leaf, fig, love

Replace the Fig Leaves

Leeana Tankersley honestly

The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.
—Genesis 3:21 NIV

It’s easy to feel loved when you’re riding high, performing well, on top of your game. It’s more difficult to access those feelings of worthiness and unconditional acceptance when things have gone awry and your humanity is poking out of every seam.

Today I woke up feeling like the Soul Bullies had me cornered. I hate how this comes out of nowhere. Last week the preschool was trying to get in touch with me and I missed their call(s) because the ringer on my phone was turned off. The whole situation resolved, thanks to the rescue efforts of Tina, who ended up having to go to the preschool and take my child home with her until I could be reached. I felt embarrassed and low. I’d let go of it, so I thought, until it was time to show my face at the preschool again this morning and my mind immediately started rehearsing all the reasons why I was unfit for duty.

I was reminded of the two party invitations that slipped through the cracks and the emails I’m behind on. I could feel the Soul Bullies closing in, and then I spilled my coffee everywhere … because when the bullies are coming for you, you feel rattled and shaky.

As I was paper-toweling coffee from the counter to the trash can, I remembered one of the all-time most helpful concepts in the universe: Sometimes we just need to begin again. Because, we really, truly don’t arrive. We just return to the truth. I had to remember to treat myself with care and compassion. I had to remember to breathe.

I had to remember to reach out and ask God to remind me that my lovability is not contingent on how well I execute the logistics of life.

And God reminded me of something important, essential even: I am never more loved than in the moment of my failings, my faltering, my humanity. I’m never more loved than the moment when it all falls apart. I turn on myself when things crash—especially if the crash happens on my watch—but God doesn’t. He doesn’t turn on me—ever. In fact, the total opposite, he wants to love me through my Come Apart if I’ll let him.

(Ugghhh, it’s practically impossible to tolerate that kind of persistent grace.)

Through God, we’ve been offered a love that is based solely on someone loving us, totally divested of anything we bring to the table. We’re loved, even when we’re average, unorganized, plagued, tired, ineffective, worried, and/or totally unspectacular. It’s radical, isn’t it? Radical, I think, because so many of us have a warped experience of love.

Some of us, having needed to feel loved, believed that letting someone say or do anything they wanted to us would help them love us more. But it just doesn’t work that way, does it? Instead, we ended up giving away parts of ourselves. When we do this, we end up feeling less lovable. And the other person ends up taking, taking, taking … because we’re willing to give ourselves to their bottomless appetite. We relinquish our power to a monger.

I was watching Top Chef, and one of the contestants revealed that her parents had never told her they were proud of her. They simply told her as she was going on the show, “Just don’t make yourself look bad.” Which means, of course, if you read between the lines, “Just don’t make us look bad.” She had made it to the top three and was saying, in an on-camera interview, that if she made it to the finale, then maybe her parents would tell her they were proud of her. How many people grew up with a performance-based version of love? If you are good enough, then you will be accepted. No wonder it’s hard to accept God’s love.

One of the most courageous things we can do is stare down this love God is offering us and ask ourselves if we really, truly believe it’s real.

Do you believe you are loved like that? In your worst moments, in your deepest doubts, in your greatest failures, when the preschool can’t get hold of you … are you loved? Every single day, we each must get up and answer that question for ourselves. Because the way we answer that question really does affect everything.

This is a perfect practice for our twenty minutes of soul time. Simply asking ourselves, in the presence of God, “Do I believe God loves me today?” and then observing what surfaces.

I absolutely love this idea from David Benner that “God’s deepest desire for us is to replace our fig leaves with garments of durability and beauty.” I think this is one of the deepest longings of our heart: that we could shed our false protections and believe the God-in-us is enough. Our false attachments, our clinging to cover, help us forget about our nakedness. God doesn’t want us to cover our own nakedness. He wants us to turn to him in our vulnerability and allow him to robe us, clothe us in his love.

My friend Elaine told me recently, “I love every version of you.”

Have you ever had someone look you in the eye and tell you that? The night before I had been ranting about something, started ugly crying, and the next day I started grabbing for the fig leaves. I felt embarrassed that I had let her see me like that, in a state that felt out of control, snotty. She offered me something I couldn’t offer myself—no condemnation, unconditional love. She reminded me that my garments are made of durability and beauty, and I do not need to shroud myself in shame.

God does the very same thing for us. He reaches toward us and says, “I love every version of you, you gorgeous thing.”

We can put those words on like the gown they are, and whisper, “Sorry, shame. I am ready to live as though I’m wildly loved.”

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Leeana Tankersley is the author of “Brazen” and “Breathing Room.” She lives in San Diego, California with her husband, Steve, and their three kids: Luke (7), Lane (7), and Elle (4). Learn more about Leeana’s work at leeanatankersley.com.