We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you.
- 2 Corinthians 6:11
Writer Anne Lamott recently wrote about a conversation with a stand up comedian friend of hers. He told her that when people meet him, most of the time they are actually meeting his bodyguard.
I'm thinking about that this morning.
The bodyguard is the self in front of the real self. It's the first layer of defense to the vulnerable soft skin of our humanity. Consider bodyguards for a moment. They travel with celebrities, going ahead of them and behind them and making sure that no harm will come to them. But they can also stick too close, making it difficult for authentic interactions with others. The bodyguard gets in the way of vulnerability and creates a barrier to honest, personal connection.
We all have a bodyguard self that walks along with us and comes to the front in different scenarios. We all have moments where our truest self is held back a bit, for protection or ego or comfort or convenience. There are so many reasons. The bodyguard self sometimes sees things in very black and white terms, because the messy gray areas of life are complicated and require more in-depth connection with others. The bodyguard can offer a quick label of, "good or bad" and immediately direct us to treat people accordingly.
I think times of exhaustion and upheaval can change how much our bodyguard shows up in our interactions. In trauma or pain, our bodyguard can move to front and center. It smiles at people, creates small talk, and moves on. And the vulnerable spirit behind is kept unaffected.
But pain and heartache can also break down our bodyguard, sending it away. Our souls have already been laid bare; keeping up appearances is far too much work. In our pain we learn to be at peace with our vulnerability, imperfection, and losses. We let others in.
What has this year done to your bodyguard? The pandemic, the isolation, the addiction to social and news media, and the added stressors of daily life can build up or break down our walls of protection. Is your bodyguard more or less active on this side?
Let's be clear: vulnerability isn't appropriate for every interaction. Not everyone needs to be invited into our interior lives, and there are times that it is healthy to protect ourselves from emotionally unsafe environments. But if that is the constant default, life will be so very exhausting, and we will live at arm's length from others. Jesus invites us into something better.
The Church (or the Society of Jesus as I like to think of it) should be a place where bodyguards are increasingly unnecessary in our lives. If we believe, as Jesus told Paul, that God's grace is sufficient, then the doors of our true selves should be able to open to one another. Imagine a church gathering where everyone has a bodyguard standing in front and behind them. Imagine attempting to love one another well, listen to one another, and encourage one another... when you can't even really see the one you're speaking with. What an unfortunate picture! And yet, the experience of so many is that church is the place where honesty and vulnerability are more dangerous than anywhere else. What a tragic failure in God's family.
When Paul writes to the Corinthian church, he shares with them that he and his companions "opened wide our hearts to you." I find that phrase to be infinitely beautiful, and something to always aspire to.
The more secure we become in how infinitely loved we are, the more we have the ability to open wide our hearts to others. And my goodness, we are loved so infinitely.
It's possible that traveling behind your bodyguard has become your primary way of life. And perhaps, Jesus is inviting you to step forward with others in a new way. Maybe it's just one person, maybe it's a smaller group, or maybe it's learning to interact with a new layer of authenticity with people as a whole.
But to move toward a culture where we have honest, transformational interactions, we have to be a part of establishing it for others as well. Consider the little statements you make, the small assumptions or labels you might use when talking about things. Do your words make others bring out their bodyguards when interacting with you? Today, let's use words of graciousness with hearts wide open, so that those around us can give their bodyguard some time off.
Jesus, help me live in the freedom of your grace today, while truly opening my heart to others as well.