A few months ago, as fall wound down and the air turned from chilly to just plain cold, I began to prepare for winter. Just as the squirrels store up acorns for the barren months ahead and the bears settle in to their dens to hibernate, I too make careful preparations that will ensure my surviving another winter: layers (lots and lots of layers) and not leaving the house unless it is absolutely necessary. Having been born south of the border (the Kentucky border, that is), my body struggles to maintain a normal temperature throughout Indiana’s long months of snow and ice. So between November and, say, June, I cocoon myself in as many layers of clothes as possible without restricting my basic mobility—undershirts, shirts, sweaters, vests, wool socks, scarves and hats, not to mention a little extra body fat (I don’t care what the diet magazines say, if blubber is good enough for walruses and polar bears, it’s good enough for me!). I may resemble the Michelin man, but at least my toes aren’t frost bitten. I also avoid the outdoors with its biting wind and grey skies. If the temperature is below, oh let’s say, 70 degrees, my muscles form knots that even Houdini, much less a strong muscle relaxer, couldn’t undo, as they brace for the onslaught of frigid air. An ideal day in January is hunkering down with a cuppa and the kids and simply refusing to go anywhere. (However, for my children, who seem completely immune to the cold, I will go sledding—which means driving them to the sledding hill and then staying in the idling car with the hot chocolate and cheese balls.)
Since I am forced to endure this frozen purgatory, I have decided to rise above whining and at least find something metaphysical to ponder while my teeth chatter. Okay, maybe not rise above whining, but in addition to whining I am looking for some meaning beneath the layers, so to speak. I think this use of layering to protect ourselves against the elements serves as a great illustration of our tendency as to wrap ourselves up in figurative layers.
There is a strange tension within the hearts of many people I know, especially women, between our desires to have close fellowship with one another and our fears of being rejected or judged. So we construct an outward identity for ourselves using for materials our accomplishments, duties to family, work, etc. in order to avoid the potentially painful experience of being found lacking in some way. After bundling ourselves so thoroughly it would require a bloodhound on steroids to locate our true selves, we lie on the couch moaning about how lonely and isolated we feel.
Of course, there is a fine line between the authenticity of honest sharing and overstepping socially accepted boundaries of decorum into the land of TMI. I genuinely desire to extend grace to you in your everyday struggles but in a culture, both secular and Christian, that values polished accomplishment (or the appearance thereof) over humble admissions of failure, “being real” can definitely be awkward. And there is the flip side of the excellence coin where confession becomes a celebration of mediocrity rather than a starting point for excellence.
So as much as I like to bundle up for the occasional arctic expedition to say, the mailbox, when I am at home with the heat cranked up, I will forgo my layers or at least some of them. I have a place to warm my toes and prepare for the next round. And that’s what we should be for one another—an oasis of warmth and acceptance that gets us ready for facing the world again. That’s what I am striving for—being someone who knows when to shed my parka of self-protection and encourages others to do the same. After all, walruses may be warm, but I bet they have a hard time snuggling.