Monday, September 15, 2014

Tenderness for Tamar

Everybody kind of wants to fight right now, and if you're watching the news, you know this. Stories like the domestic abuse of Janay Rice and the switching of Adrian Peterson's kid...and all of a sudden, everyone's up in arms. But it doesn't really do any good. 

There's a story sort of like this in the Bible. It's the story of Tamar, a daughter of King David who was raped by her half-brother and then subsequently dismissed and avenged by her full brother. It's a complicated story, but there's a very important something missing from it that, when you see what it is, is heartbreaking.

When the rape occurs, Amnon (the half-brother) becomes angry with Tamar and furiously sends her away from him. She tells her brother, Absalom, what happens and he tells her not to worry about it, then sets to work plotting to kill his half-brother in revenge. Which is kind of the response most of us have. We're prone to tell the victim not to worry about it, to to let it affect him or her, and then we set out to fight battles that really aren't ours.

Which means we've just dismissed Tamar again.

The message we think we're sending is, You are worth fighting for, but unless we take the time to talk to Tamar as a woman, as a beautiful, wounded woman, what we're really saying is, This is wrong, and it doesn't matter if it was you or someone else. The act was wrong, and we will correct this act. Which is all well and good, except there's a shamed, broken, aching woman who 1) still feels it was entirely about her and now, 2) understands that she really does cause fights. 

What Tamar needs is not a knight in shining armor. What she needs is not a brother to take revenge. What she needs is someone who will still look her in the eye, someone who will still see her, someone who sees more than what was done to her. She needs someone to speak tenderness into her life. 

She needs someone not to avenge her, but to redeem her.

Because Tamar, when she sees her reflection in the water of the river, sees a broken woman. She sees a woman who can be violated. Can be because she has been. She sees a woman that no one has looked at the same way since, and neither can she look at herself the same way. She's filled with hatred, too. Not at her half-brother, but at her half-self. And for all this fighting that's going on because of Tamar, no one is actually fighting for her. So she's left to deal with her brokenness on her own.

And she can't do it. It is not possible that one can heal the intimate wounding of the spirit without the presence and the grace of a loving community. I don't care who you are. I don't care what's happened. When the inmost being of your person is wounded, you can't bind the wounds by yourself. You need people. You need people to come around you. You need people to speak truth. You need people who will expose not your shame, but your beauty. You need people who will continue to look you in the eye because there's nothing there that they find dissatisfying. There's not supposed to be anything unsettling about you. 

It's hard because it feels like someone's supposed to fight. Like someone ought to be doing something about all of this. And maybe they are. I mean, of course they are. We all want justice. But in all our justice-seeking, in all our fighting, we forget that the greatest thing we can do for someone is to love them. To truly love them. To offer them tenderness. So that they can offer tenderness to themselves. 

I don't know, given the circumstances, that Tamar ever knew who she was again. There was no one there to help her begin to ask the questions, let alone answer them. I don't know if 80-year-old Tamar still looked at her reflection in the water and saw someone only worth fighting over, and no one worthy to love, but I suspect that might be the case. Her brother Absalom killed Amnon; he took revenge. But he never took her in his arms, never whispered in her ear, never told her that she was worth fighting for. He never gave her back to herself. Which means in terms of Tamar, he has still done nothing. 

Everybody wants to fight right now. We want to say that domestic violence is wrong, and it is. And we've exacted our revenge on a young man's career. We want to say that child abuse is wrong, and it is. And we're starting to see that play out with another young man. But for all our fighting, we haven't done anything for the woman or the child. We aren't speaking tenderness into their hearts. We aren't daring to look them in the eye and remind them of their beauty. We're just making more of a fight.

There are Tamars all around us - men, women, children who have been used and abused and broken by this world - and the more we fight over them, the more we risk losing them. What we need is not revenge; it's redemption. We need to dare to look these persons in the eye, to love them, to remind them who they are, to tell them their worth. We need to offer them tenderness...

...So that one day, they can offer tenderness to themselves. 

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