Having accepted Jesus into my life as a small child, I grew up in a church environment that exerted tremendous social pressure to look and behave in certain ways or risk the contempt and disgust of the larger group. In practical terms, though no one would admit it, this meant that “cleaning the outside of the cup” was our first priority. We were motivated by fear and shame as much as we were motivated by any sincere desire to be good Christians. So living a double life was by no means unusual. There was the “church me” that I carefully preserved for everyone to see, and there was the “real me” that only I knew about.
Unfortunately, the real me could never find help. Although I was scared and depressed as a teenager, I had no one I could talk to. Because if I had revealed the dark side of my life to anyone in the church, I would immediately have been marginalized. Chances are I would have been asked to resign as the president of the youth group and to stop preaching at the local rest home on Sundays. That was too much for me to lose, since the affirmations I got at church were the only things that kept me going. But I got so good at living two lives, I began to believe it was possible to do so.
Eventually this all caught up with me. Since I had no other counsel or recourse for my distress, I made a great many life choices out of desperation. Over time these efforts at coping cost me dearly, and by the age of 34 I was lying on the floor of my trailer in the woods wondering why my life was a complete shambles.
I often wonder how my life would have been different if I had been raised in an atmosphere of grace, where my shame and my flaws would have been accepted with care and love and consideration. What if I could have been honest about who I was and the my overwhelming feelings of drowning in despair? What if I had believed someone would listen to me without condemnation or an exhortation to “get over it”? I might have been helped at 18 instead of waiting until a mid life crisis left me without any other alternatives. Why do we have to crash and burn and have our facade ripped off to where we can no longer protect our image before we can find acceptance — and then only among others who, like us, can no longer hide?
Wouldn’t it make more sense to stop the game before we crash? Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to get help before the problems get so big they nearly destroy us? Wouldn’t it be great if we could allow our leaders to be human, too? To watch them model for us what it means to work through problems rather than to have to look like they do not have problems? We need to stop preaching contempt for the flaws we all possess as if keeping them under wraps makes us better people, and begin preaching grace and compassion for being human — along with training in how to invite God into those dark places so that He can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Maybe then we could be honest with ourselves and others, and to get the kind of help that actually helps.