As I have discussed in previous posts, being able to love often requires us to be able to remove the masks and clothing that keep people out. This can be very difficult to do, especially when we worry that others may not like us for who we truly are. It ultimately boils down to one thing, that revealing your secrets, especially the ones that paint us in a negative light, is to expose yourself to potential injury.
We are all familiar with the expression “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me”. It’s taught to us as children in order to tell us that we shouldn’t worry what others say about us because the words cannot cause you pain.
What a load of crap!
We should all be aware of the damage words can do! Just look at the damage social media can do to someone, especially the young, when they cannot escape their tormentors. Words have a power sticks and stones do not have because they can cut right to the core of you as a person. Someone can zero in on an aspect of your personality or appearance and slowly destroy you.
This is where the armour comes in. Wearing armour protects you from these attacks, allowing you to continue functioning. It protects the core of your being from being damaged. This is something I learned to do at school because I am quite sensitive, so jibes at my person often hurt me quite badly. Or at least I had the appearance of not being able to care, because armour still has weaknesses.
Armour doesn’t just protect us from strangers though. Far more dangerous is the power the people we love have to hurt us. When we let people in, and they can see all of you, your foibles, flaws and damage, you are giving them access to ammunition that can hurt you really badly. When someone you love insults you, they have access to a far wider range of points to attack you for. It also hurts so much more because a level of trust has been broken in the attack; you let them in, and then they did this?! So putting on the armour prevents this kind of damage being inflicted because people never get close enough to access that kind of ammunition.
Rebuke and Weapons
“Whoever rebukes a person will in the end gain favour rather than one who has a flattering tongue.”
Proverbs 28:23 NIVUK
We often like to focus on all the nice things Jesus said and did. It’s easier that way. A cuddly Jesus with a warm, benevolent smile, perhaps a small child on his knee telling nice stories to an adoring crowd. And that part of Jesus is definitely real, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not the whole story.
In Matthew 23, Jesus takes the Pharisees to task. The Pharisees were the religious elite, the establishment power. They were venerated because of their apparent holiness.
But Jesus saw through all of it. In Matthew 23, he describes them as “whitewashed tombs”! What an insult! It cuts right to the core of their hypocrisy! On the outside, they look completely clean, but on the inside is still a dead, decaying corpse.
This seems really harsh, and it is. But crucially, Jesus wasn’t saying these things to be mean or to try and hurt feelings. Jesus was rebuking out of love, wanting the Pharisees to change their ways and realise their faults.
The chink in the armour
Armour is useful but is also flawed. The more armour you put on, the more you can protect yourself, yes, but it also renders you unable to distinguish between personal attacks and genuine criticism. Imagine a medieval knights helmet, one that covers your whole face. I’ve no idea how they could fight anyone, you can barely see out of them! And that’s a problem because your perspective becomes blinkered. You cannot recognise when someone is criticising you from a place of love.
I was and still am really bad at this. As I said earlier, I am quite a sensitive person, so any attack causes my walls to go up and for me to go on the defensive. But this also means that I fail to tell the difference when someone is telling me something that I do actually need to work on. I get too locked in to a mindset of defence I cannot improve.
I have slowly been trying to work on this. The past year has taught me that this reflexive defensiveness is a serious flaw, one that prevents me from growing. A lot of the time, my friends aren’t saying things to hurt my feelings; they are merely being honest with me about things I need to work on. It’s hard to change an instinctual response, but I hope I can keep doing it.
Having friends willing to rebuke you to make you become a better person is a gift. Don’t squander it.