One of my earliest memories is at the house of a babysitter. I can’t quite remember how old I was – I am guessing around 3 or 4. The babysitter was our neighbor’s mom, and there were a bunch of us kids there. We are told that we can have a snack. I watch the baby sister open the door to their basement and pick up a bag of marshmallows. My favorite.
She gives each of us kids one marshmallow, and then places the bag back in the basement and walks away. I finished my marshmallow. Quickly.
I don’t remember thinking in the next moments.
I opened the basement door, found the marshmallows, took another one, and placed the bag back where I found it.
The other kids saw me, and one of them told me that I shouldn’t have done that. I remember simultaneously feeling indifferent because I got my marshmallow, and also feeling embarrassed and ashamed. I was told I did something wrong, and the realization of that was not a great feeling. I also have no memory of getting in trouble.
I am not sure what came over me, that made me think I should get another marshmallow. Was it hunger? The rush of sugar? I don’t remember being too concerned about the rules, I just wanted more of that sugary goodness.
My toddler self took a risk, for better or for worse. I remember thinking that I didn’t want to be caught like that again – I was ashamed of being caught.
Stories, especially from our childhood, Define us and shape us
I think this story shaped me. What does this story, in many ways a personal Adam-and-Eve-like-origin story, do for me today? Well, I know I don’t want to be caught stealing marshmallows – so I don’t steal them – because that would be very shameful. I am not sure if that is a great lesson learned or not – but shame is effective… and harmful. Harmful enough that we fear it!
Part of shame is the fear of not being loved for being your true authentic self. When we are shamed, we are told that we are unloveable, just like the undesirable action we did. And it feels terrible. We all want to be loved for who we are. And we fear not having that love – and that type of fear shapes a person. As a result, we start protecting ourselves when we become scared that we are not loved. It causes them to do all kinds of things to not experience shame.
For Adam and Eve, they started to protect themselves from their shame when they started plucking the fruit from the tree. They start covering themselves with fig leaves. (fiddle leaf fig leaf) Covering up their authentic selves. One simple layer over their souls at a time.
This was an attempt to be like God. To hide the weakness and shame to pretend to be like God – powerful and shameless.
Perhaps they thought even God would even like them for their new God-like fig leaf appearance.
(With Fig Leaf)
3. Or perhaps God would love them for how they achieved such a feat as fig leaf wearing.
4. Or maybe love them for their unique style.
1. Or maybe for the orderly and proper way that the fig leaves are arranged.
5. Or maybe for their knowledge of how fig leaves are grown and assembled.
2. Or maybe for helping someone else with their fig leaves.
7. Or maybe they would be loved for the variety of ways that fig leaves can be worn.
8. Or how loud of a statement their fig leaves make.
9. Or maybe they thought that the leaves would help them blend in with the garden around them.
6. Or at the very least, they simply felt safe when wearing them.
Even though in the beginning, God blessed creation and call it good, Adam and Eve were unable to believe this. So they chose to protect themselves from their shame. Anything – Anything, to calm the fear of not being loved.
Adam and Eve are like babies – who gain subjectivity
In some ways, Adam and Eve are like toddlers. At the start of this story, they are not self conscious, they don’t have wisdom, they don’t really have a say in their world. They are living in a world that is in harmony. And in this story, they become aware of themselves and the choices they make, and are learning about the implications of those choices. Much like a toddler gaining awareness.
Adam and Eve become subjects. They gain consciousness – Consciousness is one of the greatest mysteries of life. No one really knows what consciousness is and how it happens, so a story like Adam and Eve helps us try to understand this gaining of consciousness, kind of like how my marshmallow story helps me understand how I started to navigate being a conscious and aware person in the world. I started to become aware of fear, and of shame. Creation stories like Adam and Eve, or the tower of Babel help us start to understand how fear and shame drive us to do many things.
Underneath all of those layers of metaphorical fig leaves that we cover ourselves with, is a child. You and me – An Adam and Eve – who quite honestly, just want to be loved for being you. Loved by God, loved by a community, loved by friends, loved by family. And it is painful to not receive or feel that love, and we will do a lot of things to cover that pain.
What kind of Camp counselor?
I remember working at Camp Hebron as a Summer Program Director the summer after my Junior year of college. Being in leadership was a new experience for me – you have a lot of eyes on you, and a lot of expectations placed on you. Shoot, I am still trying to figure this out today.
