by Holly Crawford
I recently started an incredible journey of forgiveness and reconciliation with a person I deeply care about. We were estranged for two years, and it has been an amazing growing experience, and in many ways, has felt very designed. That’s not to say it has been easy; the process has forced me to expose parts of my heart that haven’t seen the light of day in a very long time. See, I had built this ill-fitting armor around my heart over the course of the estrangement.
One night, lying in bed and contemplating the path I’m on, I haphazardly asked God for something that gave me pause the moment it left my mouth:
“Father, help me to have an open heart but to be strong at the same time.”
The prayer made me flinch. My heart raced. I didn’t realize how scared I was to have my heart exposed, especially since it had been hurt before. Further, I also couldn’t see how my request would ever come to fruition. I was struck by how different the two things I was asking for are, vulnerability and strength. As different as night and day, black and white, chunky and smooth peanut butter.
It felt like a silly attempt to grasp at something my heart wanted, but my brain told me could not exist. When I took a peek at the dictionary definition of vulnerability, It seemed my brain was proven correct:
1. capable of being physically or emotionally wounded
2. open to attack or damage
How could opening myself up to the possibility of damage ever make me strong? Without armor, how would I ever protect myself? How would I possibly be safeguarded from wounds if I opened my heart up, if I forgave and relinquished the iron plates I had bolted to my heart?
Long after my late night prayer, I found myself still pondering this. Eventually, I realized a few things.
Forgiveness is a process that lacks brevity. It’s not short and sweet. It ushers in both exhilaration and trepidation. You might make the greatest of headway, to find yourself stuck on the most minute of issues. Frankly, forgiveness is a decision made day in and day out, and not always an easy one.
Safety does not equal strength. The armor we build to keep us protected also keeps us isolated. The heavy, cold metal steals more peace and life than we could ever lose by risking a little love. In fact, the vulnerability I have allowed in my life has brought more joy, strength, and promise than ever keeping my perceived power in any given situation by freezing out the individuals who have hurt me.
Strangely, I’ve begun to discover that forgiveness and vulnerability actually seem like a conduit for strength. When we let those things flow through us, God flows through as well. He becomes our strength and is far better poised to act as our armor than any misshapen ideals I’ve fashioned myself.
I shouldn’t be surprised by this. God specializes in making the weak strong. Maybe that’s a perk of serving an invisible God who asks us to do the most vulnerable of all things– to place our lives, trust, and very being in his hands? A God who understands the pain forgiveness can cause, but knows it will be worth it, and asks us to forgive, so our lives will be worth it. A God of an upside down kingdom, where the last will be the first.
So maybe every piece of armor I built around myself is being chipped away piece by piece? But it seems to me that armor did more to confine me than protect me. So chain by chain, I’m going to let it fall, and embrace the very thing I thought of as the antithesis of strength: The vulnerability that ushers in an upside down kingdom’s power. I don’t know where this forgiveness will lead, but for the first time, I’m free of my self-imposed prison to go find out.