“But the lion told me I must undress first… So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully… It was a most lovely feeling.” –C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Lately I have thought a lot about trusting other people. The nightly news would have us believe that no one can be trusted. Ever. I do not think that I am nearly that cynical, but I have realized that I am perhaps not as quick to trust others as I once thought. I lend quickly and easily. I do not worry too much about being repaid or having items returned to me, which at times leads to losses. But as soon as I am asked to trust another person with more than the material, with something deeper, it takes a lot for me to have faith in others.
Much of my fears stem from personal insecurity and self-consciousness. That is a given. I realized this in college. While involved in ministry, we talked about being open and honest a lot. In order to have a relationship with God, while He does not need us to tell Him anything, we have to be willing to open up about everything. We have to bring Him our fears and shortcomings and all the dark things we work hard to hide from everyone, perhaps even ourselves. This openness with an invisible God is difficult enough, but it extends to our community as well. It is impossible to be authentic, to work through faith and doubt together without honesty. We cannot help each other through struggles without being open about our own. There is truth to all of this, and a freedom too. Secrets, shame, hidden fears weigh us down in ways we cannot understand until we release them. However, there is also a huge danger.
“Then the lion said–but I don’t know if he spoke– ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now… The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.” –C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
This image of Eustace being cleaned by Aslan is one of the most remarkable, salient descriptions of a baptism. I was reading it recently and was reminded of the tradition of washing feet. When Jesus does this for His disciples, it is far more than an act of cleanliness. We talked many times of the symbolism, of the Teacher and Savior stooping down to do servants’ work. He lowered Himself to serve His followers, literally touching the dirtiest, roughest parts of them and washing it clean. When done well, the act of following in His footsteps and washing each others’ feet is one of the most touching, beautiful things I’ve witnessed.
I have no issues with washing the feet of another. I do not hesitate to serve, to cleanse the feet of those I lead. I don’t mind talking with people about their struggles or hardships, reserving judgement and keeping an open heart and mind. But I have always been far harder on myself than others. I hate allowing others to touch my feet. I know that they are ugly and rough and cringe at the idea of someone touching them. I feel wholly unworthy. I talked about this intense discomfort with a friend one night when we were discussing the story in scripture. It is so hard for me to imagine someone seeing how bad my feet can get, how dark my thoughts can be, how hateful my heart has been, and not reject me. Letting someone into those ugly dirty places is showing them every reason they should reject me. I simply cannot do it.
I can talk superficially about struggles I may have. I do not feign perfection. I can scrape away some of my own facade and shed a few layers of skin. I admit that I struggle with insecurity, that I have a hard time really even understanding the meaning of “self-esteem.” I worry about my family and the struggles that seemed to emerge as I grew older. I constantly fight a deep feeling of loneliness. But the real demons I fight, the dark things that haunt me, those are the ones that lay deep beneath layers that I don’t know if I’ll ever peel back. I may want to, and try to, but the fear of being that vulnerable and open is too great. I do plenty of things that make it hard for me to make friends without showing people the really damaged parts of me. There is just too much risk involved in honesty sometimes.
I hope that I can work on this. I hope someday that I am comfortable in knowing that, no matter who rejects me, I am loved beyond comprehension by my Creator. I hope that that knowledge is enough. I hope that I can trust people as much as they deserve. A part of me thinks that what I have to share is not as messy as I think, that my friends can handle the truth. A bigger part of me is scared to find out if that’s true. I’ve come close to complete openness, with a very few people. Close isn’t quite there, but someday, with someone, I hope that I’ll get there. Perhaps it will take God’s grace to peel it all away, to get back to the real me inside. I can only take comfort in knowing that, when I eventually give in, when I let it all go, the pain will be liberating enough to be bearable.
“Deciding whether or not to trust a person is like deciding whether or not to climb a tree, because you might get a wonderful view from the highest branch, or you might simply get covered in sap, and for this reason many people choose to spend their time alone and indoors, where it is harder to get a splinter.” –Lemony Snicket