Did you know the porcupines have more than 30,000 quills covering the rear part of their body? This lightweight, short and stout animal that only grows a length of 18-23 inches and weight a whopping 10-28 pounds can kill anything which it defends itself against. A porcupine can remove other porcupine’s quills by grabbing a hold of them with their incisors and using its front feet. Did you also know that the covering of quills is their armor and although stout and slow, what is not slow is how quickly and easily it is for quills to detach when touched? I was in awe and if you didn’t know either, come sit on the couch with me. As I continued to learn, what really caused me hold my breath was that on each of these quills is a small ‘barb’ on the end of them in order to attach itself beneath the skin of its victim and they will need to be removed with urgency. Why? I am sure you are asking! If not removed, the quill will continue to penetrate deeper into the skin, up to one inch a day and if it is not removed and it hits a major organ, the victim/predator can die. You may be wondering what on earth this daunting lesson on porcupines have to do with today the “love day” Valentine’s Day. I am going to tell you! 

My dear friend Desiree called me early this morning to remind me of an experience we had where the porcupine gave us life lessons about enduring love. Today she was going to be giving devotional at her school and as she shared, she gave me some more of these cool facts about the animal. Our relational lessons turned into spiritual lessons quickly as the Holy Spirit did another one of the Emmaus miracles and dropped into our conversations. We were in awe and I felt that it was share worthy.

When we met, we made sure to not allow anyone close because if they did, they, would experience what I call “The Porcupine’s Armor,” defenses and impenetrable walls raised to protect ourselves because of past experiences.

  1. There would be a fight response: Someone would get hurt by the ‘quills’ of words and actions. 
  2. There would be a flight response: Someone would get hurt by the withdrawal and avoidance in the friendship

In other words, someone would feel the pain of our human attacks which would wound the person, and if left without resolve, would dig deeper into their wound and eventually hit the heart of the relationship causing a fatal blow. The relationship would die and both people, if they really cared for each other would be left  nursing the wounds of loss. The cycle is then perpetuated because in order to prevent those fatal wounds again, the natural thing to do would be to put defenses back up most importantly to protect their most vulnerable part, their hearts.

She reminded me of what I shared with her during those challenging days of learning to trust each other. Her learning to trust that I am a safe space for her vulnerable parts and her believing that I am a soul sister sent from God and that I would not weaponize her past against her. I shared with her that I have been in her shoes before and that I had relationship hurts but what keeps me from building impenetrable walls are the trust codes my family instilled in me. My younger days were prime examples of these codes overcoming failed trust days. I believed that if people broke my trust, then it is not on me, the accountability is on them. I still believe that today but to be honest with you, many years of trauma and broken trust towards me and from me towards individuals who I pledged trust to including God has put me in a rebuilding journey. Because in my opinion, multiple trust breaches wear and tear at you and if you do not consistently ground yourself in the beauty of the incomprehensible trust of our God, we can fall into the trap of withholding trust from others and even ourselves. Hard pill to swallow but here are the trust codes my family blessed me with in my formidable years.

  • Give the trust which I want first instead of mistrusting first until trust is proven.
  • If trust is broken, communicate and give grace again to give an opportunity to restore trust. If it were me, I would want that chance.
  • Live trusting. Feed it with an understanding of the trust given to me by God.
  • Trust the trust. All people have the capability to give and receive. 
  • If the relationship ends, trust that there is a deeper reason which I may not know or understand because we are wired for trusting relationship and community
  • Let go of the temptation for guilt and shame to take root. Therein lies the sprouts of defensiveness.

