Think about your skin. We have all of these different phrases, analogies and words having to do with skin that we use to describe emotions: thick-skinned, sensitive, raw, calloused, prickly, abrasive, ashy...no, wait, well, maybe not ashy. But you know.
Skin is our largest organ. It is the thing that people see when they look at us - the thing that they feel when they touch us, the thing that allows us to feel them when they touch us, the thing that shows all of our bruises, bleeding, scratches, blemishes, stretch marks and scars. The poignancy of Shakespeare's, "If you prick us, do we not bleed?" from The Merchant of Venice, is not lost on me as I consider the duality of skin. We all have skin.
Sometimes, my skin is very thin. I show every scratch, scrape, bump, bruise, pinch, tear, poke and cut. You could brush past me, and it would leave a mark. I am already, by nature, a sensitive person, so to be at this heightened level of sensitivity is frustrating and draining, even for someone who knows who she is. My natural tendency is to retreat into myself as far as I possibly can - to put as much distance between my skin and my insides as possible so that every wound hurts less - but I find it's impossible, and all of my vitality stubbornly bulges against the surface of my skin, even while it is threatening to be torn to shreds.
And sometimes, my skin is very thick. Rough, calloused even. I'm unshakable, strong, fortified. The only problem there is that nothing gets through - whether hostile or friendly. Eventually, I'll either end up either sloughing off layers of callouses for days or living with this hardened exterior. That's just no way to live.
All of this makes me wonder: if physiologically, skin is our largest organ, then emotionally, is it our largest organ as well? And in parallel, does it require the same amount of care? We go to amazing lengths - particularly as women - to care for our skin. We drink unthinkable amounts of water each day to keep it hydrated. We eat the right foods, we wear the right amount of UV protection. We spend thousands of dollars a year on products to keep wrinkles at bay, maintain the ever-precious elasticity, enhance firmness and create luminosity. We devote hours to massaging lotions and creams and butters and potions into every nook and cranny to keep it soft, supple, strong and youthful.
So emotionally, what does our "skin" require? I'm going to start with the most basic: attention. When you start to notice that your legs are dry, you don't ignore them. You rub those babies down with some shea butter. You don't sit there and think, "Hm. I wonder why my legs are so dry. Maybe it's the new laundry detergent I am using. Maybe I'm allergic to denim after all. Maybe I need to try a new shave gel." No! You find the thickest, creamiest lotion in the house, and you slather it on your gams until they stop itching and burning. And then you probably slather on some more just for good measure.
But for some reason, the thinner my emotional skin grows, the more I puzzle at why it is doing so. I stall and sputter, wondering how in the world this could have happened, when what I need to lay hold of is the solution...and healing. Perhaps I think that finding the culprit will ease the pain, that some solid detective work will undo the crime. Faulty. In the end, I'm still focused on the pain. What a comfort to know that that there is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole...to heal the sin-sick soul. Lord, give us the courage to call off the dogs and reach for Your healing instead.
The next thing I think our emotional skin needs is balance. Neither too thin nor too thick are desirable options. We want our skin to be supple and strong. We want to roll with the punches without allowing them to break us apart. When I think of the things that keep me in balance, I think about time with my daughter, healthy relationships, deep rest, a clear conscience, God's presence in my life, good fellowship and of course, the occasional Swedish massage. The things that throw me off: bad decisions, bad news, hectic schedules, disrupted relationships, ignoring my relationship with the Lord, and not enough "me" time. Yes, yes, into every life a little rain must fall. But you've got to give yourself equal, if not greater, parts of sunshine, too. We've got to take measures, both proactive and reactive, to keep our lives in balance.
And then, protection. We protect our skin from the elements in some way every day. In the winter, we wear scarves and coats and mittens and Smartwools. In the summer, we wear sunscreen (if we're smart), more breathable clothing and extra moisturizer. Many women (and some men) wear UV protectant all year round. I'm not saying the elements are our enemies. The things I love most about the changing seasons are the changes in the elements - balmy days turn into brisk nights and frosty mornings turn into sunny afternoons. It's wonderful. Just the same, extreme conditions create the need for some measure of protection. Emotionally and spiritually, we are living in a world of extreme conditions. It is impossible to wander through this life without encountering all kinds of threats to our hearts. Poverty, opulence, violence, oppression, abuse, competition, elation, failure, success, tragedy, heartbreak, LIFE. It's all there. Some things we need to outright shield ourselves from - completely block them out and reject their presence in our lives. Others are okay in doses - unavoidable, even - whether they are good or bad. Either way, we need protection, and I'm convinced that protecting ourselves just isn't enough. We need some Ephesians 6 protection. We need the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. The belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, and feet fitted with the readiness of the gospel of peace. Only then will we be able to stand [our] ground, and after [we] have done everything, to stand.
It is with only a small amount of surprise that I realize the final parallel between our physical and emotional skin. They both serve to protect us, yet they both need protecting. Just as we entrust our physical bodies to God for protection, so must we also surrender our emotional selves. For healing and protection, balance and growth. We will be safer in no other hands.
I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.