There comes a moment in every relationship where secrets begin to bubble up. At this moment, you have a choice to make – either you tell the secrets, baring your soul and hoping for the best or you shove them back down and never breathe a word because they’re shameful and not something that’s discussed with other people.
There comes a moment in the church where we are invited, as the body of Christ, to open up and be extremely real with each other. We are called to live life together, to build relationships. We are commanded to confess to one another. We are supposed to hold one another up and bear one another’s burdens.
In this, comes that moment of secrets. We are family. We are all one body. We are supposed to be open, honest, confessional, and forgiving. With this family, we are supposed to be choosing tell the secrets. We are supposed to be willing to bare our souls and take a leap, knowing that our family will catch us.
Instead, we are terrified. Every time we meet, we pull on our mask of perfection, hiding the pain, anger, and sin because it’s not something we admit to. It’s not something we talk about.
We don’t want anyone the know because it’s shameful, and we look at all the seemingly perfect relationships around us and shudder to think how they’ll judge us.
We don’t want anyone the know because it’s shameful, and we remember the advice we’ve often been given – “Just get your life right with Christ. You’re not trusting Him enough.”
We don’t want anyone the know because it’s shameful, and we try to keep it tucked away when we’re with the church and hope no one looks too hard and sees it.
Lack of knowledge?
We don’t want anyone the know because it’s shameful, and we nod and smile because we’re afraid of what people would think if they knew we didn’t know all the Bible stories or big theological words.
Miscarriage? Trouble getting pregnant?
We don’t want anyone the know because it’s shameful, and we look at all the kids wandering around and hope that no one thinks something is wrong with us, that God is punishing us or telling us that we’re not supposed to have kids.
Problems with your kids?
We don’t want anyone the know because it’s shameful, and we never talk about those because we think it means we’ve failed as parents.
We don’t want anyone to know because it’s shameful, and it might be our fault and, and we don’t want people to think of us like that.
We don’t want anyone to know because it’s shameful, and as a Christian, we’re supposed to be nice to everyone and not struggle with having kind words to share.
We don’t want anyone to know because it’s shameful, and maybe that somehow means that we’re not close enough to God.
We are so caught up in the shame that comes with opening wide our chests and letting people look into our hearts. We are terrified of changing people’s perceptions of us. We don’t want anyone to know that we don’t have it all together.
I’ve been reading a lot of articles lately about the culture of shame that permeates throughout the church. It is a stench that fills us whenever we gather. It reminds us to stay hidden because people just might not understand. It reminds us to pull on our masks and tuck our sins away so no one else sees them – not the church and not the world.
It’s a vicious cycle, really.
We think we have to show a perfect face to the world so they know we’re Christians and that we’ve got our life together because, if they know we sin, obviously our life hasn’t changed and God really isn’t worth anything. So when someone looks within the church and sees all the perfect masks, they think they have to be perfect to be a part of the church.
It goes around and around and around, encouraging more and more people to pull on masks in the name of Christianity. It fosters an environment of lies, discontent, and, more than anything, shame. Putting on a mask also doesn’t deal with a problem; it just covers it up and keeps it there festering.
Taking a mask off is a terrifying thing. Our churches traditionally aren’t very accepting of a lot of things. A lot of people who have their mask stripped off eventually end up leaving the church because they find themselves suddenly no longer welcome. “You’re not the person we thought you were.”
Even if it’s a really good church that recognizes that we are still sinners and still make mistakes, we never admit those mistakes to one another, so there is a huge amount of fear that comes with being real. “Will they still like me? Will I still be good enough?”
Somehow, the main question I always hear is, “Will God still love me?”
Darling, you cannot hide from the God we serve. He already knows what’s behind the mask, and He loves you anyway.
Christ died, not to remove sin from our life, but to pay the consequences for our sin. Yes, we fight a daily battle to align our will with His. Because we have died to ourselves and taken up His cross, we don’t want to sin, but we still do because we’re human and, as much as we love God and want to align ourselves with Him, our hearts don’t always get the memo and want destructive things.
This is a hard enough fight without having to maintain a mask at the same time. Just put it down.
“But we have to be different!” I’m told. “How will the world know we’re any different from them if we struggle with the same sins?”
The difference between Christians and non-Christians is not that we somehow struggle with fewer sins. It’s not that we have our life more together. It’s not that we are happy all the time or sinless.
The difference is that we have hope. In the midst of our broken, sinful lives, we cling tightly to the hope that this pain is not forever. These sins do not have to define us. These things that we struggle with are not greater than the God we serve.
We are sinful people in the hands of a merciful God. And how He loves us. His grace swallows us whole. There is no shame when we rest in Him. His strength sustains us. He is always ready to pick us up, brush us off, heal our wounds, and hold our hand as we sally forth into the fray again.
Maybe it’s time we the church start acting a little bit more like that.