Saturday, March 29, 2008

Nothing to Hide

My freshman year of college, I lived in a room at the end of the hall on the third floor of the dorm. I loved our little suite with its own bathroom. My three roommates and I had some great times getting to know one another and hanging out with friends (oh, and studying, of course).

One Sunday morning, well into our second semester, I was leaving my room to head to church, and found myself face-to-face with a young woman I didn't know. She was coming from the room across the hall and greeted me with, "Good morning, Julie." I politely smiled and wished her a good morning, wondering who in the world she was. We were allowed to have overnight guests, so it wasn't uncommon to see an unfamiliar face in the building, but I had no idea how she knew my name.

I walked to the stairwell, descended to the ground floor and was out the front door when I finally realized who it was - the girl who had lived in that room since we'd moved in back in August! She wasn't wearing any make-up, so I hadn't recognized her. Clearly, she regularly allowed her make-up to cover her face in such a way that it was hiding or disguising her natural features.

I've never forgotten that morning, and I've often wondered if that's not how we live our lives as believers in the body of Christ. Sometimes we wear so much "make-up" on our emotions and spiritual conditions that no one would recognize us if we showed the natural truth of ourselves in raw simplicity.

Now, this may seem contradictory to what I wrote a couple of days ago about not letting people see more than they need, too, but there must be a balance between what we "expose" and what we don't.

I think James 5:13-16 offers the most practical wisdom for striking this balance. He says to share our troubles, joys, sicknesses (not literally, of course!) and sins with one another, for the purpose of prayer, and that to do so is powerfully effective. But he never says that a venting tirade should reasonably accompany those things we share. In fact, Paul wrote that we are to "do what leads to ... mutual edification" (Romans 14:19). We are instructed in Ephesians 4:19 to be sure that what we say, truthful as it may be, is spoken in love. Usually this passage is used in the context of correcting a fellow believer, but it can also apply to how we talk about the things that frustrate, disappoint or anger us. 

This is a two-fold situation, though. Sharing in transparency and honesty must be received in a spirit of love and acceptance, not shocked disapproval. Romans 5:17 says that we are to "accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted [us]" (in imperfect, sinful states, according to Romans 5:8). Too often, those of us who have walked with Christ for a long period of time develop the "holier than thou" syndrome that drives away hurting, struggling and wounded believers. Not because we intentionally bash their open honesty or confession, but because we make it clear that we'd never "make choices like those" or "struggle with a lack of faith like that".

Yet, when we do find ourselves in those periods of difficulty, we usually keep them hidden as best we can. But when we keep them hidden, we deny someone else the privilege of blessing us. Even more grievous is the possibility that someone with the spiritual gift of encouragement is denied the opportunity to exercise it! 

By sharing and receiving in honesty and love, we take steps toward building up the body of Christ, and as I mentioned the other day, his Kingdom is what we should be seeking first anyway.

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