“The great illusion of leadership is to think that man can be led out of the desert by someone who has never been there.”
Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer
It’s been a summer of changes. We’ve slept in four different time zones, moved to a zip code neither of us has lived in before, and begun the process of settling in to this year away from Germany. On top of that, I have laughed almost daily at the changing shape of my body (Or is it our body? What do you call it when you’re sharing one space with an ever-growing little person?), and seen fireflies for the first time, which I’d previously suspected were mythical, like dragons. Busy summer, indeed.
So, there are plenty of momentous transitions about which I could write here, but I’ll stick to one that is less momentous. This summer–for the first time in the last decade or so–I bought a pair of shorts.
I’m not talking about athletic shorts, which I’ll wear running (back when I went running) or hiking like everyone else. These are navy blue chinos (whatever that is), wear-around sorts of shorts. Normal shorts.
Being neither an expert in fashion nor a particularly body-image conscious person, I never gave much thought to “giving up” shorts. It wasn’t a decision, a plan. I simply stopped buying them. I had many excuses, but for the sake of brevity I’ll boil them down to the top two:
- There’s not a good context for me to wear shorts. I won’t wear them to school, where the length of shorts is a fierce debate, and after school it’s just not often that warm in Kandern. Shorts accomplish nothing that a skirt doesn’t do much better.
- I don’t like how I look in shorts. I didn’t spend much time thinking about this, except to reflect that I don’t love to showcase the space between my knees and my waist. So, no shorts.
Excuse 2, if I’m honest, was always louder than Excuse 1. I’m relatively accepting, if not downright complacent, about most parts of myself. Did it really matter if there was this one little part that I’d rather conceal? (For the record, I’d still argue that no, it didn’t matter. They’re just shorts.)
This all changed this summer, for a few reasons. First, we spent the end of June and the beginning of July in Virginia, where the +90˚ F heat and inexcusable humidity made cooler clothes a requirement, not something to be fussy about. My one pair of corduroy maternity pants weren’t going to cut it, and I was quickly growing out of my sundresses. So I bought some shorts. Maternity shorts, because second, being pregnant in summer has added a few extra degrees to the already hottest summer–on both East and West Coasts–that I can remember for a while.
The shorts are fine, and I feel fine wearing them. They’re not special–they’re still just shorts–but they’ve allowed me to stay cool in the humid South and the scorching West, and that’s plenty. Perhaps they look hilarious, but frankly my general roundness is pretty hilarious to begin with, so I’m not worried about it. I’m not sure that this relationship will last–me and shorts–but for now we’re OK. The shorts have reminded me, however, of something more important than shorts. (Remember, almost everything is more important than shorts.)
We’re all walking around, I imagine, with places we’d like to hide more often than not. I’m no exception. I know there are topics I tiptoe around, times and places about which I simply don’t write or share, preferring to keep places of brokenness and selfishness to myself. I’ve lately been challenged recently by the honesty of friends, writing and speaking with candor about their journeys through transition, singleness and loss.
For me, it’s easy to tell amusing classroom stories, or to reflect on the nature of Christ-filled community. Trickier as a missionary, far removed from communities of family, friends and supporters, to share what God is teaching me in uncertainty or homesickness. Much harder still to reveal the maddening difference between how I so often behave and who I know Christ is calling me to be.
Wearing the shorts–something I tried with more dramatic martyrdom than I’m proud of–hasn’t been terrible. I’d wager that true vulnerability, whether here or within the communities I’m privileged to live, can be not only not terrible, but actually an open door for conversation, relationship and growth.
I am called to serve out of humility and compassion, showing love because at every turn I receive it from Christ. We’re not made for facades, but rather to be what author and theologian Henri Nouwen calls “wounded healers,” present with one another in the midst of transformation, not at the end of it. Because the transformation is ongoing, as Christ calls us to new challenges, new seasons, new homes. Some of which call for a new pair of shorts, and all of which call for the courage and compassion to be honest with those with whom I share in the journey.