There is a fresh wind blowing through the musty, hallowed halls of Christendom.
It smells like freedom.
It is blowing off the painted masks we wear, rumpling up our fancy church clothes, and disheveling our perfectly coiffed hair.
It sounds like truth.
It is blasting us out of our comfortable pews, and onto our knees.
It feels like rescue.
It is time.
We pretend too much.
We pretend that we’re okay. We pretend that our families are great. We pretend that life is working for us. We pretend that our interior lives are as together as the exteriors appear to be.
We pretend not to battle isolation or depression or anger or addiction or perversion or jealousy or judgmentalism or fear. We cover over scars from the past, and tell ourselves they’ve healed.
We pretend not to hurt. Not to be afraid. Not to be desperate.
Christians are worse than anybody about this. Because we are supposed to be grateful, joyful, and victorious. All. The. Time. So we pile guilt on top of the other ugly stuff, put on our masks, and show up at church with our smiley faces. We should win Academy Award nominations for the flawless performances. I’m okay, I’m okay, I’m fine. I’m great.
It’s sad, because if there’s any place on earth where we ought to be able to strip down to our authentic selves, it is within Christ’s body.
We fear judgment. We forget the old adage that the church is supposed to be a hospital for sinners, not a country club for saints.
No one’s willing to go first along the path to freedom and truth.
But one person’s candor and transparency can open up the window of freedom for the rest of us who hold back in fear.
Anne Jackson calls it “the gift of going second.”
Sharing my struggles gives you the gift of being able to say, “Me, too. I battle that, too. I thought I was the only one.”
You’re not the only one.
I’m not the only one.
All of us have our secret sins, weaknesses, and wounds. The Bible suggests a simple cure: “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16)
But, paradoxically, it is often among fellow believers that we feel the least able to bare our souls and expose our faults. Because we’re supposed to know better.
Sometimes it is easier to speak openly to friends who have belief systems unlike our own. Where there’s no Christian Baggage. No judgment under the guise of “accountability.” No easy platitudes.
And that’s a shame.
But I am optimistic.
That fresh wind that’s blowing is gathering velocity.
It is reflected in the words of authentic new voices that might not have been granted exposure a decade or two ago.
I began my spiritual journey (in earnest) in the mid ‘80’s. If you went into a Christian bookstore at that time, you would find Bibles, commentaries, classic devotionals, a few inspirational real-life stories, some insipid “Christian Fiction,” fish stickers, and How-To books.
How-To Experience More Joy. How-To Overcome Fear. How-To Increase Your Faith. How-To Pray More Powerfully. How-To Combat Spiritual Warfare. How-To Witness. How-To Receive Healing…
Many of those books were very helpful to me.
But, here’s the thing:
What if you followed the directions of How-To to the very best of your human ability, and you still didn’t receive the promised result? What if you still struggled with fear after the Fear Book?
Who screwed up?
Of course, in my mind, it was always, always me.
(Well, Kim, of course you are not experiencing total joy, freedom, and victory
because you are not
Although much of the Christian literature of that genre was wonderful and instructive, some seemed to be more of a curse than a blessing. Much of it was overly simplistic and hygienic. (Don’t even get me started on “Christian Fiction.”) So, it was with great astonishment that I experienced the writing of Anne Lamott for the first time. Traveling Mercies. Around 1999, I think. A gift from my husband.
Anne is a mess. And a half. On the surface, she appears to be my antithesis.
She has dreadlocks that look as if they’ve been unwashed for decades. She is a recovering drug addict and alcoholic. She gave birth to a child out of wedlock. She hates Republicans to death.
But she loves Jesus.
So we are related.
The brilliantly written story of her very imperfect “lurch towards faith” was a radical departure from any quote unquote Christian literature I’d ever read. I don’t agree with everything Anne says and believes, but I appreciate her self-effacing honesty and her searing humor.
Reading Traveling Mercies made me feel better about myself. It gave me permission to go second. To admit that I’m a work in progress, and God still has quite a bit of work left to do on me.
Since then, there have been an increasing number of voices crying in the stagnant spiritual wilderness of Christian Perfectionism. Imperfect people telling their imperfect stories, transmitting freedom and grace to the rest of us struggling sinners. Recently, there’s been a whirlwind.
I am grateful to traditional Christian publishing houses like Zondervan and Thomas Nelson for taking the risk to allow these voices to be heard.
I got an Amazon gift card for Christmas, so I’ve been binge-reading ever since. Young writers with fresh perspectives: Tony Woodlief (Somewhere More Holy), Shauna Niequist (Cold Tangerines and Bittersweet), Anne Jackson (Permission to Speak Freely). And, finally, I’ve just begun the long-awaited One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.
These people are real. Bravely have they shared their stories of sin and redemption. Of doubt and flickering faith. Of their ongoing human-ness.
They have made public confessions. Not just to things like “inconsistency” or “lack of spiritual discipline,” but to things like porn addiction. Adultery. Alcohol abuse. Eating disorders. Clinical depression. Anger at God. Petty jealousy.
And none of them write as if they’ve got it all figured out now. As if they don’t still struggle.
I have been blessed by the telling of these stories. And I have been challenged.
Why are we so afraid to share our true stories? To admit our failings so that our sisters and brothers can pray for us? So that we may receive healing?
If I’m honest, I must admit that much of it stems from pride. I don’t want people to think badly of me.
But pride is the deadliest sin of all.
It leads to spiritual death.
And I want a more authentic, abundant, fear-free life.
Father, I pray that these honest stories will continue to challenge me to fearlessly share my own. I pray for a fresh wind of truth and love to blow through your family. I pray for more compassion and less judgment. Give us your unconditional love and acceptance for each other. Open our eyes to the planks they carry, rather than to the specks in the eyes of others. Destroy our pride, and deliver us from the need to look good. Make our relationships safe places, and our hearts your true home. Amen and amen.
Anne Jackson asked the question: “What is the one thing you can’t talk about in church?” She was flooded with thousands of responses.
How would you answer that question? Why do you think there is not more freedom in the church universal? What can we do to change things?
(Graphic by LeentheGraphicsQueen)