The wounds of manipulation destroy trust. Lack of trust is why people don’t change. Broken trust is a scalding, instant pain much like touching a hot stove. We are reticent to ever feel it again and so we carefully guard against it. No one likes the pain of disappointment that comes of broken promises and violated trust. We are quick to put up walls and barriers. We put on oven mitts before coming near the danger again. We shore up our defenses or cower down in our hidey holes and refuse to come out until we’re certain the coast is clear. Is it any wonder we are so hard to reach? How are we to distinguish the trustworthy from those who’ll selfishly hurt us again? No one wants to be vulnerable when the cost of a mistake can hurt so badly. To attempt a change in our lives is to come out of our fortifications into that scary world. It is hard to let ourselves become that vulnerable again.
While serving at the Detention Center, I had a remarkable compatriot. His name is Darwin. The youth just loved him. More than a year after his being called elsewhere, the kids still inquire after him. The thing that made Darwin so special was that he was vulnerable. He hid nothing from them, including his tears. It is a hard and vulnerable thing to weep in front of others. Some will not understand. Some with judge and tease and say hurtful things. Darwin has felt the sting of such unkindness many times, but he refuses to withdraw to a King’s X were he’ll be safe from that. Why? Because Darwin knows that in order to draw wounded people out of the turtle shell of safety they’ve grown around themselves they have to trust. Darwin also knows that trust begets trust. He trusts the kids to keep his confidences. He trusts them to not make fun of his weakness. He takes a huge risk. But, he thinks it’s worth it, because they sense that if Darwin feels safe out there, maybe they might be too. They test the waters in Darwin’s presence and nothing happens, so out they come and bask in the sunshine a while. When he’s not there, they usually draw back into their shells, but they risk it when he’s around because they know that even if they get stung, it will also sting Darwin and they’ll deal with it together.
I think that one of the greatest gifts parents can give their children is to be willing to be vulnerable in their presence. My own dear Father had a difficult time being vulnerable. He was a very capable accomplished man. He appeared to me to be perfect so I could, in no way relate to him. He, like most parents was also a manipulator and was the cause of much of my pain. I never dared cry in his presence except when he took a belt to my backside. In that case the wails and tears were indicative that he’d done his job. I realize now that the society he lived in had manipulated him into conformity and that breaking out of that mold was just as difficult for him as it is for me.
Long after my father had passed away, I had a sacred moment with him which is too special to describe here. Let me just say that he came to me and showed me his weakness in a very vulnerable way. My discovery of his humility, humanity and willingness to expose his weakness to me, was quite possibly the most cathartic experience of my life. How wonderful that the Lord, in his mercy, saw me holed up in my shell and chose to allow my father to be the one to come and draw me out. I can only imagine how healing it was for Dad as well.
Once my father was able to show me a different pattern of parenthood, I began to be willing to trust my Father in Heaven as well. I love a little story told by Cheiko Okasaki in her book Lighten Up! There she describes a hypothetical situation in which Jesus might show up at your door for a visit. He is welcome in the tidy part of the house but, in this story, kept from the kitchen where things aren’t just right.
I just went back and reread that chapter in the book. It is not at all like I remember it. It seems, that I have subconsciously, rewritten the story to more accurately reflect my own weakness and circumstance. It rather amused me to discover how I had embellished her sweet simple story with details of my own. Here’s how the story goes in my mind’s version:
I get a card in the mail indicating that Jesus would like to come visit me on the following afternoon. I realize that I’ll be hard pressed to make all the preparations. The note says he’ll arrive at 4:30 PM, so I assume he’ll want to stay for supper. I look at my calendar and see that my evening is booked at the Detention Center and that my morning has something too. I think I can get to the store on the way back from that morning engagement and will probably have time to clean up the messy kitchen and fix a meal in the remaining time. I go about my life at little harried, a little worried.
My morning meeting goes long. The lines are long at the grocery store. As I come in the driveway a neighbor flags me down with an emergency across the street that requires my attention. I make it into the house two hours late and some of the food has spoiled in the hot car. I’ll have to go to plan B as I can’t fix spoiled food for the Savior. I’m just rolling up my sleeves to tackle three days of neglected dishes when the door bell rings. I rush to answer it and find to my horrified dismay that He has arrived early!
Flustered I escort Him to the Home Teaching Room, move the morning paper off the best chair and invite Him to sit. I make a few apologies, mingled with excuses and ask if he’d like some refreshment? I explain that I’ll be leaving Him there while I go tidy up a bit and get dinner on, whereupon, according to Dixon’s version, I hand Him a Bible to read while he waits.
Oh boy, now I have to stop and interject some explanation about Dixon. Dixon is a Native American fellow who has spent the past two years as my companion at the Detention Center. He was seriously injured in a drunk-driving accident years ago. He spent eight months in a coma and now has some disability. His left side is partially paralyzed and his speech is difficult to understand. He’s especially limited in speaking long sentences and gets completely muddled with paragraphs. The result is that he’s become a master of the one liner.
Dixon has a deep understanding of the gospel. He has a grateful, happy outlook on life. Add to that a superior sense of humor and a flawless sense of timing and you get, well, the best teaching companion. My lessons became drum rolls punctuated by Dixon’s rim shots.
Such was the case when, telling the above story to the kids in DT, I came to that part where I was awkwardly seating the Savior of the World in my drawing room and attempting to see to his needs. I was just saying how I was about to leave him there with a magazine when Dixon interjected, “ Bible!”
See what I mean? With one word, Dixon summarized my whole message. We laughed and laughed at the stupidity of thinking that we in any way could presume to meets Jesus’ needs, especially with something He’d given to meet ours!
Now, back to the story: As I’m about to leave, Jesus asks if He might come into the kitchen and help! “Oh, of course not!” I protest. “I could never let you see my messy kitchen!”
He kindly explains that He’d rather help and that He’s good at it. Still I protest, but He patiently persists. Finally, I reluctantly agree. I’m sure that when He sees the mess there will be recriminations, “This place is a pig sty! How can you live like this?”
Instead, He quietly, patiently rolls up His sleeves and goes to work beside me. In the end I imagine a pleasant after noon of cooking and cleaning and pleasant conversation.
Actually, this story is not all imagination. In order to recover from my addiction, I had to do exactly what I’ve described. All my life I had left the Lord alone in the tidy parts of my soul. Never inviting Him in where He might do some good. It was a difficult day when I swung to doors wide and meekly invited Him in to see the messy parts. They were far worse than a few days’ undone dishes. My “kitchen” was a filthy, stinking can of worms. Still, there was no condemnation just an invitation to join Him in cleaning up the mess. He is very good at what He does.
That kind of trust, that kind of vulnerability is not easy to come by. I think it is what the scriptures call being circumcised of heart; the willingness to become utterly vulnerable in order to become clean and enter the covenant.
So, if we are afraid and walled in, how do we get the courage to step out into the light and take the risk of trusting again? I don’t know if there is a magic formula. Some go there because they are smothering in their fortress and are driven out for air. Others get exposed for who they really are and once exposed decide to face their humiliation and do something about it. Others, finding someone they can truly trust, with whom their confidence has grown over time, may trust their confidant and accept an invitation to emerge from their prison/shelter. Remember, manipulation has driven them there; manipulation will not bring them back. No selfish effort on my part is going to initiate trust and vulnerability on the part of another.