”Oh no!” Her eyes were wide with horror and embarrassment. She pointed at me, then covered her mouth, before pointing at me again, obviously buying time before saying something that would embarrass me or possibly hurt my feelings. “Oh Marian… I’m so sorry, but you’ve got something on your dress… there!” She pointed at the back of my dress with a look of disgust and pity. Turns out I had sat in some chocolate. That’s not what she imagined it to be…
I couldn’t stop laughing. I washed the chocolate right off, but the wide-eyed look of my lovely, empathetic co-worker stayed with me. She had felt so bad for me, desperately working to protect my feelings as well as my reputation.
What’s culturally acceptable?
My mind wandered back to our missionary days in Spain. We were ministering in a poor neighborhood in downtown Barcelona and I was about to speak when my ‘poor missionary, worn-out to the point of being an almost see-through, denim pants’ ripped from seam to seam, right across half of my rear end. Being focused and driven, I just took my shirt off, tied it around my waist, and continued preaching.
I was never exposed nor indecent, but one of our volunteers nearly died. She could not get passed the fact that my jeans were ripped, even if no-one could see it. Just knowing that there was a huge tear in my pants underneath that shirt made it impossible for her to focus on the task at hand.
I joked about it, which seemed to make her even more annoyed. Finally, she came over to me and said: “I get it. It’s because you’re Northern European. You don’t mind nudity.” I almost fell on my ripped backside in surprise. How on earth…? Really? Then why would I cover my ripped pants with a shirt?
I know your kind!
“No, seriously,” she said, nodding her head as she went on. “I’ve seen the movies. I know what you guys do. The saunas, the birch whipping, the indecent exposure… I’ve seen your kind!”
I was flabbergasted. I could not think of a single appropriate response to such a ridiculous statement, but I had to say something, right? So, I muttered: “Nope. That’s not us, it’s the Finnish. I’m Norwegian.”
It’s time for a long overdue apology to the Finnish. I’m sorry. Sorry for stereotyping you, as she did to me. I’m sorry for outing your secrets. I’m even more sorry for making it worse right now. #sorrynotsorry 😉
Good neighbors can joke with each other without risk being offended. Good friends will tell you when you are about to make a mistake. Better friends will even help you clean up your mess after you’ve made one.
We make assumptions about people. Sometimes they’re true, and they help us take necessary shortcuts through our busy lives. Other times we get it wrong. It takes humility and a willingness to forgive to navigate the brisk waters of relationships.
I guess it all comes down to this:
Do I trust that you always want what’s best for me?
Does your advice spring out of love or a need for control?
If I rely on you, will you take a step back or lean in?
What if I mess up, will you still be there?
Can I trust you not to expose my vulnerability, but rather lend me your shirt to cover my ripped jeans?
If I take a messy detour, will you still walk with me?
What are the limits to your affection?
Those are the very same questions we ask our Father.
The big difference is that his goodness is not in the eyes of the beholder. It’s eternal. Everlasting. It’s the objective truth of his character.
No mess of mine can ever change that.