“What is the death of the Church and the Christian life,” I recently heard a pastor ask. His answer caused me to do an out-loud “Hmm.”
He didn’t say the death of the Christian life is a lack of prayer or Bible study. And he didn’t say the death of the church was poor leadership or low attendance. No, the thing that will surely kill the Church and your Christian walk is this: pretending.
Just imagine if hospitals 2,000 years from now looked like what many churches do today. People enter the hospital doors, bleeding, ill, miserable and afraid. Someone greets them cheerfully at the door, ushers them to a seat in the waiting room and there they sit. The wounded don’t tell anyone what’s wrong with them. And no employee asks them what’s wrong.
Instead, they remain seated by fellow sick people in the waiting room, all pretending they’re fine. Everyone acts oblivious to everyone else’s pain until they’re dismissed to leave, and each patient returns home with the same ailment he or she arrived with.
It doesn’t even make sense, right?
I wonder, at what point did Christianity become about being good and making sure others perceive us as doing good things? At what point did church become a place for people to come and pretend they aren’t sick?
When we look at Christ, we see such an opposite example: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor,” he said, “but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).
If we pretend we’re not sinners, Jesus can’t heal us. But when we start being honest in our lives, with God, with others and even with those we lead, we can experience the healing that was always meant to be ours.
Be Honest With God
If you’re going to stop pretending in your public life, you first have to stop pretending with God in your private life. Even though God knows everything I say, think and do (Psalm 139:2), when I pray, I often talk to him like a trusted mentor—someone I’m comfortable confiding in about most things—but not everything.
Brennan Manning says, in The Ragamuffin Gospel, “In Sunday worship, as in every dimension of our existence, many of us pretend to believe we are sinners. Consequently, all we can do is pretend to believe we have been forgiven.”
We hide from God for fear of not being accepted by him. Yet, when we hide, we can’t experience just that: his acceptance. It is when we are finally honest with God that we can experience real forgiveness and unconditional love, and that is what leads to real healing.
Be Honest With Friends
It’s amazing the amount of healing that can happen when we’re honest with those around us. James says, “ Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect” (5:16).
Recently I was feeling a lot of shame about something I had done. I carried it quietly with me for a couple of days. Then out to dinner one night I leaned over to a trusted friend next to me and just briefly mentioned it. I returned to the table conversation feeling so much lighter. Even the tiniest confession lifted the burden. It’s just the opposite of what we usually expect to happen: Confessing to one another lessens the weight.
But, before you start telling everyone everything, you have to know who your “one another” is.
I am a firm believer in not telling everybody everything. I typically have two or three people I talk to about stuff, real stuff. Who those people are has changed over the years and will change with years to come, but that number remains small. Know who can carry your story with grace, and refrain from over-sharing with those who can’t.
Be Honesty From Your ‘Pulpit’
When you are a writer, speaker or a person in any sort of leadership role—from youth group volunteer to CEO—you have the opportunity either to create an environment of pretending or an environment of honesty, depending on what you share from your “pulpit.”
The temptation to pretend is always great. People are looking to you to guide them. Shouldn’t you have it all together? Our tendency is to feign perfection for the sake of reputation and for fear of rejection. But when a leader pretends, not only does he feel isolated in secrecy, his followers feel isolated in shame, believing they are alone in their sin.
When a leader is honest about his imperfections, his followers will feel understood and accepted and, therefore, will be more prone to honesty in their own lives. I wouldn’t suggest sharing a list of your sins in your next sermon (see “Be Honest With Friends”), but make it known that you struggle too.
We are chronically sick people, you and I, but we have a great healer who offers grace. Let’s receive it and give it to others. Let’s be a safe place for the sick to find healing.