A Note from Jessie – Covenant Newsletter, September 2020

It was within the first hour of the third day of my daughter’s virtual school year…

We had made it through the nervous butterflies and technological glitches that riddled the first day, and we had learned from the multiple user-errors of the second day (like when her soft fingertip mistakenly found the power button, shutting down the computer and all programs mere seconds before class began). I was certain that day three would be smooth sailing. As I set up shop to answer emails in the often overlooked sitting area near our front door that we call “the Welcome Room,” I heard a most un-welcomed hint of sniffles coming from the kitchen nearby. Honestly, I almost ignored it. This was my time. I needed to be productive! I had very little patience left inside my tank. But some little nudge inside prompted me to set my own computer aside and investigate the scene on the other side of the wall. Thank God I did. My poor little girl.

There she was, curled into a ball underneath one of the kitchen chairs, crying silent tears, while her patient 1st grade teacher continued to expound upon mathematic properties to a grid of her young students’ faces on a computer screen. How could the teacher have known that one of her student’s tender hearts had been struck with sudden dread at the mention of an overlooked assignment? How could she have noticed that one of her twenty-two virtual students had quietly slid off the grid and gone into hiding, below the visibility range of the laptop’s camera? Amazingly, her teacher had that sixth sense that I am convinced all elementary teachers must have, and quickly called out, “Poppy? Where did you go, Poppy?” I almost had to laugh at the sheer panic that flashed across my daughter’s face as her thin eyebrows raised, blue eyes widened, and pointer finger raised immediately to her lips with an urgent “SHH!” in my direction. It was almost cinematic. My amused mind started comparing the scene to a prisoner escaping her cell before being spotted by a flood light, or a cartoon Tweety bird tip-toeing away before coming face to face with the sneaky cat.

Perhaps we all know that feeling of wanting desperately to hide and then inevitably being caught or seen or found out. It is the worst. It gives me flutters of anxiety now just thinking about all the similar moments I can recall from my 39 years of life. In keeping with scholarly mishaps, this painful embarrassment comes to mind:

It was the the second half of my first semester studying abroad at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland…

I had made it through six weeks in my Art History tutorial class without saying One. Single. Word. Not a one. In six weeks! It is hard to believe that is even possible, especially for me who as a student loved engaging in lively class discussion. But this class was entirely different from any I had taken before. First of all, I had never taken a single Art History credit. So there’s that. Secondly, I had unintentionally signed up for an advanced level course, and despite my desperate pleas to the disinterested registrar, I was quite bafflingly not allowed to drop it. Strike two. Thirdly and most significantly, every other student in the class came across to me as legitimate British geniuses, all of whom were casually capable of making the most dazzling cross-references and dizzying analyses in undeniably posh, sophisticated accents. I spent the first quarter of the course attempting to write down every word my brilliant professor and classmates rapidly exchanged. I am surprised my flurry of note-taking did not produce puffs of smoke to waft up from my frantic pencil.

And then…

One day the professor called on me. Just like that. He asked me to get up OUT of my chair, walk to the FRONT of the room, select a SPECIFIC slide of a painting by Fernand Léger, put said slide into an old-fashioned PROJECTOR, and EXPLAIN to the class how Léger utilized the elements of Cubism in said painting. Excuse me, WHAT?!

Shock, terror, and indignation flooded my system. With an immediate face-sweat, hand-tremor, and breath-shortage, I opened my mouth to utter my very first words in front of that class. I can still remember the look of confusion and bemusement on one classmate’s face as she queried, “Oh, she’s an American?!”

These moments of academic panic are surely familiar to many of you. They are the perfect fodder for anxiety nightmares galore, enough to last a lifetime. But far beyond the classroom, this knee-jerk reaction to hide is interesting to me as it stirs up questions about human nature…

Do you ever try to hide? Avert your gaze, silence your voice, or attempt to disappear? Why? When? There are myriad examples that may come to mind: whether in the midst of an awkward social encounter, during a tense work meeting, while waiting in a grocery store line with a crying toddler, when confronted with a probing question, the moment you realize you dropped the ball or are caught in a white lie. The list goes on with too many to catalogue. Can you relate?

What are we trying to accomplish when we freeze, withdraw, or attempt to hide? Is the goal to avoid the pain of appearing foolish? Is it to flee from the shame that we are utterly imperfect? Is it to deny our vulnerability? Or rather to fortify the walls of our prideful façade?

Recently, I listened to a fascinating sermon by Tim Keller called, “False Testimony.” Part of his message focused on Adam and Eve’s instinct to hide after disobeying God, thus establishing one of the earliest human behavioral patterns: failing—> feeling shame —> hiding. But the most powerful conclusion to his sermon is a revisitation of the moment Pilate asks Jesus if he is King. If Jesus answers with the truth, he dies. If he hides, averts his gaze, disappears into half-truths, he lives. And amazingly, at infinite cost to himself and infinite benefit to us, he speaks the truth:

Pilate therefore said to Him, Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” -John 18:37

Jesus pays the ultimate price for us by bravely showing up for us because he delights in us.

Whenever we have that sudden, human, fearful, or prideful inclination to hide, perhaps if we think of His brave and sacrificial truth-telling, we will remember that we already have everything we need. Perhaps then we will feel emboldened to stay put— regardless of the circumstance— stand tall, confess fault, offer a sincere apology when needed, and readily receive the discomfort of losing any momentary approval because we have His everlasting approval.

Because let’s face it: in this ever-changing, unpredictable landscape in which we currently live, we are bound to take an accidental step in the wrong direction at any given moment. Say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, post the wrong thing, agree to the wrong thing, press the wrong thing, forget to complete the wrong thing… There is so much room for error in a world that has never felt less certain. We may now, more than ever, mightily reconnect with that frightened young student we once were who felt the weighty stress of an unpredictable classroom.

Thus, it is of endless comfort to know that God never changes. He is the same today as yesterday as tomorrow. There is no hiding from that truth. And just like that seemingly omniscient 1st grade teacher, God spots us immediately when we try to slip away or avoid our mistakes. He sees us. Like that brilliant professor, He calls on us to step out of the shadows and risk vulnerability. He believes in us. What if we choose to view the flustering moments He offers us in our daily lives as the fertile soil for our spiritual strengthening and character development? Perhaps then we would feel less inclined to curl into a ball to hide and more encouraged to lean into our discomfort with open minds and humble hearts—ready to learn, willing to unfurl, and eager to grow.

Dear God, You call on us to show up, to be truth tellers, to be courageously present even in the midst of all our many, many flaws. Please help us take a deep breath and recenter our focus on You in those moments when we feel weak or embarrassed or inadequate. Please help us remember that we can never hide from You; and in Your ever-present, never-changing love for us, we have every assurance we need.

Amen.

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