What is it about the church community that makes us so tempted not to be honest with one another?
You know, not big kinds of dishonest, just the little kind; the kind that tricks you into thinking us inside the club are all a tad more sorted, and much less full of doubt and fear and insecurity than we really are.
For example, when someone asks you how you are, and you give them your best smile and trot out some well-worn platitude as if you weren’t up all night trying to settle a small child and haven’t been tiredly griping at your husband all morning as a result.
Or when somebody else asks you to pray for them/their poorly child/sick relative, and asks you that difficult question of: “Where is God in all of this?”, and everything in you wants to slump to the floor alongside them and say: “You know what, today, with all I’ve been through this week, I have absolutely no idea either.”
Or when you make up some plausible-sounding excuse not to go to a prayer meeting because of the fact that you’ve had a crap day and, quite frankly, you’d rather curl up on the sofa and watch Eastenders with a big bag of crisps.
And yes, it’s OK for a church leader to admit that.
The problem is, that even with the best of intentions, all those false impressions do exactly the opposite of what all of us inside this club that we call the Church intend to do by presenting them. Our hearts are good; we want to live up to the ideals presented to us in the Bible. We want to be as good as Jesus. We want the promises of scripture to be real in our lives. But sometimes, life intersects aspiration and for some reason, we have a problem admitting when we fall short of the mark. And mostly with each other.
And eventually what that does is replace real, authentic relationship with some kind of Stepford-wife-type-alter-reality, where we all live in a Christian version of The Truman Show and no one ever messes up, or gets angry, or lets anyone else down. And that perfection is stifling.
I’ll let you into a secret. Sometimes I just want real, honest conversation. From a real honest person, and not a version of what you think a Christian should sound like. And sometimes, the Church is the last place I’d think of looking for it.
Sometimes I just want the space to make mistakes and not always be perfect. I want to not have to feel like I must be at every meeting. I don’t want to have to wonder if I’m committed enough and if all this is really how we’re measuring spiritual growth now.
To be able to tell you that I lost my temper with the kids at dinner last night, that I can’t remember when we last managed to consistently read the Bible as a whole family, that sometimes getting out the door to church on a Sunday morning without yelling at each other feels like a small miracle in itself.
I don’t want banalities or cheap scripture quotes taken out of context and watered down to make me feel better. Or guilty. Or both. Sometimes I just want real.
You’d think that a group of people who take the Ten Commandments as one of the principle tenets of their faith would have a better grasp on being honest – both with themselves and with each other – but it seems that often, in the name of Leading By Example, or Encouraging One Another in Love, or numerous other worthy-but-sometimes-just-a-little-bit-trite Bible-based catchphrases, we throw the truth out right alongside the murky bathwater and choose instead to gloss over our own pain/failings/doubts/fears *insert your own personal struggle here* and present to each other only the best bits of what we think we should want to see and hear.
For me, that’s never going to be the answer. It doesn’t give me what I need from a community, and it doesn’t give anyone else outside the Church what they need either. Some unobtainable version of Christian perfection is not helpful to someone exploring faith. And always presenting our glossed best selves keeps our relationships inside the Church operating only at surface level; honesty requires vulnerability, and you can’t truly know someone with whom you can’t show vulnerability and who will not make themselves vulnerable with you. It’s what I love most about the threads community. Freedom to be honest, to discuss doubts and fears and failings in a space where others will admit their doubts and fears and failings too. It’s what makes us humans on a journey with an ever-loving, ever-graceful God. We never stop striving to be transformed from glory to glory, but we don’t have to pretend to be something we are not either.
Jesus never did, and nor should we.