Unmasked: The Importance of Getting RealSep 09, 2018 10:40PM ● By Bonnie Lyn Smith
Proverbs 24:26, ESV
Whoever gives an honest answer kisses the lips.
In an attempt to encourage a very dear person in my life after a loss causing her complicated grief, I wrote the following:
A thousand times over I admire _______ for facing his demons and working to give back good, however flawed and imperfectly. I prefer this a thousand times over to people who won’t get real with each other and who want to pretend all is well when it is clearly not. Reading the obituary made me admire _______ for things I cannot admire others for in that same generation. I will take “real” any day over faking it. The latter is an exhausting way to live.
Jesus hung out with the humble like ________ who knew they were messed up and needed Him. Those are my kinds of people.
My entire life I have been surrounded by people who feared being honest with and about themselves. Some of it may have been learned behavior, cultural norms at the time, and generational. The point of this article is not to lay blame.
Some of these people were in my church, my neighborhood, and my family. Some had significant influence over me. Some just passed through my life briefly. And like anyone else, I still meet people like this who, for whatever reason, are trapped inside themselves and hiding behind a façade.
We can argue that at any given point, all of us have a façade. Just look at social media, ha!! And sure, I’m going to be professional with a client and not let her know I just got my act together at 1 in the afternoon because I struggled to focus all day due to a concern over one of my kids. Maybe I showered for the first time in two days, my house is a wreck, and problems are dripping off every family member like a leaky faucet quicker than I can address them—if I even can. Yeah, not the time to share that, but that’s not what I’m referring to.
And, to be fair, at the other end of the spectrum are people like me who wear everything on our sleeves, consequently making more private people uncomfortable with our over-share at times. I get that. I really do. Private people are not wrong to be guarded or true to their nature.
The problem comes in when appearances become an idol. When we care more about how our family dynamic looks to people than sharing appropriate amounts of our lives (and yes, that is not going to look the same for each level of relationship), we do more than simply miss blessings we could receive from doing life honestly with others. We actually do damage because, at the core, pretending all is well when it is not does the following:
- Communicates rejection
- Shuts off trust
- Makes us unlikely to be someone people come to for help
- Makes the person feel alone
- Contributes to a lie that everything has to be okay all the time, which contributes to hopelessness in people around us
—and the list goes on.
Obviously, we don’t tell our mere acquaintances we think about that wine bottle in the fridge all day. That information should only go to a trusted friend or family member or two and a counselor, at least initially. But we can be real when someone near us is hurting. Here are some examples:
Another parent comes to you about her young or teen child who struggles. First, that is not the time to tell her how your own child got straight As in all honors classes. Yeah, no. But can you relate to parent pain or disappointment at all? A struggle in guiding your own child, even if it was years ago? Then say that. You don’t have to share it, and you need to protect your own child’s privacy, but the worst thing you can do is pretend none of your children ever struggled in any way. You know why? Because that would be dishonest.
Someone approaches you sharing a broken relationship with his adult child. Your children are also out of the house, but you prefer not to let anyone think that sometimes they make hurtful statements to you or do not follow your wishes for their lives. When this person hears you have "fantastic relationships" with absolutely no friction ever, how do you think he feels after that? (I’m not suggesting making something up to force relating to him. I’m offering that we be more conscious of acknowledging that there is pain in our lives—even if everyone who comes to us is not in our inside circle to have the right to know specifics.)
A friend shares a struggle with her ongoing temptation to look at other men outside her marriage. Now, maybe that is not your particular flavor of sin enticement, but you fantasize about leaving everything and everyone behind to start a new life. Or you have a compulsion to eat a pint of Ben & Jerry's every day to self-soothe. Maybe something inappropriate online has caught your eye and has drawn you in. It isn’t so much that we all have the same experience; it’s getting real about temptation and destructive patterns in life. It’s saying: I struggle with destructive behaviors at times too. Or, I used to.
On the heels of a very frustrating season in my life, I recently shared with a group of friends: “Yeah, the people inside my house honestly sometimes just don’t like each other.”
We love each other, of course, but our personalities clash. It’s a growing process of learning to navigate it.
A few of the people in this friendship circle understand that firsthand. They have lived the family dynamic clashes on a regular basis. A few others may not experience it on the same level, at least not right now, but if they were to tell me their children always get along, I would no longer trust them with my heart. Does that make sense? They would not be on my list of people who can love me without judgment—who can be real when I need them to be.
At the heart of pretending we are perfect is a pride issue. I find it so futile, since the holy God who created us knows the deal anyway—and chances are so do most of our close relationships whether we share it or not.
Proverbs 11:1-3, ESV
A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight.
When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.
The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them.
The Bible tells us the importance of not lying to each other. That is not the same as sharing every intimate detail of our private lives, but it does mean we are humble before others. We are able to do this if we believe in Christ because He renews us in knowledge after the image of Himself.
Colossians 3:9-10, ESV
Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
The antidote to isolating ourselves and those around us is speaking truth. Why? Because we are on the same plane: children of the living God. When we pretend life this side of heaven is perfect and painless at every turn, we put ourselves above others.
Ephesians 4:25, ESV
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.
How will you be more real this week with others as a gift of ministry, care, and kindness? Hurting hearts are all around us. We can change a life by putting down a false image of our lives and opening our ears and hearts.
Author Bonnie Lyn Smith writes about mental health advocacy, special education, faith in the valleys of life, drawing healthy boundaries, relational healing, renewing our minds, walking with a Holy God, and much ado about grace. Join the conversation at Espressos of Faith.
She is the author of Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day and the founder and editor-in-chief of Ground Truth Press, a book publishing company.