He Saw Her
When I started watching the first few seasons of Downton Abbey in the early 2010s, I remember being struck by Lady Mary’s composure and her reserve. I, by contrast, have always tended to wear my heart on my sleeve.
As a consequence, this often made me the target of teasing at school by peers who found my expressiveness amusing. Additionally, I made the mistake of sharing some tender parts of my heart with some friends and peers who were not able to understand them, which had left me feeling hurt and misunderstood. While Lady Mary was a very unsympathetic character, I admired her reticence, control of emotion, and how she could keep others at bay so coolly. So, as a form of self-protection, I decided to imitate her in this manner.
I made a vow to control my emotions and carefully judge who I let into my life, especially into my heart, thinking this would keep me from getting hurt. Don’t let them in, don’t let them see your heart, don’t let them see… YOU. I wanted to be in control of myself and those around me. I didn’t want to get hurt. I didn’t want to be laughed at. Jaded by my experiences, I locked down my heart and began to build a wall around it for good measure. Brick by brick, the wall surrounding my heart got taller and taller, thicker and thicker, and the hidden wounds inside began to fester more and more.
I lived this way for many years, until my true self, the bubbly, positive, and enthusiastic girl I am at my core, had all but disappeared under layers and layers of self-preservation. At the root of this was shame, the belief that I was someone incapable of being truly loved and understood, because I was too flawed. I won’t go into the details of the wounds that led to that conclusion, but rejection was certainly at the core.
As my heart was slowly, but surely, hardening, the Holy Spirit’s gentle murmur found a way in. One night, while at university, I came across Matthew 9:20-22: “Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, ‘If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.’ Jesus turned and saw her. ‘Take heart, daughter,’ he said, ‘your faith has healed you.’ And the woman was healed at that moment.”
I was struck by that passage, and meditated on it a lot over the years. There’s a lot I could discuss: the woman waited 12 years (!) to be healed, her courage approaching Jesus, how it was her faith that healed her. But what hit me hardest was what Jesus did… he saw her. He saw her in her bloody wounds that caused others to reject her.
It would take several more years since the first time I read that passage in September of 2012 for the Holy Spirit to break down most of those walls (especially when I would decide to start rebuilding them for protection again). It began, however, with letting the Lord see me by pouring out my heart to Him in Adoration, by receiving Him in His fullness in the Eucharist and letting Him in, by confessing my sins sincerely in the confessional, and then, when I was ready, opening my heart to trusted Christians – trusting Him through them. Being received by them, by the grace of God the Father, was incredibly healing.
There’s another woman in the Bible, and tradition holds that her name was Mary also. She was known as a big sinner and had every reason to be ashamed. But she, like the hemorrhaging woman, courageously approached Jesus “having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment.
She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.” (Luke 7:37-38) She was tearful, emotional, even disruptive, approaching Christ in her mess, in her shame, under the scrutinizing eyes of the Pharisees.
In doing so, she let herself be seen and known by Christ, and in Him, found forgiveness, mercy, and love.
She wasn’t poised and flawless or aloof, she was just… herself, her very broken self. And Jesus loved her, and she, opening herself up fully and revealing her brokenness, and was able to receive that love.
We all have wounds in our hearts; it’s part of the human experience. However, rather than taking matters into your own hands, come to the Lord and let Him see you. Let Him guide you to those you can trust to receive you and understand the preciousness of your story.
Jesus wants you as you are, perhaps not a polished, prim, and proper British lady, but the authentic and real you, not just the nice presentable parts, but especially the bloody wounds and tears.
I have learned that it is important to be discerning when sharing your story, but also that we must learn to be authentic and vulnerable with trusted friends and confidents the Lord brings us, and most importantly, with Him.
You see, what I once admired as confidence and security in Lady Mary, was actually fear, control, and desperate self-preservation. Sure, she protected herself from pain – but she also distanced herself from love, the love that comes with truly being seen and known.
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