At camp, you have all kinds of people on staff. And because everyone is between the ages of 18-23, you have all kinds of people who are trying to figure out who they are. You have counselors that are loud and boisterous, and the campers love them for doing outrageous things, and feel loved by being included in the outrageousness. You have counselors that are reserved, caring, and intentional, and campers feel loved by that intentionality. And many many more types.
I wanted to be the best. I wanted to be loud and boisterous, I wanted to be intentional and caring, I wanted to be the best counselor – the one that everyone loved. The one that all the kids wanted to hang out with.
Yes, Christian ministry can be very shallow.
I remember bringing this up to our staff pastor, and struggling with this feeling of wanting to be the best counselor and in turn would be the one that everyone loved. I was scared of not being loved by the campers and staff. I wanted to be what people loved.
The staff pastor said to me, why don’t you just be yourself.
Just be yourself.
This felt risky – why wouldn’t I want to try to be someone that the kids loved.
Being someone or something else else felt easier – safer. Start layering on all the fig leaves – be loud and boisterous so that the campers love you. Be ultra caring, so that the campers love you, and you can protect the vulnerable aspects of yourself, the authentic you, that are underneath all of the fig leaves, from being shamed or unloveable.
1. Whether we were conscious of it or not, some of us counselors thought we would be loved by being the organized counselor, who gets the kids to all the activities on time.
2. Some of us thought that we will be loved by being the most helpful counselor that can meet the needs of each of the campers.
4. Some of us thought that we will be loved by being the most unique counselor, who inspires others to see the world differently.
5. Some of us thought that we will be loved by being the smartest counselor who knows everything about camp, religion, and the bible.
6. Some of us thought that we will be loved by being the safest counselor – the one where no kids are scared at night and everyone feels safe.
7. Some of us thought that we will be loved by being the adventurous counselor that takes their campers on all kinds of excursions.
8. Some of us thought that we will be loved by being the counselor who is boisterous and powerful, inspiring kids into their own powerful selves.
9. Some of us thought that we will be loved by being the counselor that makes sure that everyone is having an equally good time.
Can you relate to any of those version – I’ll give you a hint, if you are into the personality test “the enneagram,” I used the enneagram to make these lists.
Do you see yourself in any of those ways of protecting your authentic self?
I see them in me.
The world does not need people anxiously trying to be something other than themselves. The world needs you. Your authentic, vulnerable, honest, beloved you. When we cover that part of ourselves up because of fear, we start causing harm. We start trying to control things that are out of our control.
If I am more concerned about being adventurous because I am afraid of being shamefully uninteresting – all of a sudden, adventure becomes the priority in relationships. And that might butt up against someone else’s pessimism that exists because of their fear of danger.
When we do not sort through the layers of ourselves, to flip through the fig leaves and work towards understanding how we are covering ourselves up, our tendencies that we use to protect ourselves from shame will negatively affect those around you. Maybe even harm them.
It is Risky
How do we practice being ourselves? It is risky. Risking being ourselves means letting go of all the ways that we have protected ourselves from shame. You do not know if you are going to be further hurt – which is a major risk. And maybe some of us have been hurt by being authentically yourself over and over again, and it so we layer ourselves inches deep in fig leaves, trying to be something that we are not. The risk of being yourself is easier said than done.
Calling Adam, Eve, and each other good.
Perhaps we start with a little love and compassion for ourselves – and I think that is what God’s is calling for when God calls us good. Despite all the metaphorical fig leaves we cover ourselves with, that protect us from shame, we are good. Matthew Fox writes about all of creation being an “original blessing,” that God continues in the biblical narrative. From blessing Abraham, to blessing Mary, to Jesus’ blessings in the sermon on the mount. We have been blessed. We have been made good.
And we desperately need to be reminded of this. Deep down underneath, there is a child-like part of ourselves that simply wants to be loved, and is loved, by God.
And God, who we are minded throughout the Hebrew bible, and through Jesus’ ministry, is love. God loves you – whole of you, the fig leaves and all. And God loves you no matter the layers you protect yourself with.
When we recognize that God calls Adam and Eve good, it is the start of a practice of compassion for ourselves and others. God calls everyone good. All of creation. Your neighbor. Your enemies. You. And that toddler-self.
Compassion for you
I’d like to explore a spiritual practice that can be effective in practicing this compassion for yourself. I am not sure if I am getting too close to the grounds of therapy, here and forgive me if I am, but some spiritual practices and therapies can start to look pretty similar.
