A Course in Fig Leaf Making

I went to my first training for church planters’ wives last week and have been processing ever since. If you don’t mind, I’d love to share a new tool I picked up that I’ve used several times already: what I call the fig leaf exchange. Let’s set the scene.

Pastor Pete Briscoe says that “religion is a course in fig leaf making.” Genesis 3 can be summed up like this: because Adam and Eve disobey God, they realize that their previously innocent nakedness has become embarrassing. They sew fig leaves together and hide from God until He confronts them. Even after the curse is spoken, God makes them real clothing from an animal and sends them out into the world.

One of my favorite sad things about this plot is that it requires an innocent death to cover humanity’s shame. There’s Jesus, smack dab in the middle of Genesis 3, the spotless lamb, slaughtered in the garden to clothe our sin. That animal hadn’t chosen disobedience. But we needed a covering, so blood was shed for our benefit.

It’s funny how many times I replay this story in my everyday life. I’ll be walking along “in the garden,” blissfully going about my business, and bam! Something happens (that may or may not be sin-related) that causes shame, a feeling of being exposed and unprotected. I run for my fig leaves, only wanting to hide from the humiliation until God comes to me and offers a better garment.

So here’s what the tool looks like, this great fig leaf exchange:

Want to try it out? Grab or draw three sticky notes and something to write with. On the top one, think about a tape that runs through your head, making you feel vulnerable and exposed (e.g., “I can’t believe I turned in that for my assignment! I’m so stupid.”). It can be as specific as you like; no one else needs to see it. I have found that any time I hear myself think, “Ugh! I’m so ________,” it’s a red flag that I need to work through this tool again.

On the second sticky note, write down your fig leaf—it can be one of blame shifting, excusing, justifying, minimizing, or despairing (or something else). Sometimes there’s more than one fig leaf for a certain scenario. This can be along the lines of “Well, I don’t like the class anyway!” or “I’ll bet my assignment isn’t the worst one.” Anything you cling to in order to feel not so humiliated anymore. The problem with fig leaves, of course, is that they tend to blow away with the slightest breeze and send us running to the forest for cover. We need a more permanent solution, one that won’t leave us clinging to any tree but the cross.

The final sticky note is where that innocent animal’s blood comes in, the way God covers us. It applies gospel truth to our hearts in the way we need it most right then. “My identity doesn’t come from a grade or from anyone thinking highly of me; it comes from Jesus, and He has made me acceptable and enough in the only way that matters.” I’ve found that the more I become aware of my identity in Christ, the easier this part is. If you need a quick reference guide, check this out.

God has been in the fashion business ever since He stitched garments for our first parents. He has pulled a sturdy robe over every heart that answers “yes.” The beautiful reality is that, east of the cross, we are never truly naked again. We can certainly feel uncovered, but even in those moments, the blood of Jesus is sufficient. It doesn’t require our constant acknowledgment to work (but constant acknowledgment sure makes life so much better). May you rest in the knowledge that God still stitches dignity over you, threading crimson through your story.

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

(Isaiah 61:10)

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