From time to time I like to remember the day my friend and co-worker Tom rocked my world with these words: “I’m at the point of resigning and walking away,” he said, “because you’re not real. In the past few months, your life has been turned upside down and you are deeply hurt, but you won’t open up about it.”
Talk about a wake-up call!
The truth was that my life HAD been turned upside down. Our church had gone through a major crisis and, in ways unrelated to the church problems, my family was hit with some significant pain. Looking back — it has been over fifteen years — I walked away from that meeting having no idea how to be what Tom called “real.” At that point, my idea of a pastor was someone who took everything that came at him and ministered to the hurts of everyone else while not wanting to burden anyone with his own struggles. It took a while to overcome my own internal image of invulnerability.
In the years since that day, I have constantly been in a sort of “life school,” learning when it is best that I open up about personal stuff versus when I need to wait silently for the Lord to bring me through it. I still don’t get it right sometimes, but God is faithful and I’m getting better about it.
One question that comes back to me is whether my failure to open up was really an issue of pride. Was I mum because I wanted others to believe that I was sort of a Superman who simply didn’t struggle with the things that might cripple “ordinary men?” I admit that pride could have been part of my attitude, but a bigger part was the lack of awareness of my need to be vulnerable and how to do it appropriately.
A very long time ago, I talked with a man about his need to be open and talk about things with his wife. “Complete this sentence,” I said: “If you really knew me…” Without hesitation, he replied, “…you wouldn’t like me!” He lived in fear that others might learn of some great darkness in him and completely reject him. This possible rejection caused him to isolate and insulate himself from others he feared might walk away once they knew the truth about him (whatever it was). We talked a lot that day about the love of God and the deep love that genuine Christ-followers would have for him, regardless of his secrets.
The argument of God’s relentless love and the unconditional acceptance of those who walk in Christ’s forgiveness can be enough to help people like the “…you wouldn’t like me” man take a risk and open up. But what about those who are afraid to open up to Jesus for an entirely different reason:
There is a movement afoot for people to open up about the person they are on the inside. That can be a very good thing, but what often clouds this movement is that old lie, “you are basically good.” In this context, people are encouraged to open up with the expectation that anyone who truly loves us would never want to change anything about us. But what happens if we take this subtle warping of truth to its natural conclusion? That ultimate end could be found in someone like Adolph Hitler. Let’s say that he opened up and told others, “I hate Jews and think all of them should die.” Would we quickly say, “Well, those are your feelings and you are good, so we will just accept you with those feelings; no change necessary!?”
Anyone who knows the Gospel knows it wasn't that way with Jesus. Over and over He met people in their brokenness. He loved them deeply and unconditionally, then said, “Go and sin no more!” It is for this very reason that many people resist coming clean with Jesus. We will meet just such a person in the Bible this weekend at Stone Ridge Church. Frankly, I was surprised when I looked at this meeting through the lens of personal pride and protection. You may react the same way, but I hope you will LOVE the end of the story. I can’t wait to share it with you! Can’t be there? Catch the podcast!