(Written November 16, 2016)
We are all layered people.
Layered, complex, beautifully afflicted people.
We weren’t born that way though—with layers. We were born naked and innocent and the closest to God’s heart that we would ever be in our lives.
Immediately the layering began. We were a daughter or a son. We had ethnicity. We had a place in a family—a certain position in the pecking order. Sometimes that family was typical. Sometimes that family was atypical. Sometimes the lines between the two seemed skewed because atypical could seem typical if that’s all we ever knew. Sometimes we were loved and adored. Sometimes we were born into a life of the sweetest affection and sometimes we weren’t. Sometimes we were abandoned and sometimes we were found again. Sometimes we were lost forever. Sometimes we were mistreated. Neglected. Ignored. We accumulated layer after layer as we assumed our place in the family. Mostly we didn’t even know it was happening.
So we grew and we layered as if we were preparing for some unforeseen cold. Sometimes we were the golden child and sometimes we couldn’t do anything right. We had peers and sometimes we had friends. Or we didn’t. We had acne or we had clear skin. Sometimes we were bullied because we were chubby. We had boyfriends and girlfriends, or we didn’t. We got embarrassed. We got humiliated. We got in trouble and sometimes we got rewarded. We were homecoming queens, athletes and band kids. We drank alcohol or we didn’t. We did drugs or we didn’t. We slept around or we didn’t. We all got a reputation of some sort. We were “goodie two-shoes” or we were the “bad kid”. Or just the kid in the middle of two extremes.
We graduated high school. We went to college or we didn’t. We worked in a high-paying job, a decent job or a minimum wage one. Or no job at all. We earned prestige with our job title or we didn’t. Sometimes we were embarrassed by the job we did, but we still did it. Sometimes we made a load of cash. Sometimes we required government assistance for a bit. Sometimes we lived off of government assistance for our whole life. Sometimes we worked our tails off, and sometimes we were on the lazy side. Sometimes we were happy with our choices. Sometimes we were unhappy with our choices. And sometimes we were angry about how life turned out. Sometimes we did something about it. Sometimes we didn’t know what to do about it, so we just stayed there forever. People we love died. Or left us in other ways. Some of us had success followed by failure followed by success. It was a repeating cycle. Some of us wanted to be noticed. Some of us wanted to fade into the background. Some of us gave everything for others, some of us couldn’t see beyond ourselves. Some of us learned to lie and some of us wouldn’t consider it.
Some of us married. Some had happy marriages and some had abusive marriages. Some had just “meh” marriages. Some eventually divorced. Some never married at all—some out of choice and some because time ran out. Some of us never had kids because we physically couldn’t or because we didn’t want them. But some had babies and became parents, in which case a whole other cycle of fully naked to fully layered started again.
We are all layered people–layered with good stuff and bad stuff that has formed who we are and how we act.
You and me.
Some of our layers are lovely and colored beautiful. Others are ugly with a noticeable stench.
And though we may differ in many ways—even in most ways—in some ways we are the same. Every single man or woman shares some common thing with the next one. On some level we are the same. Exactly the same. And it’s because of that place—that place of “likeness”, that I can show you grace. If I can find even a single thing we have in common, my heart can become—at least in that space and in that instance—soft toward you.
If in your journey you are like me, you might have crossed paths with God. And maybe like me, you have surrendered your life to him. If so, you know what you are called to. You can’t pretend you don’t know.
You know that we are called to love not only the lovable. We are called to love the unlovable. All the time. We don’t have to agree. We just have to love. It can only happen by extending grace when everything in us says it’s crazy to do so. When everything in us tells us all the reasons we should not.
I started thinking about this last week when I came face to face with a man who used to be a trusted family friend. Our families broke bread together often, and all the while he was deceitful and evil and a destroyer of innocence toward his own. He was sick. When his sickness came to light, I swore I would never have another interaction with him. Ever. Even when he came back into my world and I had to pass him on the road or see him from a distance. He sickened me. In my heart, though, I knew one day God would make me look at this man again and deal with my disdain for him. And he did.
When the day came, it was at his workplace. I didn’t see it coming and it couldn’t be avoided. In awkwardness, I ask for the information I needed and tried to make a quick exit. As I turned my back to leave I heard him quietly speak my name.
Though I wanted to pretend I never heard it and keep going, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it. So I turned toward him.
I was silent, but he spoke. He reminded me of a time fifteen years ago when I had given him a cd to minister to him. It was a time when I mistakenly believed he was the victim, and not the victimizer. He let me believe it then. He deceived me and my family and everyone he knew. But in that face-to-face moment a few days ago, his eyes welled with tears as he told me that the music continued to help him. He told me he still listens to it daily. He told me that he had listened to it that very morning. He told me that he just wanted me to know that. This time he wasn’t deceiving me. He knew I knew everything—the whole sordid story. His body is broken and sick now, but you know what I suddenly saw in that moment? I saw the tender layer of him that was drenched and overcome with regret, loss and sadness. Because I’m acquainted with that layer in myself, I saw him clear of all the other junk. And in that moment I found “likeness” with him and I was unable to withhold even a morsel of grace from him. And I knew it was finally over.
“Thank you for telling me,” I said. I called him by his name—the same name I swore I’d never utter again. And then I left with peace.
Only grace would allow for that.
Friends. It is time for grace.
In these ugly times of political unrest and chaos, maybe it wouldn’t hurt us to remember this. That buried inside those imperfect leader-wannabe people who spew poison at each other, there are some layers that look just like yours and mine. Humbling, isn’t it?
Buried inside people who will vote for the “other side” in this election, there is at least one layer in them that is like you. And that is an important space, for it is where you will understand them for just a bit. A single moment of clarity is enough.
It is enough.
When you see the “likeness”, you will feel a tenderness that will replace any hatred. And you will find your only choice is to show some grace.
Lord have mercy on us all if we forget the necessity of grace in this world–the beauty of giving away something that isn’t deserved and doesn’t make sense simply because we can.