Let’s Be Honest…
Honesty. I’ve pretty much found out that it’s the scariest thing in the world. But the few times I’ve actually dabbled in this dark art, My God, it’s wonderful. I just finished reading a book given to me by one of my roommates called The Kingdom of Couches by Will Walker. Mostly it’s a great book about the need for Christian community in our individualistic and independent society, and I’m likely to draw much from it in the future. As such, I confess that a great portion of the ideas following come from Mr. Walker and some of his coauthors (Brett Westervelt, in particular), but I’m sure they’ve been said throughout the ages, merely because of the state of the human condition.
What I have drawn recently from this book, however, and what has been hitting me from all sides—from random conversations to the very sermon I heard this morning—was the need for honesty, for truth. Now, I’m not one that easily falls into divine speculations, but I think that the message getting to me in the past few weeks has not been one of a coincidence of many sources, but rather God trying to communicate to my petrified heart.
Consider conversation. Think about how you talk, what you talk about, why you talk. If you’re like me, an extreme extrovert, you might talk a lot (or way too much, in my case). We are constantly using our words for self-edification: I’m smart, listen to my words; I’m compassionate, listen to my words; I’m funny, listen to my words; I’m righteous, listen to my words. We try to show off our knowledge with our words, and that puffs us up (1 Corinthians 8:1). Walker calls it “temporary redemption,” because we find in our words security and worth and righteousness: we have no need for a saving God when we’re doing quite well on our own. I must admit that part of me while writing this wants to spread these powerful insights that God has granted me, but there’s always that part that is writing this so I can puff myself up. In the back of my mind, I’m thinking to myself, “Man, I’m gonna write this awesome post, and people are going to think I’m so humble, and introspective, and insightful.” I don’t want to think this way, but I’ve been doing it so long, that I don’t know how not to.
But in our conversation—aside from the fact that we constantly try to edify ourselves and often ignore the need to listen and edify others—we generally keep pretty honest. Unless, of course, honesty is inconvenient. When we start talking about serious things, about personal things, then our words are more guarded. When honesty makes you look bad because you’re a flawed person, when honesty might hurt somebody else because it’s the brutal truth, when honesty reveals truly deep down who you are, then honesty is often not something we’re excited about. We start beating around the bush, talking in generalities.
The truth is, we’re always projecting the personality that we want people to see. We wear masks and use our words to convince people we’re the funny one, the cheerful one, the sensitive one…the Christian one. And when, in our mind, we’re not funny, we’re not happy, we’re not sympathizing, and we’re not how a Christian “should” be, we lie, deceive, or, at the very least, keep our mouth shut. What’s worse, we even rationalize our way out of truly expressing ourselves because we want to be a “good example” of Christ to others. Unfortunately, the problem with not letting others see our bad and broken side is that it’s simply dishonest. As Walker put it, “If the bride of Christ is ugly, that doesn’t make her a ‘non-bride;’ but if the bride of Christ is a blow-up doll, we need a reality check.”
Reality. The problem is with me is that I’ve been so mired in my deceptions and self-deceptions that I’ve forgotten how to be honest. I’ve lost that child-like disposition of saying exactly what’s on my mind; there’s always some ulterior motive. I want to honestly sing with my Church “I Surrender All,” but even if I tried surrendering all, I’m pretty sure I’ve deceiving myself in some way where I’m holding something—probably many things—back. I want to sing with my college buddies “You are more than enough for me,” but I know that, truly, I measure my satisfaction not only by my relationship with God but by my happiness, my success, and others’ approval of me; clearly, God is not more than enough. I’ve forgotten what reality is, and I think I’m afraid to remember. As Walker humorously recalls, “My friend David says, ‘Reality is your friend.’ My other friend Jeremy says, ‘And sometimes your friend is ugly.’”
