When did I realize I was wearing other people’s skin? (I know that sounds strange, but bear with me.) Trying to remember has taken me back in my journey to a few days of more than the usual aches and pains in my back. Wondering why muscle tension seemed to have increased, I was given a picture of God reaching down and with His forefinger and thumb lifting layers of skin off the middle of my back…as though He had pinched multiple tight fitting spandex sports shirts and then stretched them away from my body. Seeing my own skin with my own vertebrate bumps underneath caused me to arrive at the puzzling conclusion that these layers were not mine. Interestingly, also under the overlying fabric was a tree growing outward from between my shoulder blades. (OK…I am not hallucinating….I will explain its meaning in another post…) Now visualize these clothes (or skins) covering my whole upper body, their shape preformed and the material of which they were made having strength like steel. (Hold that thought.)
The next image was of my growth. Having been hunched over from years of emotional pain, my posture (both internal and external) was gradually straightening, a reflection of my inward development and change. Uncurling like a fern fiddlehead (which is a young unfurling frond of a fern… alliteration is so much fun), I needed room to open, stretch and grow.
Return to the thought of my blossoming person covered with immovable, preformed clothing (the skin of others, shaped and molded by their unique personalities, circumstances, choices, gifts, talents, dreams, weaknesses and strengths). See me straining and struggling against their rigidity, painfully and futilely trying to push through to a space large enough to become the person I was created to be. Instead of the freedom I needed, I found painful conformity distorting my being with pressures I was never meant to experience. Just as a fern’s fiddlehead would develop into a misshapen and stunted adult frond if, while maturing, it continued to be weighed down by the rotting refuse of the forest floor, the heavy humus of others’ stifling skin needed to be removed or my growth would be permanently hindered (alliteration unintended).
Throughout the years, I have tried to fit through the elusive door of acceptance. If the door was round, I would try to become round. If it was square, I would try to become square. If it was the shape of my family of origin, I put on their characteristics. If it was the shape of my friends, I would mimic their distinguishing features. Desperately desiring a sense of belonging, I put on the attributes of the people who surrounded me, knowing my true identity would never be received with favor. Unconditional love was an unknown concept; the agendas of my care givers overrode my inherent need for affirmation. Become what I want you to be was their battle cry; surrendering was my mode of survival. This pattern became engrained in my unconsciousness; years upon years of thus functioning brought me to the point of being a 58 year old encased in layers of other people’s skins. Ironically, this behavior never gleaned the reward of passing through that invisible door. My true self still longed for recognition, though I tried to ignore its existence; conforming removed me always further from the possibility of experiencing the love for which I yearned.
The solution? It is found in the Scriptures, the Holy Word of the Almighty God. In it we are told to put off the old and put on the new as one would take off and put on clothing. (Ephesians 4:24-25, Colossians 3:9-10) Romans 13:12 speaks of putting “aside the deeds of darkness” and putting “on the armor of light.” My choice? I could choose to apply those principles to my life, or I could choose to ignore them and continue to futilely struggle against that which was constraining me. With the help of God’s Spirit, I chose freedom and life, putting off in His Name the layers of people I had placed upon myself. Some I knew by name, but some I rebuked en masse because there were a myriad of personalities forgotten in my past. In their place, I put on God; the one who loves me more than words can express, the one who embraces me and surrounds me with acceptance, my Creator who alone can bring into being the limitless space needed for me to unfurl into the person He formed me to be.
I would love to say all my back problems were immediately relieved, but I cannot. What I can say is another type of significant healing took place over the days following; I found various negative attitudes giving way to positive ones, harshness yielding to a gentle spirit and judgmental thoughts replaced by grace. Especially noticeable was a difference in my disposition toward my husband. (We have a good relationship, yet I’ve always known I was holding back something within me.) Needless to say there were no good examples of husband and wife relationships in my childhood; putting on the characters of my parental figures did nothing to enhance my ability to express and feel love toward him. Putting off my mom, dad, grandma and grandpa helped release that which was already within me, and I found tenderness and deep affection effortlessly beginning to flow. This is an answer to the cry of my heart over the years, and I am humbled before my God.
“I love the Lord, for He heard my voice; He heard my cry for mercy. Because He turned His ear to me, I will call on Him as long as I live. The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came upon me; I was overcome by trouble and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the Lord: ‘O Lord, save me!’ The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The Lord protects the simple hearted; when I was in great need, He saved me. Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.” Psalm 116:1-6