I am a hard person to love.
At my most broken moments I am either demonstrating the Classic Teenager Pout™ or swelling my facial features to an abnormal red puffiness. Hardly the picture of innocent brokenness in need of a hug and a kind word. It’s more likely to send everyone running, locking the door of my bedroom and not even daring to touch that turmoil-filled teenager.
My mother has seen almost every single one of my pouty faces (from three to thirteen and beyond—I perfected it) and has been in the room every time I’ve sobbed my heart out until it dribbles through my face-clasping fingers. And, bless her, she gets stuck when I’m evidently in the depths of despair and resolutely refusing to talk about it.
“I can’t help you if you don’t tell me,” she says to me (constantly).
And I am rehearsing in my head all the things I could say and how I could say those things that I could say. I try to clean up my act a bit—to tack on a smidgen of wisdom to my incoherent ramblings, to slam the gates on the torrent of tears, to rationalize my fears and explain away my sorrow. The bottom line is this:
Me, Bailey, commonly referred to as “wise beyond her years,” blubbering like any other ordinary sixteen-year-old about any other ordinary sixteen-year-old’s problem. I cannot face the fact that I can fall prey to crushes, to disobedience, to depression, to anger, to confusion. I cannot believe that I, so depended upon and looked up to and praised, am uncommonly common. That I am a sinner. That I fail.
In the full attention of the woman who loves me and knows me best—I am terrified of showing what she already knows. I swallow my tears until they are hiccups. I beat around the bush. I downplay fears to mere “I was thinking the other day about... .” All the time she knows so clearly what I am afraid of her knowing: that Bailey Bergmann is not, never was and will never be perfect.
To do that to my mother—hiding behind a façade of pretend (and leaking) perfection—is perfectly ridiculous. But I don’t stop there, with her.
I treat God the same way.
So many times I come to Him with problems and fears, sometimes quiet and introspective, others stormy and battered. I open my mouth to pour out my heart—and then I realize how black and ugly that heart is.
“Oh! I’m sorry that You had to see this. Here—let me clean it up a bit. Hold that thought. Let me fix that hole up—it’s so embarrassing—turn away just a moment, won’t You? All right. That’s a little better. Whoops—don’t look yet—it’s still coming undone—”
In His presence, I’m scrambling to pick up pieces of a broken heart, haphazardly gluing them back together, nervously glancing over my shoulder to make sure He doesn’t see the darkest parts of me, my worst sins. Then I sit back down to face Him, eyes downcast, looking at the shattered mess I slopped together with good works and false piety.
I never end up telling Him anything. And I never end up getting anything fixed.
I don’t outright tell Him my feelings: “No way does my infinite God care about the fact that I, professed drama queen, am again upset over so-and-so. I can’t let Him know that I am silly and unwise.”
I don’t outright tell Him the whole story: “Well, remember back when this happened?” [dead silence as I ponder all my mistakes and forget that I’m sharing it with God]
I don’t outright tell Him my sins: “I’ll just say I’m sorry—because I am sorry. He’d be so upset with me if He know I committed something as immature and uninteresting as the sin I just did. I’ll cry to Him and I’ll beg forgiveness and—well, after all, He knows everything. Maybe if I try to tell Him that I know it’s wrong and that I’ll never do it again and—that sounds good. Then I can confess it without Him every knowing exactly what I did.”
There are many reasons we hide the obvious from God. We sugarcoat our sin because we’re too proud to admit we’re wrong—we add reasons and excuses to make it look like an intellectual oopsie instead of a blatant sin. That’s pride. Or we plain don’t want to repent—so we put on a puppy-face, wet our eyes and “pour out our hearts”—all without really confessing anything. Then, with a (slightly) clear conscience, we go back to doing the sin we (somewhat) confessed because we never really identified it for what it is.
Or we just don’t understand the richness of His grace. We’re still stuck in this false idea of what salvation did for us. It did not—as our reluctance betrays our belief—merely “enable” us to do good—or else. Christ’s atonement justified us. It’s finished. We can come, with all our stupidity, immaturity and out-and-out humanity to the cross of Christ—and we can come knowing that we will be heard with grace and, yes, loving discipline.
This pretend openness—this showing off our understanding of God’s law and our attempt to follow it to the letter—this false repentance—this terrorized fearfulness—it is not intimacy with Christ. It’s the exact opposite.
My mother cannot enter my heart if I continue to hide it with pretenses, excuses and dressed-up truths covering hurts and sins and fears. She cannot help me. She cannot know me. The problem remains there—and now it is a barrier to our relationship, plunging me farther from grace. It’s true with God, too.
When we try to put our best foot forward when our entire being is corrupt and in need of sanctification, we are lying to God and ourselves and preventing healing. It hurts. It’s lonely. Have you ever felt that? It’s ten thousand times worse than telling the truth in the first place, feeling shame and moving on in repentance. It shuts us off from love and help. It creates a cavern in our heart where God cannot enter, cannot know, cannot fix.
That automatically spells D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R for a Christian.
True openness looks like this:
“Once we are intimate with Jesus we are never lonely and we never lack for understanding or compassion. We continually pour out our hearts to Him without being perceived as overly emotional or pitiful.” – Oswald Chambers
Or as the writer of Hebrews put it:
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”