Occasionally, we’re honest with God. A good amount of time, we even try deceiving Him, but I think we are often most honest when we’re speaking to the ceiling. While that confession is good, it’s not enough. It’s interesting to note that when the Bible talks about and exhorts us to confession, it’s almost never in the context of alone to God, but almost always in the context of community. And that is something we’ve lost as a Church, or at least something I have only rarely experienced. Sure, we admit all the time to each other that we’re sinners. “Yup, we’re all sinners. Oh, and I’ve got this sin I’m struggling with, please pray for me. What sin? Oh well, you don’t need to know that. That’s between me and God, and I’m pretty sure us two can work it out, you don’t need to get involved, I don’t need your help.” The Church all of a sudden has turned into a group of independent individuals and not an interdependent community of honest and open believers. We dare not mention our deepest sinful motivations, our darkest sins, or our most trying struggles and questions to our community, our Church. Maybe God and one or two “accountability partners,” but Heaven forbid people in our community actually know us.
We need confession. We need to be known, because that is the way God intended the Church. We need to be open, vulnerable, and honest; we need to trust God’s people and not fear that we appear weak and broken, for that is what we actually are. We need to move beyond valuing ourselves on how we appear to others, and get to a place where all we’ve got to cling to, all we have left in terms of self-worth, is that God loves us. Derek Webb once speculated that the best thing that could happen to you is if your sin was broadcasted on the evening news. Imagine that, that everyone knew your sin, and knew truly what kind of person you are. What would you have left in terms of pride? What could you say now to justify yourself? All you would have left is the fact that you are valued by God, and you would truly realize that God is the one who justifies you, not your words. I’m not saying we should go announce our sin on the news. But we must begin to move to a place where we’re real, and we’re open and honest about our concerns and struggles.
I voiced all these things to an informal prayer and praise meeting on campus Monday night. People nodded their head in agreement, some made comments. Then stupid Ben had to go do what I feared the most after giving such beautiful insight: doing it. He told us to all split up between guys and girls, and confess. This wasn’t planned, he just heard what I said, then put it into action. I nervously got up and sat in circle of seven guys, quickly surveying them to see to whom I was about to spill out all of my nastiness. And we sat there. Finally, after about 20 seconds of chill, James broke the ice. For the next three hours, we sat there quietly, but openly, confessing all the junk that’s been going on in our lives, exhorting each other, empathizing with each other, and suggesting how we could get over these times of sin. We all had a bunch of things to do, we had people calling us on our phones, but all of that became unimportant compared to what we were engaging in. After a while, we had all spoken. Everyone but one. And so Ben finally asked him to speak, and he began to admit that he didn’t want to, that he was having some serious doubts, and that he’s been angry with God, and angry with his Christian friends. He felt unsure about God’s love. I don’t want to go into detail, but I strongly empathized with him because of similar things I went through last semester. And in all these things—in his doubts and anger, in my own doubts and unbelief last semester, and in all our struggles and dirty, dirty sins that we had just spent confessing to each other—none of us knew that these things were going on in each other’s lives. We are all friends, all brothers in Christ supposed to be lifting each other up, and we were not because we were to afraid to trust each other, too afraid to look like we were…sinners. In realizing all of this, while some of us were speaking, Ben started to breathe very loudly. Looking to him, I saw he was rocking back and forth. He looked up, and I saw the tears in his eyes as he voiced in utter frustration, “How did we get this way?” How in the world did the Church—that is, the community of believers—get to the point where we’re all separated from each other in such a way that we’re not able to help each other in the hardest of times?
I’ll tell you, Ben. We stopped being honest. We stopped valuing the Church for what it is. And that night was my first night of honesty in a long time. So this rather extended post is about honesty. It’s about injecting it—no—making it the foundation of your daily conversation. It’s about having a community of believers who you are completely open with. It’s time to take off that mask. It’s time to let go and trust God, and trust the Church that He has established. Find your community, the Church, and let go of all your pride; confess and be broken. Stop the self-deception, the deception of God, and the deception of the Church. It’s scary, I know, but just do it. Say it. Dive in.