He was admiring the boat. I was trying to distract him away from the details by standing farther away, asking questions about his own boat experience, and acting somewhat nonchalant about the boat itself. As he got closer and ran his hands along the top deck I could feel the anxiety in me escalate. “Yeah . . . I certainly made a few mistakes on it. If I were to ever build another one I would certainly do many things differently.”
The boat I am referring to is a seventeen foot sea kayak that I built some twenty years ago from mahogany marine plywood. It is pretty. That’s why I have always wanted to have it hanging somewhere in the house. But there are things about it’s construction and wear that only I know. I’m embarrassed by the neglect that the boat endured for about five years as it sat either under the house or out in the elements. There are dark rings around some of it’s copper fittings that indicate the beginnings of rot. There are seams where water got under the fiberglass tape creating a pocket for more rot. There are deep gashes where I didn’t see an underwater stump or launched it from a too rocky shoreline. There is the hole where the seat back screw pulled out from the wood. And then there is the slight curve in the keel line where, when I was in the build process, I clamped it too tightly and didn’t see that it was a little bit crooked. I remember its christening when I wondered if that mistake would effect the way it paddled. I’m still not sure it does, but there are times when I blame a small pull toward starboard on that miscalculation.
As I tried to distract my friend from seeing the imperfections of the kayak, I realized that I do that for myself. The closer people get, the more I realize that I want to cover up about my flaws, my past, my ongoing struggles. I don’t mind people admiring me . . . from a distance. But as soon as they get closer, I get nervous. The smallest flaws take on the attributes of open wounds. In my mind I become a grotesque figure - an Elephant Man - to the onlooker. I want to distract, tell a joke, or offer a plate of Triscuits and pepper jelly.
That’s not living in the freedom that Jesus offers is it? Yet all Christians struggle against the idea that they are somehow lovely, lovable, and loved even in their temporarily marred and mauled condition. The good news of Jesus patiently breaks us from those chains prying our hands off the walls of despair. We forget what the justifying work of the cross has done in the past (He made Jesus to be sin for us) so that we will live in freedom in the present (that we might become the righteousness of Christ).
Grasping such news makes the fear of man’s assessment of us a thing not worth noting. It also frees us to have the confidence to not make the same assessments about others. Such freedom helps us to be vulnerable and not only not hide our flaws, but to express our flaws fully in order to find the healing power of Christ’s forgiveness (James 5:16) and to extend His healing power to others (2 Cor. 1:3-6).
Maybe the next time someone begins assessing my boat I can boldly, laughingly, and intentionally point out my mishaps, gashes, and rot knowing that it has been used well and is seasoned by memories of grace and beauty. Maybe, and by God's grace, I can remember the same about myself.