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Love What’s Broken

In the course of our getting acquainted, Ron, a new minister friend, made reference to Luther’s theology of the cross. He spoke about it as though it was something I knew. I interrupted him and admitted that I didn’t understand.

“Can you explain it simply?” I asked.

(I was sure that my initial hunch that “Theology of the Cross” is the God beliefs of angry people was incorrect.)

Ron lit up the way I do when someone asks me about my children – excited to share. He explained Luther’s idea simply, beautifully, like this:

God meets us and loves us in our most vulnerable places. That is to say, God doesn’t care about where we are big, puffy, important, or proud. God loves us where we are embarrassed, ashamed, lowly, broken.

I get that. It’s a classical religious truth – where we are most broken is where, ironically, we are also most loved.

If you’ve never seen Brené Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability, I implore you to watch it right now. She talks about how it takes courage to be vulnerable, and how it is only in being vulnerable that we can feel truly accepted.

I see this phenomenon with my family, my friends, and my students. My love is most desired where it is most needed. When I am loving the parts of others that they find hard to love themselves, my love is most appreciated. It is for this reason that many of my former students call on me when they have been put on academic probation, when they are struggling with their sexual identity, or when they are otherwise having a hard time loving themselves for who they are.

Let’s take a hypothetical example of me doing spiritual direction with a person. Imagine me looking at this person with love. And imagine them telling me how hard it is for them to be kind to themselves. Imagine them telling a story about how they, time and again, find themselves beating themselves up. It is here, at that moment of vulnerability, that the love I give them is the greatest.

And for me, too. It it when I feel the least confident that I need the most love. For example, in the process of parenting, at times I lose my temper and sharply raise my voice. (My family refers to this scolding I do as “a bark.”) I always apologize after it happens and do what I can to mitigate the possible damage my outbreak causes. The shame that I feel is always great. While it might initially feel more comfortable for Jane if she reinforced the shame that I feel by shaming me further by berating me, she does not do that. She usually reminds me of the first rule of the Mayer household: Everyone gets to make mistakes, and everyone gets to learn. It is her love of me – her love for what feels like the broken part in me – that is the most healing.

The world doesn’t need us to be perfect. In fact, there is nothing more boring than people who pretend to have it all together. The world wants us to be real, authentic, honest. This takes courage – admitting to ourselves and others who we really are and where our faults and insecurities are.

“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen”.
~ Brené Brown

Ironically, the culturally normative, protestant work ethic mandates we ought not let the world see our troubles. Let me advise a more spiritual, human approach. When you are angry, be angry. When you are sad, be sad. When you feel broken, feel broken. I’m not talking about indulging any of these feeling or taking out your feelings on others. I’m talking about being honest.

A few weeks ago, in the morning, I awoke panicked, feeling scarcity, worried (again) that I am not enough. I told Jane and leashed up the dogs; while walking them, I talked on the phone with my sister, who immediately asked me what was wrong. I explained – as well as I could – that I was feeling off. I didn’t sugarcoat. I didn’t indulge. I returned home, made the kids breakfast, and packed their lunches. I walked Emmett to school early so he could get to choir practice. I found myself quite irritated with almost everything that came out of his 10-year old mouth. He seemed utterly self-centered. I was careful not to leak my mood too much upon him. I tried to be pleasant and made a mental note check in with him later. (I want him to be able to learn that the moods of others aren’t necessarily a reflection of him.) When I got back to the house, Jane and I discussed my mood and politics. She asked me, “Where do you think God is in all this?” I answered that I didn’t know. I went to my computer, did some insurance paperwork, and then went for a 2-mile walk/jog as I have found that physical activity can sometimes help. The point is I didn’t try to get myself out of my feelings: I allowed myself to be in a grumpy mood, almost as though my mood and I were having separate existences. That is self-love. And, that takes practice.

I just shared about my morning of feeling “off.” And before that I shared about my getting so annoyed with my children that I “bark.” This was a calculated sharing – allowing you to see me, the real me, anxious and all, trying to get through a morning, alive and aware of my feelings. Did my being vulnerable and broken make you feel more or less love for me? I would assume more. Why? Because I was being real, letting you see me, vulnerable, the parts needing love.

The more we see someone as human, the more we are able to love them. (Conversely, when we dehumanize people into caricatures and stereotypes the crueler we can be.) The more we see someone’s courage, the more we see their heart, the more we see their passion, the more we love them.

The world and God – no matter what we use this word to mean – love us more where we are broken, where we need the most love.

Go, be human. Be vulnerable. Be you.


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