What do I want to say? I keep re-starting this post over and over again because I feel like I’ve got to come up with some sort of catchy, all-encompassing introduction, followed by some slick, clever writing that impresses people and sounds profound. The irony is that I want to write about being honest with others, about sharing the mess we’re in, about not putting on a front or pretending to be anything other than what we are – struggling, weak, in need of help from others, happy, joyful, confused, in pain, feeling apathetic or full of fear and doubt…Why don’t I just say what I think? Why is it so hard? Why do I seem to be hard-wired to deceive?
Having other people see that we’re not okay, that I’m not okay, can feel like the worst thing in the world. I remember those moments when I’ve said something I regret and can’t take back, in my frustration I’ve spoken about someone unfairly, revealing the lack of patience and grace in my heart, that up until that point, I’d been pretending was there… Or my stress being obvious to everyone around me, revealing the fact that I’m not organised, capable or confident in what I’m doing… Being seen for who we are – what could be worse?
Whilst there’s no doubt this can be a painful thing, especially when the revelation comes as a shock as much to us as it does to others, I was reminded at church this morning that there’s something that frees us to not despair that the worst things about us are known. What is it? What possible hope is there for people who are struggling to cover up their regrets, mistakes and that gnawing realisation that we are not okay?
The cover-up can’t be the solution – I’ve been trying that for years and it’s constantly failing me. Apart from anything else, it’s really hard work! Like permanently performing in some strange sort of play, in the hope that one day I will just eventually become the character I’m imitating, that the fiction I’m creating for myself might hopefully become reality – it’s not going to work. I can’t escape who I am that way… and I’m not sure I would even want to. It’s an isolating, humanity-denying kind of living to shut people off from who I really am – it’s hard to keep the bad out of sight, and yet still let the good in me be seen. It becomes too risky as I realise how many mistakes and regrets creep into even my best performances, and so I’m forced to shut the show down, exit the stage, lights down, curtain drawn. I’m alone. There’s no hope in a cover-up.
And there’s no hope within me – there is no quick-fix, self-help process. Nor a long-term restoration project, for that matter. Rather than ploughing energy into a performance, I’ve been tempted to try exerting that effort into sorting myself out. Trouble is, how can a broken person fix themself? I’ve got to impress, to shine – yet I know myself to be unimpressive, and kind of dull, rather than shiny. “Well then – forget it,” I could tell myself. “Who cares what others think? I’ll learn to love myself just as I am.” Problem solved? Not quite. Rather than performing to impress others, I’ve now consigned myself to a life of living as though no one else around me matters. I set the standards, I choose who can have a say in my life, and as soon as anyone says something I don’t like, they’re gone. I am the arbiter of what is right and good, and worth knowing. So a friend doesn’t agree… well, I can find another. So it seems lonely, sometimes, always having to reject people to protect myself – it’s the only way, this is the price I have to pay…
Do you see how I’ll end up as lonely and as hopeless as I was with the cover-up? Because as much as I may try and convince myself otherwise, ‘I’ am not all I need.
So again, what possible hope is there for people who are struggling to cover up their regrets, mistakes and that gnawing realisation that we are not okay? How can we face the worst about us being known? How can we cope with being seen for who we are?
I think what I’m about to write next may sound trite to you. It might sound like a fuzzy, soppy answer that doesn’t pack a punch, but just give it a moment’s thought…
What if, in being seen for who you are, you are loved?
I don’t mean that the worst about you somehow doesn’t matter – it really does. It’s bad. Worse than you know, in fact. But even in the mess we’re in, that I am in, if I was loved, how would that make a difference? It might mean that I could stop the performance, and rather than going to hide in the dark behind the curtain, I could be with others without fear, because I’m loved. It might mean that I could listen to others without fear of being outshone or not impressing, because I’m loved. Being loved – finding my identity and value and worth outside of myself, having someone else say that who I am is okay, would change everything.
Could someone else really make this kind of difference? I think we all want to believe that this is true… yet I can see a flaw. Could anyone really cope with all the junk that I’m trying to hide away from sight? Could anyone be trusted to have that kind of influence over me, and not to do me harm? Those questions hinge on who it is that loves.
And here’s the twist. The one we so often think the least likely to bear with our mistakes and broken past, the one who surely would be least impressed with our poor performances, is the one who offers that kind of love. God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Jesus died for us. What does that mean? That in the very midst of my most dreadful mistakes, the one who loves me the most is not only aware of my worst, but has borne their consequences, so I don’t have to. Jesus died for us. That’s God showing us his unflinching love for us while we were still sinners. Before we start performing, before we put the defences up, God tells us we’re loved.
This changes things. It is changing me – slowly! I’m so thankful for my church family who are aiming to be people who drop the pretence and who know that God’s love is a gift for those who are broken and bent out of shape, who need Jesus to be the one who deals with the mess we’re in. I love that we can be seen who for we are without despairing, because with each flaw that is revealed, Jesus’ love and grace is shown to be wider and deeper and further-reaching than we realised before. I’m thankful that God has given us one another to remind us of this truth, to declare it together and hold out Jesus to those who are still afraid to be seen for who they are because they don’t yet know how they are loved.