You may be screaming at this page right now loud “NOs” and I get it. These trust codes may seem unrealistic and even unsafe. I get it because we live in a society of deep pain inflicted upon us, teaching us that trust should not be a gift freely given like smiles, hugs, or even love. But may I submit to you that in addition to all of those, trust is encapsulated in love, love is enshrouded by vulnerability. We can’t truly trust without love and we can’t truly love without vulnerability. Wise Ways Consulting says it this way, “Trust and vulnerability are intertwined. In order to learn to trust each other, individuals must allow themselves to be vulnerable with those same people. Even the simple act of believing that someone will do what they say they will, is making oneself vulnerable and open to the possibility that they may be let down.” And isn’t that what we all try to avoid? the hurt from being let down and feeling like our wisdom and decision-making process failed. We should have known that they would let us down. But isn’t that what vulnerability is all about? Entering into spaces and relationships God has called us to without our walls and giving %100 of our heart, with the full understanding and knowledge that giving our heart is love. To love is to trust, to trust is to be vulnerable and to be vulnerable is to understand that the other person may choose to honor and reciprocate that gift or choose the opposite. C.S. Lewis in his book “The Four Loves” states; 

“There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

A porcupine’s most vulnerable space is their soft underbelly but very few of their predators have been able to figure out how to maneuver around their quills in order to attack this weak spot. As I thought about their most vulnerable place and did a self-check to remember my most vulnerable spaces, it all came down to where I have been hurt the most. These painful moments over time caused me to discard my trust codes, harden my heart, and build a fortress of defense from that pain ever reaching me again. If you have lived long enough you can most assuredly agree that you have had your fair share of painful moments which give validity to keep our hearts safe with walls and place barbed wire on the tops for trespasses, or like what I am working to undo, turn our hearts into stone. If I named all of the pain living in this world has dished out to us, you would be reading for hours but here are a few which fall under humanity’s pain load. Death, divorce, abuse of all kinds, oppression, slavery, trauma, sexism, racism, economic inequality patriarchy, police brutality, mass shootings, church hurt, broken friendships, theft, and betrayal. These and more have caused us to walk around with raised “quills,” and if anyone tries to enter into our personal and defended spaces, they risk harm and fatal encounters with us. This is not how we ought to live. This kind of life strips our quality of life and longevity of life. 

Please note: 

I am not speaking about the kinds of harm which would threaten our lives such as abuse, assault, violence, etc. From those, find safety and do the deep work of healing in order for your heart to be open to receive and be vulnerable in safe, God sent relationships. I am also not suggesting that we discard healthy boundaries. Healthy boundaries are what will enable us to be in safe spaces with each other. But for everything else, how can we lay down our quills, discard our shields, bottom up our unshielded parts and give the best part of ourselves, our vulnerability to each other?

I think of David’s prayer in Psalm 51:10 for a renewed heart and right attitude, the command in Proverbs 3:27 to use our God lent power to resist withholding good from “those whom it is due,” Paul’s admonition in Romans 12:9-10 to make sure that our love is sincere. Sincerity can only be felt through vulnerability and we cannot truly love without sincerity, the fruit of vulnerability. And then more of the most direct calls to love which exposes the vulnerability of God’s heart…Jesus’ crucial reminder in John 15:12-13 to love each other as He has loved us. And how has He loved us? By lay off his armor and protection as King and turning His heart bottoms up to give us His most vulnerable side, His son Jesus. 

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Philippians 2: 3-9 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

I shudder every time I think of the shame filled, vulnerable experience of Jesus. Not only the horrible death on the cross but every rejection, every lash, every insult, every lie, and His full nakedness in front of the world to see. This was intentional because sin created a path away from God and a defensive resistance to His love and fellowship with each other and we ALL have taken this path. Jesus walked the painful path of vulnerability, coming into close proximity to us in order to reach our vulnerable and protected spaces knowing that the “quills,” the effects of sin, 40 in the form of lashes, around 70 in the crown of thorns, 1 in each wrist, 1 for both feet, 1 in the form of a spear and every time humanity sinned, too many to count, all would pierce Him so deep it would kill him. However, as I pondered on the scenes of the cross, the Holy Spirit guided me back to Gethsemane. It took me a while to stray from the crucifixion because I saw tears there, but His love song did not begin there, the cross was the chorus for all to hear and sing. The love cry was found in the sweat, blood, tears, and vulnerable conversation Jesus had with His Father in the garden hidden from the public eye. This was where He felt the weight of the shame and vulnerability of the cross and inquired if there was another way outside of this public act and ultimate appeal to show us love, to save us, to bring intimacy back, and to be close to us again. Ellen G. White in the book The Story of Jesus writes;

