The Great Clothing Exchange
During Lent I started reading Max Lucado's book, He Chose the Nails. As always, Lucado gave me a lot to think about. In this book he shares how the Scriptures often describes our behavior as the clothes we wear. The epistles even tell us to take off certain behaviors and to put on godly behaviors. As a woman I've always liked the clothing analogies because we can get caught up in the external, thinking our clothing will make a difference in how people perceive us. But, the truth is when we come face to face with overt behavior, either good or bad, we are more apt to remember the behavior than the clothes worn. When I've had someone tell me a boldfaced lie, I don't remember the cute shirt they were wearing. I remember the lie they told. When I've had someone betray me, I didn't remember the outfit worn by them, I remember the painful betrayal. When I've had hateful words spewed at me, I don't remember the pretty sweater worn by the speaker, just the sound of the hateful words being hurled at me.
After my third baby was born, I was struggling with postpartum depression. I went to the store early one morning to buy milk for the kids' breakfast. I was barely physically functioning and my mind was in a dull fog. I sat the milk on the counter and looked in my wallet and realized I didn't have enough cash, so I put my wallet back and pulled out my checkbook. In the fog of depression, I couldn't remember the name of the store and had to ask. Then I had to ask the clerk to repeat the amount I owed a couple of times. I knew I was taking too long, but I couldn't muster up enough energy to speed up. The clerk saw the line growing behind me and he sighed impatiently as if to let me know I was holding things up. The pressure of that added to the stress I was already feeling. Frustrated with me, the clerk said, "I've never seen anyone take so long to write a check." My face grew hot and tears slid down my face from the shame his words evoked--shame of not having it "all together" and shame from feeling defective for not being able to function adequately enough write a check quickly enough to satisfy the social norms. I don't remember the clothing the clerk wore, but I do remember his impatience. He might as well have embroidered the word, "IMPATIENT" boldly across his shirt pocket.
Years later, I was working as a volunteer youth worker in a small church. One year we were without a youth director so another couple, and my husband and I, filled in and loved it. Then came the news the church had hired a youth director and along with the news came a few unkind remarks that triggered insecurity and grief for all of four of us. The man who was ultimately in charge asked me to prepare something for the midweek group time, but when I walked in that night, he said he had changed his mind and he did something different. He could tell I was hurt and offered to talk, but I was too shut down to share what I was feeling and what I was thinking. I ran into him Sunday morning and right before church, and right before He had to go on stage to help with worship, I confronted him harshly. I then avoided him, believing our relationship was over. He called that week and my husband handed me the phone, saying "You two need to talk." I apologized and he asked me what I was apologizing for. I thought a moment and told him I realized I didn't take the opportunity to deal with the hurt, that he had given me, and that my timing was horrible and my words were biting. He told me he accepted that apology. He explained that though the timing was bad and the words harsh, he agreed with the content of the confrontation. He also told me he still considered me his friend and told me what he believed I contributed to the group. Believe me, I didn't deserve the grace he showed in the face of my anger. Nor did I deserve the kind words he spoke in the face of my unkind ones. When I remember him, I don't think of the shirts he wore or the belt that bore his name, I remember the grace, the humility, and the kindness he displayed in seeking to reconcile the relationship I had broken. It was the first time in my life that I had experienced such blatant grace.
I find it interesting that the Bible seldom talks about Jesus' clothes. Maybe that was so we would remember His character--and by His character He was clothed in perfect obedience, sacrificial love, deep compassion, moral perfection, and indescribable strength. When He went to the cross, He was stripped of clothing and as Lucado put it "all that he wore was the indignity of nakedness, the indignity of failure, and the indignity of our sin He bore in His body." Because He bore our sin, He also bore the shame of the one who murders, the one who abuses his power, the one who commits adultery, and the one who views pornography. He also bears the disgrace of one who lies, one who cheats, one who steals, and one who mistreats others.
What we sometimes forget is that on the cross Jesus exchanged our dirty, disgusting clothing woven of the sinful choices we've made, the unkind, hurtful words we've spoken, and the prideful, greedy, selfish attitudes we display for a garment of salvation woven with threads of purity, honesty, perfect love, goodness, fairness, truth, mercy and grace.