“Christian heroism, and indeed one perhaps sees little enough of that, is to risk unreservedly being oneself, an individual human being, this specific individual human being alone before God…”
–Soren Kierkegaard, “The Sickness unto Death”
Many of us grew up in homes in which we were not allowed to discuss how we felt. And perhaps we were even punished for feeling angry and praised for feeling happy. Over time, we learn, whether explicitly or implicitly, that it is simply not okay, not safe to express ourselves fully, messy emotions and all. This is not to shame our parents and upbringings. The case is generally that our parents grew up in similar environments.
Christian culture often serves to reinforce these unspoken rules. Being joyful means we’re doing well. “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” Countless times have I heard from individuals struggling with depression that they felt if they couldn’t improve through prayer, scripture reading, or worshiping God, there must be something wrong with them.
But I’m wondering, how do we ever hope to experience healing and transformation if we cannot be honest, because we’re afraid that “something is wrong with us?” How can we experience real intimacy with the Divine and with others if we put up a façade?
I’ve been reflecting upon Jesus’s exchanges with people in the New Testament and have been struck by rawness, intimacy, and vulnerability I had previously overlooked. The religious scholars and Pharisees brought Jesus a woman caught in adultery, ready to stone her according to the Law of Moses. But Jesus responds by exposing the reality of their very own transgression! And then, Jesus treats her differently. The intimacy here cannot be missed. Jesus meets her in her vulnerability. She stands all alone, ready to be stoned by the “religious elite,” when God-in-flesh says, “neither do I condemn you.”
Jesus dines at the home of a Pharisee when a “sinful” woman comes in and begins to cry at his feet, washing them with her hair and tears, pouring perfume on them. The Pharisees were disgusted. Jesus speaks up saying, “Do you see this woman? I came to your home; you provided no water for my feet, but she rained tears on my feet and dried them with her hair. You gave me no greeting, but from the time I arrived she hasn’t quit kissing my feet. You provided nothing for freshening up, but she has soothed my feet with perfume. Impressive, isn’t it? She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal (Luke 7:43-47, MSG).” Is Jesus saying that the Pharisees are actually “holier than thou,” in need of less forgiveness, and therefore less able to love him? I don’t think so! But their thinking so might be their most self-destructive transgression! Rather, it seems Jesus is exposing their reality. I believe he’s calling them out by saying, “just look at this woman’s beautiful vulnerability with me…you can have this life-giving intimacy, too…come out from behind your protective religious coverings!”
So why do we continue to hide? Why do we avoid our emotions and hide our brokenness? I can tell you why I do. It is because I am afraid. I am afraid of losing control. Control of myself and the illusion of controlling how others perceive me. I’m afraid others might judge, hurt, or misunderstand me. But I’m also afraid to let others feel. I don’t want them to be sad or angry or in pain, because I don’t want to feel uncomfortable. I want things to be easier. But if this vulnerability and honesty is a part of being fully human and truly living and knowing God, then I think I want that more.
Chewing on these stories has me convinced that real heart transformation that leads to wholeness and holiness comes through intimacy with God and others. It seems that in a posture of humility when we lose the facades, that is when intimacy, and likewise forgiveness, may be experienced and take effect.
God, Show us those particular people in the world at whom we would rather throw stones than love and connect with. Humble us, God, that we might allow our reality to be exposed before ourselves and you, so that we might experience the healing power of real forgiveness and intimacy. Bring safe people into our lives that will love us in our mess, rather than condemn us. And make us that kind of people unto others, in Jesus name.