"Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God.. And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them."
—Genesis 3:7-8, 21
"I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness."
Some time ago at Southern Methodist University, I met with a thoughtful young student who wanted to talk about a bad night with alcohol. She went out with friends never intending to drink (she was underage), but the desire to fit in drove her to have one, and then another, and so on—a familiar campus script. The night ended in sickness and shame.
In our meeting, the young lady was determined for me to know that everything about that night was an anomaly. Though her guilt was heavy, she clung to the conviction that she genuinely was a good person. By good, she meant that she generally did the right thing, honored her parents, worked hard in school, was well-mannered, and had never sold a kidney on the black market. I inquired about her motivation to be exceptionally good all the time. She fumbled around for an answer, and eventually settled on her insatiable quest to make her family and friends proud. Her good-person-construct was her ticket to love and acceptance. At that moment, she heard herself struggle for an explanation and the light came on. She saw herself, for the first time, from a strange new angle. The motive that drove her to make straight A's in class was the same motive that caused her courage to fail at a party. She saw that her problem was more than a few bad decisions; it was a disordered heart. She had lived to please everyone around her, to try to cover up her flaws and feelings of inadequacy with report cards, religious duties, résumés, and an active social life. Though she knew the language of grace, the security and vitality of grace felt very distant to her.
The acclaimed Southern author Flannery O'Connor wrote a short story called, "The Turkey." In this story, a boy becomes enamored with catching a turkey in order to make his dad proud of him. Catching the turkey becomes the young boy's world. At one point during the chase, the boy tears his shirt, and O'Connor writes, "If he came in with a turkey, they wouldn't pay any attention to his shirt." When I first read this line, I was undone. In only a few words, the hidden mentality of many achievers like myself had been laid bare: "If I can only 'catch' this significant thing in my life, then everyone will be impressed, and no one will pay attention to how torn up I really am."
Like Adam and Eve clumsily fitting together fig leaves in the Garden, we all long for something to cover us, something that will distance us from our inadequacy and cause us to regain a sense of human wholeness. We all long for something to assure us that we can be both known and loved at the same time and this longing may lead us into a night we'd like to forget. Or, it may lead us to record a new line on our résumés for everyone to remember. Either way, the blood of our first parents still courses strongly through our veins.
On more than one occasion Jesus stressed that His people need eyes to see, but what exactly are we supposed to see? Many things, I think. We need eyes to see the distortions in us and around us that are allowed to pass as normal. We need eyes to see below the surface of our behaviors, below the shallowness of our "good-person constructs," and into the poverty of our hearts. As O'Connor wrote in another place, "Redemption is meaningless unless there is cause for it in the actual life we live." But most importantly, we need eyes to see Jesus. The good news of the Gospel is that God has provided a better covering than fig leaves or turkeys, alcohol, or achievement. He has provided Jesus, the One who has won for us the eternal satisfaction of the Father and put an end to all our shame. He is the Love we have been invited to live in and cultivate. He is the grace given to free us and form us. May we have eyes to see Him, and never look away.