, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing." Many may read this and go, "What?!!? How does this relate to marriage? Are you saying your marriage is like Jerusalem turning away from God and killing their prophets?!!? Huh???"

What struck me about that particular verse, though I don't think it will ever be one used in wedding ceremonies, is how Jesus likens himself to a "hen" who longs to "gather her chicks under her wings." There will be those who still scratch their heads and wonder what on earth I'm getting at here. It may not be apparent on the surface, but what I gleaned as I sat with this verse for awhile was the tenderness in it.  Christ is comparing himself to a mother hen who would lay down her life to protect her chicks from the wolf. It is an image of great strength and vulnerability. In fact, the strength of that image is in the vulnerableness of it. How many of us are willing to be that vulnerable with another person?

To love someone, truly love someone, means you are opening yourself up to being hurt. It will come in any relationship. But when that pain comes, the danger is when we try to keep ourselves from just such hurts. I know that I had to unlearn not to self-protect myself and immediately build up a wall to do so whenever Danelle and I got into arguments or disagreements. My natural instinct was, "Well, I've been hurt. Don't want to go through that again so I will just wall myself in so no one can get to me." This is dangerous in a marriage or any relationship. It leaves one guarded and keeps others at a distance.

To be in a relationship means to let down one's guard, to be vulnerable so that the beloved can see

It is coming to the altar to offer up oneself, to say, "This is really me. These are my wounds, my hurts, my fears, my joys, my passions, my regrets, my failures, my successes, my dreams . . ." It is offering all of that to another for them to accept or reject what is most precious about yourself. You are taking down the mask that we all put up and, even if for a moment, letting another see who you are as you are. This is terrifying. This is the kind of vulnerability that Jesus is presenting in the image of a mother hen with her chicks. It is putting the other person and their needs first. It is guarding them, their hurts and wounds, before your own.

How many of us are willing to sacrifice ourselves for the one we claim to love the most?

Many of us are more like George Costanza in Seinfeld who selfishly protects himself first at the sign of the slightest bit of danger.

Yet Jesus told us to "deny" ourselves.  We tend to either ignore or dismiss that part of the Bible. Self-denial is not popular or "sexy" in our culture. Yet it opens the true image of what real love truly is. Christ is the personification of love. Yet it is not a weak and maudlin love. It is not the sappy love of TV shows or romance novels or romantic comedies. That kind of love passes with feelings and emotions. It is a fair weather love. The kind of love that keeps a marriage together is the kind that Jesus portrays in this mother hen.

Vulnerability is an opening up to another. It is a trusting that goes beyond mere surface. It is saying, "This may hurt me, but I love you enough to share this with you . . ."  It is the opening of a wall one's built around oneself, even if just a crack. It is to say as Paul did to the church in Corinth, "Our heart is wide open." Shouldn't we be saying that to our spouse daily?

Public speaker, researcher, and best-selling author Brené Brown has become very successful talking and writing about vulnerability. Her TED Talks on the subject became one of the most popular and most viewed of all of them. In it she said, "Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they are never weakness." This is exactly what Jesus is presenting to us in that image of the hen. We would have expected the image of a roaring lion with fangs bared and claws ready to tear open anyone who would attack us, but that's not the picture Jesus presents of himself.

We misunderstand strength as Jesus portrays it. It is not our world's idea of strength. This is strength that reveals itself in the vulnerability of the cross. Many of us shrink back from this. We fear being hurt, being vulnerable and will do whatever it takes to keep ourselves from returning to places and people who have hurt us (whether that be relationships, friendships, or even churches). All of us, at times in our lives, have faced rejection and we weren't quick to jump right back in there for more. Just ask anyone who has come out of a relationship.

Yet real strength and true courage is allowing oneself to be vulnerable to another. To quote Brené Brown again, "Courage is to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart."

How many of us really do this?

Even with our spouse?

It was definitely something I have had to learn and continue to learn to do with Danelle. Yet each time I have done that, have exposed my deepest self, and she has held that inside her (protected what I revealed as a mother hen does her chicks), it only strengthened our relationship and made our love that much more richer. It has made our relationship more authentic and reciprocal. It means we are not walking around with our defenses up and on our guard, but sharing our selves without fear or shame.

But for the one who is given this gift of having their spouse share in such a manner then they must do so with grace, attentiveness (full attention), humility, and a desire to enter into that vulnerable space with the one they love. They must be open in that moment as well. It is to be a guardian to their vulnerability. It is protecting that openness by coming alongside and embracing them. It is loving them as yourself.

Sure, being vulnerable is scary but in overcoming that fear and allowing others to see glimpses of our true selves then we are being more Christ-like than when we hide in shame and secrets.

If I could go back in time and give my younger self some advice, I would tell him, "Be open. Be vulnerable. Be sacrificial. Be a mother hen with her chicks."

Hopefully, through the Holy Spirit, I am becoming more and more like Christ, like that mother hen, with each year of my marriage.

Yet for each of the twenty-two years that God has blessed me with so far, I would like to tell Danelle how grateful I am for her love, her godliness, her tender heart, her wisdom, her friendship and her patience. I cannot imagine what my life would be like without you in it. You are an amazing woman, an awesome mother and a godly wife. You are a help-mate who balances my day-dreamer's nature with your realism and practicality. You also get my cultural references and sense of humor. Thank you for the life we have made together and continue to make together.

I love you more than you will ever know.

Happy anniversary!

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