Like falling into an all too familiar rut, I internally, defensively rolled my eyes; sure that the elderly gentleman addressing us was misjudging my folded arms. “A sign that you are closed,” he said. But his kindly eyes and gentle, entreating way made me listen more closely; could it be that I was looking at it from the wrong direction?
My knee-jerk response had to do with my having heard this ‘body posture’ assessment mentioned from the pulpit too often, by what I assumed must have been insecure preachers, doubting their ability to get through to their listeners. Being of a bent to encourage and not distract anyone in as vulnerable a position as a public speaker is, I always uncrossed my arms whenever I was aware of it, not wanting to be offensive. My moment with Doug and, no doubt, the Holy Spirit, made me think again.
Forget the speaker for a minute, “Was my posture defensive?” Why is that posture so natural? So comfortable? So comforting to me? In that minute I was amazed by a new revelation about myself – the default, rounded, hunched shoulders posture I was coming to despise and correct here in my mid-life season was not intended to be offensive but self-defensive. The suddenness of the realization almost made me gasp, sure sign of the Divine Counsellor at work.
I immediately started to address it. In church, the very next service, I observed my arm-crossing impulse, and sure enough, caught myself resorting to it in any moment that threatened a psychological ‘ouch’. It seemed as predictable as pulling away from a heated burner. Here surely, was fodder for growth, for healing, for maturity.
Subconscious self-defense mechanisms are understandable and even wise for a child – one who does not yet have the capacity to deal openly, in an intellectual and decisive manner with threats visible or psychological. However, a security blanket on an adult is at least distracting and at its worst destructive, to relationships and all that that impinges on.
I realize that more than an upright body posture in my middle years, I desire an upright, healthy spirit. So I’ve decided to open: uncrossing my arms, and consciously engaging the person, the idea, the message, the situation which tends to evoke the folding. Open, both physically and emotionally, I find I can breathe more effectively, the air of Truth, of reality and thence the air of God’s great grace to deal with whatever is ‘out there’ or ‘in there’. Like uncovering a poorly dressed wound to finally have it dealt with by one who knows not only the hurt but also the antidote, is this new attitude of mine.
My skinny arms were not doing so great a job keeping hurt out my soul anyway, much like a blanket wouldn’t stop an arrow. I guess I have lighted upon a unique application of the verse in Scripture, ” the arm of flesh will fail you” ! I wonder what that means for my dear hubby who likes to cross his legs? Scripture, in my current vein of thinking speaks to that too, “the legs of a man are a vain thing to hope in”! – I love the breadth of application afforded by the picturesque language of the KJV.
Nonetheless, jests and metaphors aside, I have decided to uncross, unfold my arms this Lent, and trustingly open: to God, the Author and finisher of my faith, who let’s nothing into my life without modifying purpose. After all, a closed approach to life speaks of a lack of trust in His sovereign abilities and good plans for me; and, if Jesus could open His arms as widely and as trustingly to the Father’s purpose on the cross as He did for us, uncrossing for Lent seems like the only reasonable response.