It was easier to act like something I wasn’t before having kids. It was easier to convince myself I was something I wasn’t before having kids. Now not only do I have my flaws mirrored back to me, but I have the whole world commenting on my children’s flaws and defects, which in turn reflect mine. Yet perhaps this is all God’s plan. We are wounded, fragile creatures and the sooner we acknowledge that and accept it, the more powerfully the Creator can work. Like Christ’s wounds exposed on the cross for the whole world to see, it is by His wounds that we are saved.
Letting Our Blood Pour Out In The Library
We went to the library near our house recently. It has a room with lots of books and toys and we go there often. When it was time to go, the two-month-old was fussy and wouldn’t stop crying, the three-year-old threw a tantrum and ran away, and the one-year-old protested being strapped into the stroller by crying too. Even though my husband was there too, we were pretty overwhelmed. The librarians were startled and more than one came into the room to “help”. Of course they commented on our family size being large and of course we parents “didn’t have enough attention to give to all of them”.
These are nice ladies and they certainly didn’t mean any harm by their comments, but their comments were hurtful and embarrassing. This has happened to us many, many times. Sometimes, very rarely, we have it all together in public. The baby sleeps, three-year-old converses and sits still like a lady and the one-year-old works his charm. Yet more often than not, more than one child poops at the same time, someone gets hurt and feels like crying loudly. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. It is during these moments, of our most extreme vulnerability, that people offer their comments and suggestions that reflect their ideologies, which usually contrast to ours. As we are the ones that are vulnerable and exposed, we have to listen quietly and accept that they say they are “right” and we are “wrong”.
Like Jesus on the cross: “Those passing by reviled him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, if you are the Son of God, [and] come down from the cross!’ Likewise, the chief priests with the scribes and elders mocked him and said, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. So he is the king of Israel! Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now if he wants him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ The revolutionaries who were crucified with him also kept abusing him in the same way.” (Matthew 27:39-44)
The Power of Vulnerability
Years ago, I watched a TED Talk called “The Power of Vulnerability” and it has stayed with me ever since. It is difficult to be vulnerable. The speaker describes shame: “Shame is easily understood as the fear of disconnection. Is there something about me that if other people know it or see it that I won’t be worthy of connection? The things I can tell you about it: It’s universal, we all have it, the only people that don’t experience shame have no capacity for human empathy or connection. No one wants to talk about it and the less you talk about it the more you have it.”
However, in order for there to be love, there has to be a vulnerability. You have to open up the shame. For me, there are two ways to deal with our weakness and our shame. One is to blame, which we see throughout the Bible from Adam and Eve to Cain to Jesus. The speaker in the TED Talk says, “You know how blame is described in the research? A way to discharge pain and discomfort.”
The other option is to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. The speaker says, “In order for a connection to happen, we have to let ourselves be seen and really be seen.” She also says vulnerability is “willingness to say I love you first, do something where there are no guarantees, invest in a relationship that may or may not work out”. Vulnerability allows for a relationship and allows for love to happen. “Connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives meaning and purpose to our lives”, is how this TED Talk begins.
Jesus on the cross is vulnerability embodied. His naked body, his gaping wounds, his shame in dying a criminal death. Yet this is also an invitation to connect and to a relationship. This is the starting point of love. His open arms, his strength in weakness, his willingness to lay down his life, his understanding of our suffering. “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10)
I have been reading some of Sally Clarkson’s books about motherhood recently and they have been life-changing for me. One of the topics she frequently touches upon is that when you are at this vulnerable point in life, where people feel compelled to give you criticism or advice, sometimes this advice can be wrong, even if it comes from well-meaning people. Sometimes this advice only makes you feel worse, as it can put the blame on you.
She says in her book Desperate:
“Often, well-meaning believers felt free to tell us ‘God’s will for our lives,’ according to them. I call these Job’s friends. His ‘friends’ felt their own wills were sovereign over God’s individual calling upon Job’s life. Though Job was experiencing persecution because he was righteous, and Satan made every effort to squash his faith, God had sovereignly allowed the test, trusting that Job would love Him and remain faithful through it all. Our ‘Job’s friends’ would question the dreams that we had, in faith, followed. Early on I realized that all of the times I had found joy and freedom and pleasure in my life were when I listened to God’s voice in Scripture and pursued the dreams God had put on my heart. What other people thought of our path was irrelevant.” (Desperate by Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson, pg 34)
Almost every visitor that has come since our third baby was born has seen our vulnerability and weakness, as our life has definitely been turned upside down and rattled quite a bit. Yet in the tirade of well-meaning advice and suggestions that people offer mainly because they don’t like to see us suffering, some of it is helpful but most of it is not. Only after a while of receiving so much of it did I realize I don’t need to listen to it. In fact, I can’t listen to it or I will go crazy and change my plans every five minutes.
Instead, I need to listen to that still, small voice inside of me. I need to take guidance from my creator and the master plan-maker in the sacraments and in his Word. “The centurion and the men with him who were keeping watch over Jesus feared greatly when they saw the earthquake and all that was happening, and they said, ‘Truly, this was the Son of God!’” (Matthew 27:54)
Lord, Make Me an Instrument
“By his wounds, you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24) So also we cannot bring God’s love to others without bringing it in our woundedness, our vulnerability, and our shame. Saint Faustina writes extensively in her diary about how her suffering not only increased her love for God but also was how God used her to reach others. “You are a sweet grape in a chosen cluster; I want others to have a share in the juice that is flowing within you,” God said to her. (Diary of Saint Faustina, n. 393)
So perhaps God places me in some tricky situations and it’s okay for others to see me struggling. It is not our perfection that will move souls to Christ, but Christ’s perfection. It is Christ in us, and that is always a treasure in earthen vessels.
“But we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.” (2 Cor 4:7-10)
Jesus on the cross also attracts souls to Him as an instrument of love. It is in his weakness that his strength is found. It is in the ugliness that the most beautiful is revealed. “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” (John 12:32)
Like Jesus, let us not be ashamed of our brokenness. During these precious days of Easter, we are reminded that God heals ALL things. Even when love hurts, let your blood pour out.
Prayer Before a Crucifix
Look down upon me, good and gentle Jesus
while before Your face I humbly kneel and,
with burning soul,
pray and beseech You
to fix deep in my heart lively sentiments
of faith, hope, and charity;
true contrition for my sins,
and a firm purpose of amendment.
While I contemplate,
with great love and tender pity,
Your five most precious wounds,
pondering over them within me
and calling to mind the words which David,
Your prophet, said to You, my Jesus:
“They have pierced My hands and My feet,
they have numbered all My bones.” Amen.