I give you a new commandment—to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
-Jesus (John 13:34)
And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.
-Paul, 2 Corinthians 3:18
It’s difficult to become the truest version of ourselves. Every one of us lives with some amount of desire to project ourselves in the best light possible. Sometimes we’re not even sure what our real selves might look like, because we’ve spent so much time sizing up the people around us.
But deep within the soul is a desire to be truly honest. To be known for who we are beneath the surface, even if it’s not always pretty. The scriptures have a word for that. Love.
The Velveteen Rabbit was written 97 years ago by Margery Williams. It is a timeless children’s tale of a stuffed toy bunny who is transformed by love.
When he arrives new in the playroom, the velveteen rabbit hears all the other toys bragging about how real they are, because they have noise makers and wind-ups and mechanical parts. The velveteen rabbit doesn’t have these things, and he thinks that’s what it must mean to be real. So he asks his friend the Skin Horse, who has been made wise by age, and had seen many many mechanical toys come and go when they broke over time. So the velveteen rabbit asks the Skin Horse one day, “What is real? 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.“
Go ahead and stop your multitasking and read that last line again.
It’s ok to cry.
When you are loved, you can’t be ugly. And you are, each one of you, dearly loved. Geez, that old skin horse. That brother gets it.
The power of love is the power to make things real. We so often think of being “authentic” as something we choose to do, yet it can more accurately be explained as what Jesus does to us. When we experience the true and honest love of Jesus, day by day, we find that our shiny lacquer of an impressive looking exterior fades away. It can be painful as Jesus wears away areas of selfishness, apathy, and ego from our hearts. And yet because we are being loved in the process, it’s beautiful as well, for we are being freed to be known as we are...and loved anyways. That’s what makes us real.
The gift is that as we become real, we can love others without pretense as well, and aide in their journey of becoming real too. It’s messy, and often painful as we imperfectly figure out how to care for one another. Yet it is far better than rejecting real community. To isolate ourselves is to make becoming real impossible. This is why participating in Christian community is so important.
There are many folks today, Christians and not, with sharp edges, who break easily, who have to be carefully kept. Let us instead become people who have been well loved by Jesus- not easily breakable, and softened over time. Let us become real. Even if we feel worn thin, we can rest assured that we can never be ugly in God’s eyes.
Jesus, make us unafraid of being loved.