“Again the Son of God was seized with superhuman agony. Fainting and exhausted, He staggered back, and prayed as He had prayed before: SJ 104.5 “O My Father, if this cup may not pass away from Me, except I drink it, Thy will be done.” Matthew 26:42. SJ 104.6 The agony of this prayer forced drops of blood from His pores. Again He sought the disciples for sympathy, and again He found them sleeping. His presence aroused them. They looked upon His face with fear, for it was stained with blood. They could not understand the anguish of mind which His face expressed. SJ 104.7 The third time He sought the place of prayer. A horror of great darkness overcame Him. He had lost the presence of His Father. Without this, He feared that in His human nature He could not endure the test. SJ 104.8 The third time He prays the same prayer as before. Angels long to bring relief, but it may not be. The Son of God must drink this cup, or the world will be lost forever. He sees the helplessness of man. He sees the power of sin. The woes of a doomed world pass in review before Him. SJ 104.9 He makes the final decision. He will save man at any cost to Himself. He has left the courts of Heaven, where all is purity, happiness, and glory, to save the one lost sheep, the one world that has fallen by transgression, and He will not turn from His purpose. His prayer now breathes only submission: SJ 105.1

“If this cup may not pass away from Me, except I drink it, Thy will be done.” SJ 105.2

Jesus Christ’s pleading in prayer with His Father in private and His public death was a love cry to restore intimacy with us His creation. He told His disciples His plan to restore mutual intimacy with us in John 12:32-33, 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. 

However, some of Jesus’ followers, disciples, and onlookers then and today may call His submission weak. In fact, some of His own disciples before they understood the humbling strength of love wanted Him to show military force to bring allegiance but through His selfless sacrifice, He showed ultimate transparency, ultimate courage, and ultimate strength. I fail in using stronger words to describe Jesus’ final resolve to choose submission through private prayer and then baring His body, mind and soul for all to see. Brene Brown’s words about vulnerability can be applied to this story and are a chorus for the power of Jesus’ prayer, submission and sacrifice, “There is no intimacy without vulnerability. Yet another powerful example of vulnerability as courage.” “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”   

We may easily accept that God put His full trust in His son Jesus but I am sure we would have a difficult time processing or accepting this pill, that Jesus put full trust in the hands of humanity with the full choice to receive Him or reject Him. That’s love! So, how can we achieve this level of vulnerability and love? Well, bottoms up porcupine…vulnerability over defenses. We must strive to live in the Spirit and not our flesh because our flesh will lean to build walls of protection every time. We must die daily, kill the defensive persons we have become daily (I don’t mean physically kill ourselves, I mean spiritually), and live in the newness of spiritual maturity. And in this daily walk in Christ, we must be kind to ourselves, forgiving ourself and others and most importantly, accepting the grace of God, full every morning, to bathe our failures, and we will have many, because it is a work of sanctification, moving us away from hurtful behavior into Christ’s will for us, until Jesus comes.  The Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:17 shares God’s promise of greater living in Christ. “17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” And as we place ourselves on the altar for God to refine our hearts and attitudes to reflect His heart, He will give us the power to live wholesome lives, shed our protective “quills” and also thwart some of the health challenges which are birthed from living in fear and trust-less lives. 

In closing, what I have learned in my friendships is that in Jesus, I can still draw close to or even be able to touch and hug individuals who have their ‘quills’ raised in fear. And the same goes for individuals who have Jesus’ love when encountering my defenses. We cannot survive being hurt by others but Jesus’ shield of love absorbs all arrows so that through us people will see the gift of enduring and brave love. He will also give us greater love…His love…this kind of love; 

John 15:13 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Pastor LaToya

By Pastor Latoya Hazell-Wright

February 14, 2023