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It was Palm Sunday evening in the De Jonge house. My husband had had a rough afternoon – navigating online portals in order to send an inquiry to the government of Canada, checking on the status of the citizenship application we completed three years ago. I was tired from an afternoon of long term care chaplaincy. None of us in the family had gotten quite enough sleep the night before, what with a concert and silent auction fundraiser at the high school, a friend sleepover, and a couple of Final Four basketball games.
Tim and I sat at the supper table that evening with our three daughters, eating bowls of macaroni and cheese. I added some canned tuna fish to my bowl to fancy it up.
Toward the end of the meal, our conversation caught on a snag. We were discussing silent auction terminology and strategy and everything fell apart. The particulars of the argument aren’t worth parsing out here. (Equal parts mundane and confusing, as family squabbles usually are.) A sludge of shame, annoyance and defensiveness rose up in me, clogging the arteries of my spiritual heart. I quietly got up from the table, put my bowl and fork in the dishwasher, headed to the front hall and pulled on my coat to walk the dog. (This is never how supper ends at our house. My behavior was extreme.)
“What are you doing??” my husband asked.
“I’m walking the dog.”
“Mom, you’re being passive aggressive,” said my oldest daughter. “This is not how our family does conflict resolution.” She was right.
With a hard heart, but with feet that knew the steps and movements of our usual process, I walked back to my chair and sat down, still in my coat. My dog followed, sat next to me, cocked her head. “So, no walk then?” her brown eyes said. Not quite yet.
Tim started the restorative conversation with the first question: “Who wants to talk first about what just happened?” We began the work of combing through the argument. I participated, but half-heartedly. We resolved things enough to finish supper in our usual way: with a closing circle of each person sharing things they were and weren’t thankful for about the day. After everyone else had shared, I muttered, “I agree with what’s been said,” and got up from the table. Heart still hard.
Tim and my oldest daughter and I took the dog on her evening walk in the biting cold of an Eastern Ontario spring evening. We kept combing through the snarls of the day – taking turns speaking, sharing our perspectives. Again, I knew the steps, but my heart wasn’t in it.
“Mom,” said my daughter. “I’m not sure it’s my place to say this right now…” (We were attending to the Tim-Heidi part of the disagreement at that point.) “But it doesn’t seem like you have a very soft front or open hands right now.”
This girl. She’s heard me quote Brené Brown often enough to know that I strive to have a strong back, a wild heart, and a soft un-armored front. And she’s heard me preach a whole series of beatitude sermons, naming the blessed posture as a posture of open hands, rather than hands clenched in self-righteousness, fear, or greed.
My girl who wants be a doctor when she grows up had handily diagnosed the spiritual sickness. As soon as she named my posture, I knew it was true.
And I began to wait for the miracle.
The miracle of disarming.
When anxiety is high and sleep is low and days are long, I am all fists and armor. My spiritual heart clogs. I can feel it in my chest—an impenetrable shield. I need the miracle of the disarming love of God to disarm me.
Why do I share this story on Good Friday? Because to me, Jesus’ death on the cross is Love Disarmed. In his life and death, Jesus showed us how to live life with a strong back, a soft front and a wild heart. We are to imitate this posture. Yes. But I also believe that the work of Christ on the cross was a miracle of disarming reconciliation and love. And that miracle radiates through all of us who wait for it. Disarming is not just something we do in imitation of Christ, it is a miracle that happens to us.
In my work on my doctor of ministry degree, I ran across these words from Samuel Wells, the vicar of St. Martin-in-the-Fields Anglican church in Trafalgar Square, London.
At the two defining moments in Jesus’s life, his birth and his death, he is utterly powerless – so powerless that he cannot use his arms. At his birth, his arms are strapped to his sides by swaddling clothes—Luke’s Gospel relates this twice, and the angels tell the shepherds that this will be the ‘sign.’ And later at Jesus’ death his two hands are nailed to either end of a horizontal beam, and as he dies in agony he cannot even wipe his own brow or scratch an itch or waft away a fly or mosquito. These are the most intimate moments in Jesus’ life and at both moments, by nails and by swaddling clothes, he is, literally, disarmed. Jesus is God disarmed. The disarmed and disarming love of God.
This resonated with me so much that I titled my dissertation, “Truthing in Love: Engaging Conflict with the Disarming Love of God.”
The miracle of disarming love is the miracle of open-handed, unarmored vulnerability in the presence of those you love. And in the presence of those you are trying to love. And sometimes even (or especially?) in the presence of those you don’t want to love at all.
I call it a miracle because in our own strength, disarming is impossible. We need the miracle of Love Disarmed to transform our world and our cities and our churches. Perhaps the transformation begins at supper tables and on dog walks. Perhaps the transformation continues with slow, quiet hugs of apology and forgiveness in front hallways, warmly sheltered from the cold April winds.
Thank you, Jesus for your disarming love. What wondrous love it is.
 Samuel Wells, “Friends of God and Friends of God’s Friends,” in Smith and Gulker, All Things Hold Together in Christ, 37.
Photo by Francesco Paggiaro of Pexels
“…it is a miracle that happens to us.” Yes. And often in the relationships closest to us. Thank you for telling your version of a familiar story.
You’re welcome. Yes… it must happen in the close spaces, if it is ever to happen in the further spaces…
What profound images—Jesus disarmed at birth and as he dies. Love disarmed! I can think about—and, I hope—engage in that kind of love.
Yes. I have been captured by this metaphor that is also not-a-metaphor. Much love to you, Dave, and our mutual familial loves.
I will try to carry this image of a disarmed Jesus with me into my next difficult conversation. Most helpful to me was the reminder that I must embody that disarmed love even in the presence of those I don’t want to love at all. To do that, I believe I will have to see them as a fellow human being in need of the miracle of disarming.
Thank you for this beautiful reflection, Heidi.
Oh, yes. #AllTheMiracles
Oh that all children had a “Heidi Mom.”
Or oh that all moms might have a “Samara Child”…! Or perhaps rather… oh, that we would all speak truth to the powers of darkness and light within our loved ones and within ourselves… and listen for it…
Well, okay. But I still wish I’d had a Heidi Mom.
This is so beautiful. The gospel you preach is beautiful. And I love how you talk with your family. You have built capacity in your family so that even when you are not at your best, the work can carry on and they can help bring you through. This gives me such courage to keep bringing restorative practice into our family life.
Yes! We build this capacity in ourselves and our lives and then carry the work WITH each other! So glad we can inspire one another in our restorative parenting…
A beautifully honest meditation to turn to again and again when fists clench and hearts harden.
Thank you, Heidi.
I’m the one in the couple who does the walk away thing. And I know about the miracle of disarming, especially in the gifts of my wife and my children. Thanks for the insight, as close as it gets, and as Christological as it is.
What profound love we find in the arms of disarmed love. Thank you for sharing this story and humanizing what disarmed love looks like to the hardened heart in everyday life today. You and your family are a gift to us Heidi.