I am currently preaching through a series titled “Brokenness.” I wanted to cover topics that would resonate with our human condition as frail, weak people. I thought it would be a good Lent series, deep and reflective. So, I have talked about God’s grace in the midst of financial difficulties, emotional despair, and most recently social rejection. After worship service, someone was talking to me about honesty. They indicated to me that they appreciate my transparency in front of the church. It is interesting because I oftentimes feel guarded in the pulpit. I responded to this person that people sometimes get nervous when the pastor is an open book. “No,” she explained. “That is what is encouraging to us. You are a real person. When you share from your weakness, it lifts me up.” I appreciated the comments; however, I still feel somewhat guarded.
Yet, in reality, I think this is true for most people. We walk through life guarded even with people whom we would consider close. A close friend asks us how we are doing and we respond, “Good.” Maybe in a moment of sheer desperation we might say, “It has been tough lately.” However, even in these moments, we don’t really let someone in. We share around the fringes. We open up just enough to be courteous yet remain guarded so as to feel safe. We rarely say, “Life sucks right now.” Those deep struggles of insecurity and weakness are kept locked away lest someone think less of us. Honestly, this protective mentality probably occurs frequently in marriages. We want to appear strong and put together, even with those who love us the most.
What is it that prompts us to present an image towards other? What compels us to be embarrassed of our frailty? What keeps that guilt and shame alive only to gradually eat away our soul?
I imagine there are many reasons. It is risky to be vulnerable. If people see our struggles they might reject us or scorn us. The possibility of such a reaction even amongst close friends is not worth the vulnerability. So, we remain shielded. Or, it might be that we thrive on the image. We like to feel put together in front of people. We strut a perfect life, sadly enjoying the esteem it brings. Eventually, it catches up to us because we honestly know the truth about ourselves. Sometimes, the image is misdirection for some deep struggle we are having in our life. We know what is truly in our mind. Horrified that someone will find out, we project perfection in that very area to avoid being discovered. In other cases, we can simply blame conditioning. We are told from an early age to put our best foot forward. Rarely does a person go to their boss and say “I am really faking this part of my job.” Uncertainty over what that person might say causes us to shake our heads and keep up the facade.
There are many reasonable reasons we keep an image up to people. Yet, the sad reality is that this disconnection drains our life of joy. Pretending takes a lot of work. It is exhausting. Even being guarded takes discipline so as to not slip as to how we are really doing. Henry Thoreau stated, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” This is sad but true. It is the end result of a life spent building an image.
Jesus understood this. He desired freedom in people. This is why he intentionally pointed out the very issue that people were running from and brought it to the surface. Whether it was the woman looking for love in a sexual relationship, a man finding security in financial stability, or the religious leaders looking for validation by bossing others around, Jesus put his finger on it and said “let’s get honest.” He wasn’t trying to be cruel. He did not get kicks out of shaming people. Rather, he knew that true joy could only be found by tearing down the image and living honestly before God and other people. Yeah, we know it is true. Living it is another story.