The Trouble with Honesty
One Sunday while I waited for my husband to park the car, I sat on the bench next to the coffee bar in the church lobby. For fifteen minutes, I watched people coming in and out of the sanctuary. Most of them were smiling and hugging. Almost all of them asked each other the same question—“How are you?”
Here’s a breakdown of the answers:
“Awesome.” <given with an over-exuberant grin>
“Great.” <given with a regular grin>
“Fine.” <given with a barely there grin>
Most of the answers and grins seemed genuine. But sometimes when the hug ended and the person who asked the question disappeared down the hall, the person who answered would pause. And the grin would fall into a different expression. An expression that said—I’m barely hanging on.
Those looks of pain hit hard, because that day I was barely hanging on.
When it was my turn to be smiled at and hugged and asked the question, I decided to skip the grin and be honest. “Being here is good,” I said. “But I’m falling apart.”
I don’t own a church face and I’m a lousy liar, so honesty and I are pretty tight. My only option other than telling the truth on days when I’m barely hanging on is to stay home and cry alone. Sadly, this past year, I’ve chosen that option more than a few Sunday mornings.
After I answered, a few people got a little awkward and didn’t know what to say. Most people hugged me tighter or patted my back or said they’d pray for me. Then they all walked away.
Except for one woman from my Sunday School class.
She sat with me on the bench, took my hand, and with soft words and understanding eyes shared her similar struggle—the struggle she was still walking—and prayed with me until we were both in tears. Her honest vulnerability touched me in a way I badly needed that day.
So what does any of this have to do with honesty causing trouble?
After being MIA on my blog for quite a while, I wrote a post explaining why I’d been silent. The short version behind why I quit is that life over the last year has been rough and I couldn’t write fiction, let alone post reality.
I won’t rehash the entire blog, but if you’re interested, you can read it here. Honesty Central: Getting Real
I think a few people may have gotten the wrong message or missed my motivation for being honest about my faith struggles. And maybe that’s my fault.
Sometimes when I open up, I’m so stuck in the right here, right now that I don’t filter my fears and struggles in the light of an eternal picture. I share my frustration or anger or hopelessness in that moment and make it seem as if I don’t want to move forward toward a stronger faith. As if I’ve given up on my God.
But that’s not true.
In the middle of the storm, life often doesn’t make sense. It’s only after the violent wind calms and dark skies lighten that I see the rainbow.
I haven’t gotten to my rainbow yet, but I know it’s there waiting. I know one day I’ll look back on these last few years and see the good only God can bring out of the ugly. And I’ll be able to empathize with people in a brand new way.
So the question becomes—is it okay to share that I’m still struggling? If I share, will people think I’ve turned from faith? Or will they see my transparency for what it is? My humanness getting in the way of who God’s grooming me to be?
As Christians, we have to ask ourselves—In the midst of personal struggles, when should we be honest and when should we keep quiet?
Here’s my thought about transparency.
If in my heart, my goal is to reach people where they are, and not to start a local chapter of the Misery Loves Company Club, I’ll be honest.
If my honesty is meant to comfort those in pain, and not to rile them to rebel against the unfairness of God, I’ll be honest.
If the truth eventually shows a big-picture journey that leads toward God, and is not a map leading them away, I’ll be honest.
How do people know how to pray for us if we’re not honest? How can we have the street cred to reach out to others and say, “I get it,” if we’re not honest?
I’ve never invited anyone to join me in my pit of despair. My goal is to climb out, not split up the space and sublet. There’s a difference between empathy and instigation. And if we’re honest, at least with ourselves, we all have some struggles with our faith.
It’s easy to praise God in the sun. It’s harder to praise Him in the storm. My favorite song the first time my son was diagnosed with leukemia was Blessed Be Your Name. You can listen to it here.
This spiritual journey, all my spiritual journeys, are always going to end with faith. They have to. Faith isn’t part of who I am—it is who I am. Sometimes it just takes me longer to weather the storm so I can find the rainbow.
And there will always be someone sitting on that bench at church. Someone who’s desperate to say, “I’m not okay.”
Maybe if I’m honest, I can be to that person what the woman from my Sunday School class was to me. Hope. A lifeline. Someone who understands and is brave enough to admit it. And then it will be my turn to share my struggles and pray.
**If you your or someone you love is dealing with cancer or a serious illness, you can see my journey here: Surviving the Storm