I am messed up.
It’s taken a long time to accept it, but I’m finally pretty comfortable with that truth. As a friend constantly reminds me, “Reality is your friend!”
The reality of my weaknesses, sins, and flaws didn’t feel very “friendly” for most of my adolescence and young adulthood. Growing up in a pastor’s home during a time when pastors and their families were supposed to be perfect with no struggles, no sins, and no doubts taught me how to hide the parts of my life that didn’t measure up. I learned from an early age how to conceal my imperfections and disguise my brokenness – at least, I thought I did.
Deeply buried in my soul were the wounds caused by being molested by a family friend when I was very young. Like many other young children who are the victims of sexual abuse, I didn’t know how to talk about what had happened to me. I kept the abuse a secret, but grew increasingly confused about my own developing sexuality. Pornography and acting out became a shameful part of my life, even while I longed to love and serve God. After awhile, there just didn’t seem to be any hope for change and I felt doomed to live a double life.
Then I got married. The secrets of my past were impossible to mask any longer. I was so scared that Rick wouldn’t love me if he knew the whole me. But in the intimacy of my relationship with Rick, all the brokenness became obvious, and what I had hoped could remain hidden was exposed in all its pain, dysfunction, and misery.
We all think we’re pretty good at covering up, hiding, disguising, camouflaging, and compensating for our messed up parts. We act like my two year old grandson. He thinks that if he closes his eyes I can’t see him – he is convinced he is invisible – but he’s right there in front of me all the while. What he believes is hidden is really in plain view.
A friend of mine has an eating disorder that she thought she had disguised from her friends. While she was in therapy, she marveled when I told her it was obvious. “How did you know?” she asked in amazement. “I thought I had it under control.” Like my grandson, she believed that none of us knew of her predicament, even though all it took was sharing one meal with her to see the reality. What she assumed was invisible was apparent to those closest to her.
I suppose that’s the double-edged sword of living in true community. True community holds out the possibility of soul-satisfying fellowship with other believers on the same spiritual journey. But in true community, our carefully constructed house of cards can come crashing down as the lies we tell ourselves and expect others to believe are revealed as we do life together. While that can be an uncomfortable risk – terrifying to some – it’s God’s way of helping us deal with the sins and failures that hinder and eventually cripple our spiritual, emotional and physical well being.
As the Bible says in 1 John 1:7(LB)
BUT IF WE ARE LIVING IN THE LIGHT OF GOD’S PRESENCE, JUST AS CHRIST DOES, THEN WE HAVE WONDERFUL FELLOWSHIP AND JOY WITH EACH OTHER, AND THE BLOOD OF JESUS HIS SON CLEANSES US FROM EVERY SIN.
God’s desire is that we live in the penetrating, clarifying light of His presence, where there can be no pretense, no masks, and no false fronts. Once we’re honest with God and experience His incredible acceptance and forgiveness, then we can begin to live in the light of truthfulness about ourselves with others. Acceptance of each other as deeply flawed but deeply loved human beings opens the door to the fellowship and joy we are all craving.
I eventually chose to get gut-level honest with God, with Rick, with a trusted counselor, and with my friends. I was tired of living in the darkness of my own repeated failures. Stepping into the light of God’s love and Rick’s love has permitted me to find release from my secrets. Living in reality is allowing me the freedom to know others and for them to finally know me.
Recently, someone on our high school ministry staff had a life-sized cardboard figure of Rick made as a joke. You know what I’m talking about – those cardboard figures of Hollywood celebrities that crazy tourists pose with to show the folks back home “Look, I’m tight with Beyonce!” Rick’s cardboard figure got a lot of laughs, and I even posed for a picture with my arms around the cardboard guy! It wasn’t very satisfying though; I wanted reality. I wanted to put my arms around the real guy, warts and all. After 34 years of marriage, I know him and he knows me – he knows I’m messed up and I know he’s messed up. The fear he would reject me if really knew how far from perfect I am is gone. Well, most of the time it’s gone!
Some of you are living as cardboard cutouts of yourself, afraid to face reality and reveal the truth. Everyone around you knows the truth: you’re a sinner who needs grace and forgiveness. You might as well come into the light of God’s presence; nothing you’ve ever thought, said, or done is hidden from Him. He’s known the truth about you from the very beginning and it hasn’t stopped Him from dearly loving you. Once you do, you too will experience peace and the freedom to give your real self to those you love.
In the end, reality truly is our friend.