I’m the first to admit that most of my writing is simply commentary on other people’s brilliance – sermons, articles, devotionals or other blogs. This piece below was inspired in early August by the Girlfriends in God devotional on August 1 entitled ‘The Velveteen Woman’ by Sharon Jaynes, the Jesus Calling devotional for August 1, and the classic book, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. Jaynes shared in her devotional about how The Velveteen Rabbit helps us understand the importance of being real, and I’d like to expand on that topic a bit. This post also hits on two of my favorite subjects…love and vulnerability.
I’m starting out with a long excerpt from The Velveteen Rabbit. So, sit back, figuratively, in the chair from your childhood nursery or maybe the rocking chair in which you read to your own children and soak in these wise and classic words. You might pick up on a few things you didn’t when you were six years old.
The classic children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams reads:
“There was once a velveteen rabbit, and in the beginning he was really splendid. He was fat and bunchy, as a rabbit should be; his coat was spotted brown and white, he had real thread whiskers, and his ears were lined with pink sateen. On Christmas morning, when he sat wedged in the top of the Boy’s stocking, with a sprig of holly between his paws, the effect was charming…
For at least two hours the Boy loved him…For a long time he lived in the toy cupboard or on the nursery floor, and no one thought very much about him. He was naturally shy, and being only made of velveteen, some of the more expensive toys quite snubbed him. The mechanical toys were very superior, and looked down upon every one else; they were full of modern ideas, and pretended they were real…The Rabbit could not claim to be a model of anything, for he didn’t know that real rabbits existed…Between them all, the poor little Rabbit was made to feel himself very insignificant and commonplace, and the only person who was kind to him at all was the Skin Horse.
The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath…He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else.
‘What is REAL?’ asked the Rabbit one day…’ Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?’
‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’
‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’
‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’
‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.’…’but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
When we are at our best, according to the ways of the world, we feel really splendid don’t we? Like the Rabbit on his first day in that Christmas stocking. But when we rely on the ‘charming effects’ of superficial means to happiness, it doesn’t take long to get snubbed and realize our efforts are not REAL. As the Rabbit becomes disenchanted with the superior ways of the mechanical toys, he begins to question, ‘What is REAL?’ The wise old Skin Horse shares with the Rabbit that REAL isn’t how you are made. It’s not how you look or who likes you; you are REAL because you are loved.
As I think of this love, I’m not reminded of the love from family or from friends either. You are REAL because you are loved immensely by the Creator of the universe. He REALLY loves you. Again, I am reminded of the verse that the title of my blog is based on – When you can “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Ephesians 3:18), it’s much easier to get REAL, with yourself and with others. It is absolutely freeing.
The Skin Horse is keen to know how one can become REAL. But he really doesn’t tell the Rabbit what REAL is. REAL is being free to be your unique, individual self because you are made in the perfect image of our God. REAL is being vulnerable to God and to others…even if you risk pain or being a wee bit uncomfortable. REAL is being willing to share yourself, fully, without reservation. REAL is telling people how much you love them. REAL is showing grace to your neighbor or even your best friend who needs it too.
And as the truthful Skin Horse points out, even when you are REAL, you can get hurt. The world is broken. Even the people we are closest to can hurt us (and sadly, we hurt them too). But because our Reality is rooted in a loving, forgiving, and merciful Savior, He brings us peace beyond understanding that blunts the pain of this world. God has loved and planned for each of us since the beginning of time; He loves us despite the fact that we are shabby. And He protects us when we are REAL. Because of Jesus’ sacrificial love for us, when we are REAL, we cannot be ugly in God’s eyes. In fact, God thinks the REAL you is beautiful. And as the Skin Horse reminds us, Real lasts for always.
In addition, our friendships are most certainly all the more rewarding when we are REAL, when we let a bit of vulnerability in. There’s just no comparison. In her book, Carry On, Warrior, one of my favorite writers, Glennon Melton writes –
“I started thinking about all the time and effort I’d spent building protective layers between my broken heart and the broken world…I considered the ways I’d distanced myself from other people…I pulled on my secrets and shame like armor and carried my invulnerability like a weapon. There were so many layers of my armor and her armor between us that we couldn’t touch each other…Suddenly this all seemed completely ridiculous…I was lonely and a bit bored. Life without touching other people is boring as hell. It hit me that maybe the battles of life are best fought without armor and without weapons. That maybe life gets real, good, and interesting when we remove all the layers of protection we’ve built around our hearts and walk out onto the battlefield of life naked.”
I think both Glennon and the Skin Horse are on to something about living life REAL. When we get REAL, we reap incredible blessing from God, from friends, and from ourselves. The effect is really quite charming.
Just this very morning, our pastor, Martin, at Christ Church Santa Fe said, “If its not real, its not worth it.” He reminded us that Jesus is very REAL. His tender grip on our hearts is REAL. Romans 8:38-39 says, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That’s REAL. From the August 1 devotional of Jesus Calling – “Let this divine assurance trickle though your mind and into your heart and soul.” And let’s be REAL together.