One of the prayer practices that has been most powerful for me in my faith is the Imaginative prayer. It’s a prayer that when done traditionally, you read a scripture and imagine yourself in the shoes of a bible character. Then you imagine experiencing what they experienced.
One form of imaginative prayer, can be one where you imagine receiving compassion. Perhaps you imagine yourself in the story of Lazorus’ death, sitting beside Jesus who is weeping with Lazorus’ friends. Similarly, I have found it particularly powerful to imagine Jesus, or God, giving love and compassion to my toddler self – tending to the part of us that is like Adam and Eve, who is trying to figure out fear, shame, loneliness, or whatever feelings are arising in us again as adults.
One can even prayerfully imagine their adult selves tending to their childhood self. When I am feeling anxious, or finding myself starting to place on layers of fig leaves to protect myself in an attempt to be someone or something that I am not, I try to imagine my childhood self feeling those feelings. And then, in my imaginative prayer, I approach this childhood self as the person I am today, and give the love and compassion to my childhood self. Like in that moment where my childhood self felt ashamed for plucking the marshmallow from the bag. Then, I prayerfully imagine myself, or God holding that 3 year old self, reminding them that they are loved no matter what.With a little love and compassion from God, and maybe some compassion from yourself, it begins to feel less risky being yourself.
From there we can begin to practice letting it Go
In 2014, the musical Frozen became all the rage. I was a senior in College and I was invited by some friends to go to a theater to see a disney movie. I hadn’t seen any advertisements for it and didn’t have a clue what it was going to be. I loved musicals, and one friend said it was a musical.
The story, as many of you know, is about princess Elsa is blessed with magical powers that allow her to create ice and snow, and when she gets really angry, the snow and ice can harm her family or people in her kingdom. Because of this, she is shamed for her magical powers. She is told her whole life that she needs to control them and cover them up, like Adam and Eve covering themselves with fig leaves. She tries her best to be a sweet, polite, emotionless princess.
She in an emotional outburst then accidentally causes a winter to come over the whole kingdom and the kingdom knows its her. She begins to sing.
“Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know
Well, now they know.”
What’s the next line?
Her solution – “Let it go.” To let go of the protection that comes with trying to be a perfect girl… To let go of the need to hold back her true self that wields ice and snow.
To let go of the metaphorical fig leaves that we cover ourselves with that are based in fear, when we try to be like God or someone that we are not. To let of being shaped by fear.
What helps princess Elsa with this process is a compassionate and loving talking snowman of course. Olaf – a Foolish (to pull from a previous sermon) snowman who would rather lovingly melt by a fireplace than leave her side. Like God foolishly calling us good at the beginning of time, Olaf the snowman calls Elsa good, and loves her. God love comes to Elsa in the form of a foolish snowman, and Elsa is free to be herself, unashamed of her special abilities.
It is not that we get rid of the leaves, we are humans that need to function in a world where we have fear, shame, and it is natural to protect our vulnerable selves. Instead, we become aware of what we feel and how we protect ourselves. We become aware of how we act and protect ourselves when we are scared. Adam and Eve did not go back to nakedness, and nor do humans metaphorically return to nakedness in the rest of the biblical story. We struggle. We struggle the rest of our lives to understand how fear shapes us.
And if we are willing to take the risk, we can practice living out of our authentic selves, beloved by God, and allow that to shape us – and our communities.
In Frozen, it is not that Elsa gets rid of her powers. She integrates them – she claims them as a part of herself, but does not let her powers and fears to control her or be the leading way that she interacts in the world.
And I think we can learn from this. We can turn our fig leaves into ways that support each other. Whatever way that we protect ourselves through trying to be perfect, or helpful, or accomplished, or unique, or intelligent, or safe, or adventurous, or powerful, or in harmony – when shaped by grace and belovedness, we can help bring about the beloved community, the kin-dom of God. Like Elsa and her powers.
God calls us good. You are God’s beloved. If you steal a marshmallow or start a neverending winter, you are still an original blessing -beautiful and made good. And instead of protecting ourselves from shame by trying to be like God, which in the biblical narrative resulted in fig leaf clothing, let us stay literally clothed, but risk trying to be the God-beloved you.
May we recognize how we are shaped by our fears and shame. May we be shaped also through taking the risk of being our whole, authentic selves – beloved children of God,