As a Christian I struggle with telling the truth almost every day. What I mean is that I have some very strong, very real beliefs that I have a hard time being honest about.
Talking with my good missionary friend, Diana* last week, the dilemma came up. We sat for hours over lukewarm coffee and almond croissants with autumn’s first cloudy, blustery day thrashing cold raindrops against the bakery window. We talked about how this dilemma between the secular and the sacred is a very real one – one that we think about every day. It comes up at English class, in my writing, in her work with charities, in talking to friends, and in the decisions I have to make about what angle a news story should take. Where is the boundary in each of these situations? Where is it okay to talk about what we believe, and where is it inappropriate?
On the one hand, we’re afraid of sounding like judgmental, hypocritical jerks. On the other hand, though, we’re afraid of not being honest – of lying and being less than ourselves – not standing up for what we believe when it’s important.
I think these are both very real fears. It’s all too easy to veer into being obnoxiously judgmental on one side and a falsely open-minded weeny on the other. My track record certainly shows that I’ve blown it both ways. Looking back at myself in high school and college, I cringe at the way I would lay into professors, other students, and even fellow bus commuters who were atheists or evolutionists, or simply a little unsure about what they believed. It was like some kind of mean-spirited game – all about the competition. I was wearing an aggressive mask, pretending to be holier and smarter than I was. I hid behind dogmatic, Sunday School answers and arguments. I felt like it was “Us vs. Them”. I didn’t listen. I didn’t respect, and when it comes down to it, I wasn’t really honest either.
On the other hand, there have been moments when I’ve hidden the truth that I believe just so that I wouldn’t risk someone’s disapproval. I’ve tried to make myself look open and accepting. I’ve tried to dress up what I believe in to make it look more palatable; cooler; less judgmental. Ultimately, I was lying, and hiding the truth.
Neither of these behaviors seem admirable to me.
The thing is that, in both of these situations, I was not being entirely truthful. Wearing an aggressive, argumentative mask, I wasn’t being honest. I was afraid to be vulnerable; afraid to admit that I didn’t know all the answers. On the other hand, when I tried to be more tolerant and accepting, I was being just as condescending and disrespectful to the people around me. I was lying to them out of the fear of their disapproval. I wasn’t giving them the benefit of the doubt, and I certainly wasn’t being honest.
I think the answer to my dilemma is honesty. I need to tell the truth.
Thankfully, I am in good company when it comes to being open, vulnerable and honest. Taking a step back from all my fears, from all the scary stands on this issue, I find real wisdom. When I take a close look at the Person who is supposed to be my example, I find the most glowing example of every-day raw, vulnerable, loving, compassionate, and wise honesty. Jesus, I find, is fantastic at telling the truth. He doesn’t wear a know-it-all mask. He doesn’t slam people with accusations. He also doesn’t back down from what is real, and true. He just is. Clear. Honest. Loving. Real. Vulnerable. Humble.
This is the way I want to be. I want to tell the truth. I think people respect the truth. I certainly do – I find it really refreshing when someone else is vulnerable with me.
- They are interested in me.
- They really listen to my point of view.
- They don’t bend like a pussywillow to agree with me, but humbly, honestly tell me what they really think.
- They don’t pressure me to cave to their wills like they’ve got some girl scout crusade to collect brownie-point converts.
- They don’t live in a silly, prideful “Us vs. Them” world. They realize that, actually, it really is all “Us”.
- They actually care about me, not just their own agenda.
- They’re not defensive.
Come to think of it, I think we’re all a little desperate for this kind of raw, honest, vulnerable truth. It’s kind of a rush to hear what someone really thinks.
Being that kind of honest is hard to do, I think, but also kind of fun. It’s a challenge to be completely honest with people – to admit that you sometimes don’t know what you’re talking about, and that sometimes you have doubts about the things you believe. Also, it’s tricky to move past the repetitive, meaningless dogma that people (like me!) raised in the church parrot. It takes a lot of courage to risk being judged.
In the end, though, I think it’s really fun to listen, to learn from other people. And it’s much easier to make friends when you respect (while not necessarily agreeing with!) their point of view. Not to mention that it’s amazingly invigorating to open up and tell the truth. Kind of like a really amazing rock concert.
Telling the truth is essential to being a good writer. A journalist’s job is to seek out and tell the truth. Looks like personally, relationally and professionally I’ve got my work cut out for me!
*not her real name