I have my grandmother’s arms. I’m not especially pleased about this development. You see, my grandmother was on the…plump side, and her arms were…plump…and flabby and cool. Now they’re mine. This morning my husband and I were leaning side by side against the kitchen counter and he reached around me, put his hand against the flabby back of my arm, and sighed. My son does this on occasion as well. They both just seem compelled to touch my arms. I know. It’s weird. But I get it.
My grandmother was not an affectionate woman. She had little time for it between cooking three huge meals every day of her life, raising six children (and some of their children), quilting, cleaning, working a 2-acre “garden”, canning, juicing, jellying, plucking chickens, milking cows and all the stuff with which we modern women thankfully have no experience. But sometimes she would sit down in her fancy red velvet rocker and would invite me into her lap. On those rare occasions, I would rest my head on those cool flabby arms and find comfort and peace and security.
I’ve been attending my church’s Saturday evening service lately. It has a completely separate identity and personality from the Sunday service. The congregation calls itself “Mosaic” and their principle is, “All are broken. All are welcome. One gets the glory.” I like it there. It has the feel of my grandmother’s arms. Mosaic is true to Paul’s words in 1st Timothy 1:15-17, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
We all have stuff we don’t like about ourselves, like flabby arms, and we do what we can to cover those things when we’re in public. You won’t likely ever see me wearing a sleeveless shirt. (In fact, I often wonder why all shirtsleeves don’t end at the elbow!) But at some point we have to accept that this is the genetic hand we’ve been dealt, and no matter how hard we work those triceps, we’re just gonna have flabby arms. Doesn’t mean we stop working. Doesn’t mean we stop wearing longer sleeves. Just means that we know there are limitations to the outcome of our efforts to reverse or hide our condition.
In the Church, we are especially bad about pretending that we don’t suffer the effects of our DNA. We dress our best when we gather with other believers as if the right clothes, shoes, tie or smile will disguise the fact that we all share the same genetic code: We are sinners. We were born this way. And while your direction of warp may be different from mine, we all have one. I fight the sin of gluttony. Maybe you battle the temptation to gossip. Or you’re addicted to prescription drugs. Or you are lustfully tempted by your secretary. Who knows? No one, unless we occasionally roll up our sleeves and let people see the areas we are struggling with, working on, and keeping under wraps - the areas that respond only minimally to self-effort and ultimately have only one solution - Jesus.
There are consequences when we refuse to expose our battles against the flesh. Hiding our weaknesses perpetuates the lie that everyone 'else' is OK, and it gags those who are screaming for release from their self-imposed cover-up. It prolongs denial, comparison, envy, pride, fear, inferiority, disappointment, and isolation. It delays truth, identification, good-will, humility, courage, security, encouragement, and community. (The devil loves it!) In our pretense, we become an obstruction to God’s work in the unsaved, and we steal His glory. Look at Paul’s conclusion again in slow motion.
I was shown mercy. So that. In me. The. Worst. Of. Sinners. Christ Jesus might display His immense patience. As. An. Example. For. Those who would believe in Him and receive eternal life. Glory.
How can anyone see the immense patience of God unless they first know just how much patience I require…and receive? How will anyone know that He is Healer unless I expose my scars? How will anyone believe that they can experience His boundless love unless I first admit to all the ways that I am an undeserving recipient of it? How will anyone come to trust His sufficiency unless I admit to my weaknesses?
Now, I’m not a fan of moping around in our brokenness - I’ve already said that we should choose the sleeves that cover the most shame when we’re in public - but if I meet you at church and I notice that we share a weakness, I’m liable to bare mine to you. Not because I’m proud of it, but so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His immense patience as an example for you who would believe in Him and be saved. In that way, then, the thing I dislike the most about myself can be redeemed. Then that ugly place in my life becomes a place where you may find a soft cool place to lay your head and find comfort and peace and security. Like my grandmother’s arms. Glory. To. God.