I remember as a young girl of 12 or 13 a particular Saturday afternoon at a friend’s house. Janice and I had been playing outside all day, running around through her neighborhood bare foot, enjoying what was left of our summer vacation from school. Janice had an older brother (super cute – and in college!) and his girlfriend had come over late in the day to join the family for dinner. Gathered around the table for a beautiful meal, Girlfriend suddenly shrieked and started crying hysterically. Knives and forks dropped, we all jumped, and I think a glass of iced tea or two may have been spilled over onto the tablecloth.
As Girlfriend pushed away from the table and ran towards the kitchen, Janice’s brother right behind her, we realized what had happened. A tiny, little spider – not much bigger than a speck – had drifted down from the ceiling to retrieve his share of the evening meal and in doing so had landed on Girlfriend’s plate, sending her into an emotional frenzy. No reflection on the housekeeping skills of Janice’s mom, it was simply late summer in Georgia. Spiders welcomed the indoor relief from heat and humidity as much as we humans. Not to mention, the food smelled absolutely divine.
The meal was ruined. Janice’s mom was morbidly embarrassed. Her brother was trying to calm down Girlfriend still shaking and crying over the kitchen sink. Janice’s dad was reprimanding us for making fun of a grown woman afraid of an itsy bitsy spider. And I remember thinking, “I hope I’m not that fragile when I grow up.”
A few weeks later in middle school: P.E. was a required class back then and I had a gym teacher who, by today’s standards, would either be in jail or tied up in legal battles from multiple parent-initiated lawsuits. We didn’t play games, we didn’t ‘talk’ about physical education, and her goal was not to make fitness fun. We worked. Hard. She took those 50 minutes and wore us out. My P.E. teacher was not an attractive woman, and morbidly obese (yes, ironically she taught physical education). Her idea of lesson planning was to tap her pen against the clipboard while she debated which form of torture to put us through on any given day.
This particular afternoon, we ran. Outside. In the August afternoon heat. For 50 straight minutes. Not on a track. No ma’am, she had us run out behind the school on the dirt field. And for whatever reason on that day, she had my number. As we headed back for the locker room sweaty and clutching our sides (no mandatory water breaks in our day), she called my name. “Chambers! Inside the gym! Now!” For some reason known only to her, I was going to be the brunt of her punishment. After all that running, she took me inside the gym to do squats. Hands clasped behind my head, I started my squats and she started counting. We had reached about 35 when another teacher walked into the gym to talk with her. I kept doing squats. Several minutes later, she walked back over to me and with a smirk in my direction said, “I forgot where we were. 1…..2..…3…..” and she started over.
Honestly, I don’t know how many squats I did that afternoon. I know when she finally let me stop, my legs literally felt like spaghetti noodles. I couldn’t walk to the locker room to change my clothes. By the time I finally made it to my class with an illegibly scribbled note in my hand from the P.E. teacher, the bell rang for dismissal. And I remember thinking, “That woman is fierce. I hope I’m not like that when I grow up.”
Let me just say that life has provided many opportunities to test my resolve.
And my experiences have taught me that there is a fine line between fragile and fierce. Sometimes all it takes is one painful, traumatic, heartbreaking moment to turn a fragile heart into stone. And sometimes all it takes is one small, tender, compassionate act of grace to melt the fiercest of hearts.
The key, I think, is to embrace a bit of both.
There are times when I must be fierce: protecting my family, defending my faith, respecting and honoring my love of freedom. And there are times when I must allow myself to be fragile: entrusting my heart to those I love, staying sensitive to God’s voice, and allowing my dreams and disappointments to be known. It is my choice and sadly, I could recount many times when I have chosen badly. The fragile born from feelings of self-pity. The fierce born from feelings of entitlement.
Jesus is the perfect example of living out the two in perfect harmony: Fierce when protecting his Father’s house and raging against those who willfully manipulated his people; fragile when offering his body as a sacrifice, acknowledging complete abandonment by those he came to serve and the One who sent him.
Learning to be both fragile and fierce – at the right time and in the right place – is learning to be like Him. And that, my friends, is my highest resolve.