By Douglas Parter
I want to take you on my journey to honesty and give those of you who are more experienced in the faith a few pointers on how you could help people like me on our trek.
A couple years back, I was a master of disguise and well versed in compartmentalizing my life in such a way that no one really had a true picture of who I was. I had four very separate lives: work, family, friends, and my “extra-recreational activities”, and these worlds never collided. My high school friends never met my college friends, and my college friends never met my work friends, my roommates never met my friends and so on. Each of these groups existed on their own individual islands and because these worlds were so separate, I had lost the ability to really connect to people outside of the roles and realms to which I had assigned them.
This objectification of my intimates led to a pervasive dishonesty with those around me. When I recounted details of how I had spent my time, people were usually just the characters in the narrative that I formed. Because I only recounted my sanitized version of events, I lacked a barometer by which to measure my life. I was a man with access to a dependable support system; but as I lacked the ability to be unvarnished, I never would have been able to voice the internal war inside between the person who I was and the one I so desperately needed to be. Though I had an abundance of people who would have willingly helped me in my duress, I remained unwilling to engage them and seek the counsel of the wise people around me.
The journey to honesty started with a phone call I made to one of those people in a moment of desperation. That first foray into honesty was like removing one layer of paint from an over-finished piece of furniture that had seen a number of facelifts over the course of time and now only bore a grotesque resemblance of its original intrinsic beauty. The clean cut person of my youth had become marred by leading a multi-layered life due to my inability to be open.
But what caused a once clean cut youth with tons of potential to begin hiding himself behind layers of façade? In short, I never gave the people around me enough credit for their own personal, internalized struggles. Because I had never approached my extremely “together” intimates (business professionals and owners, attorneys, college instructors, teachers, marketing executives, architects, and the like) with the issues I had, I failed to open our relationship to a new dynamic where I could lean on them through our shared experience of being wounded individuals…because we all have wounds.
We are designed to have intimate relationship with one another in order to have positive growth in our lives and part of that intimacy is unvarnished honesty. As I venture forward into this new life filled with honesty, it is vital to establish a group of individuals with whom I can enlighten with those gritty versions of the internal struggles that we all experience.
As a relatively new Christian, I look around the church and see people with whom I think I have little in common; much like my assumption with the “together” people I know. I see glossy, singularly-minded individuals who seem to have sloughed off the troubles of this life. Do some church members project sanitized versions of their lives because they’ve bought into the myth that super spiritual people are without problems? Though it can be unintentional, by avoiding the vocalization of one’s personal struggles, do church members do a disservice to themselves and those around them?
James encourages us to “confess [our] sins to each other…so that [we] may be healed” (James 5:16). When those who are more seasoned in the faith discuss their past issues openly, I am encouraged. I am encouraged because I am given a concrete example that one can overcome. I am encouraged because I hear that overcoming is sometimes a process and not a one-time event. I can look at your narrative and see myself somewhere along your trajectory and know that victory is coming! I see myself in a snapshot that you might rather keep hidden, but I so frantically need to see to know there is hope on the horizon.
We are indeed promised trouble in this world by Christ, but then told to take heart because he has overcome the world. Groups such as the Life Challenge Alumni Association, of which I am a member, seek to offer “accountability for graduates and inspiration to current students [by engaging] in various mentoring, social, and fundraising” are vital because they offer an open space based on an understood shared experience. This organization seeks to create a safe environment to voice the sometimes nasty underbelly of transformation. Church members, as well, can take a cue from this organization by stripping the façade and laying themselves bare, giving us a glimpse into aspects of their part to serve as an inspiration.
We are all on this journey toward leading lives that are completely open, real and laid bare. Some of us have traveled farther along the road, but none of us should discount the milestones and strides that others have taken. Those who have just started the journey should not look at those farther along as some untouchable paragon with little interest in the plight of the new sojourner. Likewise, the seasoned traveler should find ways to be more forthcoming with the missteps they have had and reveal the great strains they have had to endure to avoid the treacherous pitfalls of temptation. This is not a journey that can be done alone, so let us press on together towards inspired lives filled with hope and to the higher callings we have received.