This morning’s church service gave me a lot to think about. The message delivered by one of our pastors really hit home. I don’t always find that what I take away from a sermon is exactly what was intended, especially since my theology does tend to veer off the beaten conservative path. Today was no exception. It was a great message, by the way, and one that could be heard by people at many stages of their journey of faith and still have significance.
One of the things that really struck me was when our pastor talked about being real with each other. (I forgive the pastor for speaking in lingo, as he’s the youth pastor. And also, he may be reading this…) What really punched me in the gut was the realization that I tend to be “unreal.” I use that term because I don’t live a fake life. I don’t pretend that I’m somehow better, or without sin, or that I’ve achieved some kind of spiritual pinnacle. But I don’t tend to like to let anyone in behind the wall, to know what my honest struggles are. I might hint, or downplay, or say something like, “Yeah, I have a hard time with certain things in my life, too.” But I don’t often outright admit my specific flaws.
I would say that it isn’t that I don’t want to, but it really is that I don’t want to. Not because I fear embarrassment. Not because I think people will stop liking me. Not because I want to project an image. Not even because I fear being excused from serving in the church. In fact, our church, despite its limitations, is probably the last place any of those things would happen.
The reason I don’t like to admit where I’m weak is that I use it to protect myself. I place my sins between myself and others, using them to create the wall. Instead of using other bricks, my building material of choice is my own sin. I use it to keep others out because, deep down, I secretly believe they already want to be shut out.
I know why I do it. For some people, they have terrible family situations growing up; mine wasn’t especially bad. We had some issues, but doesn’t every family? Where I was hurt most was in my peer relationships. I spent more than 8 years being bullied. I was called names; put down; physically beaten; and sexually harassed. It was hell on earth. Finding God did not change it, but I was so fearful that even then, I didn’t want to let anyone in. I spent years in a toxic friendship with another Christian because I believed her control and neediness were signs that she actually cared about me. Even though that relationship is over, I still fear the consequences of ending it.
Now, none of that excuses my sin or my failure as a friend to others. But somewhere in there, I heard the key turn in the lock. I understood why I needed to keep everyone at arm’s length, and why my particular go-to sins are the kind of thing designed to keep people out (things like judgmentalism and inappropriate anger). That doesn’t mean that the road to spiritual healing will be easy. But it does mean that I don’t have to go down that road alone. I can ask for, and even expect, help. And with the wedge gone, it means that I can mean it when I say my chains are gone.
Thanks for listening, dear friends.