I am a very defensive person. I don’t always look like it on the outside. At least, I try hard to hide it. But on the inside, I scramble. A lot.
My defensiveness is most observable when I am with people. I dodge and weave my way through conversations. I don’t want to be rejected. But I don’t want to be known too well either. I try to stay in that “sweet spot” where I am noticed – but not too noticed. “Yes,” I say, “I had a very good weekend. How about you?” But I don’t say, “This weekend I grieved” or “This weekend I rejoiced.” I interact, but without opening up.
But it isn’t just social situations where I am defensive. If you saw me sitting alone in a bagel shop, you might not notice it – but I am defensive there too. How do I know? I know because I do the same thing alone that I do when with others. I interact (with my tasks and with myself) without opening up.
That is a good definition of defensiveness: interacting without opening up. You are functioning, moving about, doing things, saying things. You appear to be living, but you are not. Your eyes are open, but your soul is closed.
So I sit in my bagel shop. I read the news. I make lists. I read emails. I do necessary little tasks. But I steer away from the important task. I steer away from the basic happiness of being alive. Sometimes I don’t remember tasting my bagel. I don’t celebrate my pulsing heart or receive reassurance from my rising and falling lungs. I sit, void of astonishment at the miracle occurring within me right then and there. I am internally interacting – chewing a bagel, re-arranging assumptions and semi-experiencing my emotions, but I am not truly open. I am not truly tasting, thinking, or feeling.
This is the defensive human stance. It is a tragedy. It not only closes you off from the adventure of relationship, it also closes you off from the beauty of solitude. We are creatures gifted and designed to be miraculously open, yet we forfeit our privilege to defensiveness.
Footnote: Why I am so defensive against the basic happiness of being alive? Here’s my answer.
If I were open to “the basic happiness of being alive” I would have to admit two truths that my fallen nature doesn’t want to admit.
First, if I opened up, I would want more. True openness to “the happiness of being alive” would expose my immense hunger for life. I would be admitting a vast need. This is devastating to my pretense of independence from God.
Secondly, I would have to admit that “being alive” is a gift. And if Life is a gift, then I would have to admit that I have a vast need and that I cannot control the supply of it. I will have to depend on the Giver. Again, a devastating realization to my pretense of independence from God.
So, I live partially closed off in an attempt to deny my need and dependence. Trouble is – to deny my need is the same thing as refusing the gift. I may succeed in preserving an illusionary life. But the real life – of sensation, thought and passion – is lost.
“Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.”
Roger Edwards joined The Barnabas Center in 1991. In addition to counseling individuals and couples, Roger teaches and leads discussion groups about applying the Bible to everyday life. He is a licensed professional counselor, holds a master’s degree in biblical counseling from Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana and earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is married to Jean, and they have seven children.