One job that must have dropped in popularity in recent weeks is that of a birthday clown. Clowns used to be fun, the life of the party, entertaining. And now they are freaking people out across the nation.
What is it about clowns that can be so unnerving? Maybe it’s that now they are hiding in the dark and covering their identity with scary face paint and masks. They seem unpredictable, allowing our imaginations to fill in the gaps and imagine the worst.
A similar thing happens in relationships. When we wear masks and attempt to cover our identity by projecting a false image of ourselves, we scare people away. The person we are trying to build a relationship with is unnerved and unable to build trust with us.
Building relational bridges requires being authentic.
And, we love talking about being authentic and being real, don’t we? We’ve clammored over it and hash-tagged it and posted about it enough that we are no longer “keeping it real” but projecting the image of authenticity. That’s not the point. Being real is not about saying what everyone’s thinking or venting on social media or another make-up free selfie.Real is what we become when living doesn't ruin us or jade us. Click To Tweet
It’s what happens when we’ve failed enough that we understand humility. And loved enough that we become vulnerable. Wept enough that we recognize joy. Worked at it enough that we welcome grace. Been beaten down enough that we pursue justice. Found guilty enough that we cling to mercy.
Real knows all too well what was but refuses to lose sight of what is now, because of Jesus Christ.
And, real is a choice. It’s a decision to both acknowledge the wounds and praise the Healer.
Real means not fixating on the wounds or the healing but on the narrative of “once I was lost but now I’m found.”
Because camping out too long in the wounds fosters bitterness, which destroys relationships. And, insisting on rose-tinted idealism makes us out of touch, which repels people just as quickly.
When building relationships with others, we honor them and the Gospel’s impact on our lives when we remove our masks.
People are brought close as we bravely model how to remove the face paint, come out of hiding, and join in the beautiful story of how the Gospel meets us as we are but never keeps us there.
For additional reading on this topic, here is a post from July 2014:
Velveteen People (or how we become real)
When I was a little girl, my mom used to read me The Velveteen Rabbit (or How Toys Become Real) by Margery Williams. Only after years of being loved into shreds did the stuffed rabbit become real and alive. The tattered ears, the dangling eyes, the worn body meant love had happened there.
Love changes us, after all.
But it never happens without a cost, for there is always a high price to pay when you truly love.
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 1 John 3:16
At the beginning of summer, the Summer Team steps into life on Seneca Street with clean clothes and fresh expectations. The first days are full of interactions at arms-length, some awkward dances, and great intentions. They go through the motions with smiles and earnestness.If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
But then, little by little, the Summer Team starts serving up their hearts to the kids.
They love the kids through break downs and melt downs and just all-out-days- of-down. They start to peer inside more intently, seeing the background and the hurting. They start to relate, start to embrace, start to share.Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
And, really, that’s when it starts to happen.
Because, the closer we allow ourselves to get to another human, the more clearly we see a real person – not just a picture or a name, but a life that breathes and cries and giggles and dreams.
Real is beautiful.
But, then again, up-close is where we finally see that there is so much we can’t touch, so much we can’t fix, so much, so much. We realize how big the situations are and how tragically little our band aids can really cover. And, the temptation is to just to wrap up our hearts and hide them away, isn’t it? Some days, it just feels better to feel less, to know less, to care less.
Something happens when we get close enough to be vulnerable & then stick around for it Click To Tweet
Love nudges at your heart and tears it up. In fact, if it doesn’t shred your heart a little and tatter your emotions, it’s probably not love. You might just be clanging cymbals and gongs in your one-man-band.Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. 1 Corinthians 13:1-8
Lately, I’ve seen the Summer Team laying down their cymbals, laying down pieces of themselves for the sake of loving these kids. I know their decision to really love and be loved will cost them.
And, I pray their hearts never recover.
I pray their intellect never overrides the power of connecting, really connecting, with another human being.
I pray their craving for structure never stops them from opening their doors, their lives, and their hearts to the beautiful chaos of God-ordained relationships.
I pray their eyes never see people in the same way, that their arms never forget to hug often, that their shoulders feel uncomfortably empty without a little person riding on top.
I pray they are changed and rearranged by the experience here. I pray they love on and on, especially when they are close enough to be hurt and forever affected.
For, that’s when we start to become real.
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
So, be encouraged. Your heart may feel all exposed, overwhelmed, and shabby from constant use but real is beautiful -it declares there is hope alive in this world.
Most importantly, it mirrors the love of God-in-flesh.
It reflects the Love that laid down Himself. His body was broken and marred but always beautiful to us velveteen people who choose to believe.
This month’s series is on being a bridge-builder. In short, it’s about how to be like certain individuals who let God show up in their words and deeds and forever changed our little family. But, it’s not a series about our story; it’s as series about how Redemption made our story useful, even valuable, in a greater story.
If Jay and I know anything about being a bridge-builder, it’s because we were the ones stuck on an island. If we understand anything about the power of meeting people where they are and standing in the gap, it’s because that’s how we were rescued – by God, through average people.