I am crazy honest with God. Like putting-it-all-out-there, no-holding-back, totally ugly, vulnerable honesty. I’m not super-spiritual or gifted or more tight with Holy God than anyone else. As is often my path, I’ve learned to be honest the hard way.
I grew up in a faith-rich environment. My parents modelled what it meant to love Jesus and others every single day. I was surrounded by stories of God’s faithfulness, exposure to real-life miracles, daily worship and prayer. But I’m the oldest kid in my family—which means that I was the guinea pig child and the ground breaker for the rest of my siblings. And I’m also a pastor’s kid. This means I spent a lot of time in church. On display. Behaving. Or, at least, trying to.
The problem is, I’ve always been a little spicy. And I’ve always found humour in inappropriate things. True story: I missed watching Disney on Sunday nights more often than not as a consequence for my uncontrollable laughter during the very operatic “special music” in morning services. Or for snickering hysterically with my siblings because one of us had moved in such a way on the wooden pew as to create a ‘fart’ noise (though we certainly wouldn’t have used that word). We wore ‘church clothes’ to church. We were quiet and patient. And we certainly didn’t steal styrofoam balls from the kids’ church craft room. Oh, wait…
Though unintentional, it was reinforced for me early on, as I’m sure it was for many of you (raised in church or not) that there were a different set of behaviours and expectations for church (and therefore God) than elsewhere. It seemed that God liked tidy. God liked compliance. God liked quiet. God liked blind obedience. God liked nice.
It was a total set up for leading a double life, because nothing heaps on more shame than trying to be something you are not. I was a nice kid, but I was not those things. I really, truly loved God, but I felt like a fraud. I didn’t fit the mould…unless, of course, the mould was the preacher’s daughter in the movie “Footloose.”
Even with a rich spiritual foundation, my teenage years were difficult. I knew I loved Jesus, but as an obsessive thinker, I had a lot of questions about what I was experiencing in the world, as compared to what I’d learned. It was a time of trying to navigate what I believed versus what my parents believed. Trying to stand on my own two feet spiritually. I wrestled and questioned and sifted everything. I partied hard, and I continued to talk to God about all of it.
Sunday mornings were angst-filled for me. Worship has always undone me. As I would stand there, allowing the songs to wash over me, I would be repulsed and ashamed of myself for the ways I’d screwed up once again. In my mind, I would picture myself grovelling and apologizing, face-down on the ground before God’s throne, the tension between my two selves tearing me apart.
When I was nineteen years old, I had a moment of epiphany that forever changed me. During one of my grovelling-at-God’s-feet sessions, begging for forgiveness for all my wrongs, I heard my Father’s voice. He said “Ellen, I’m up here!” As I looked up, I saw him reaching his hands for me, like a parent picking up a small child. He gathered me up and pulled me onto his lap and held me.
After years of living shame-ridden—of feeling like I was straddling two worlds and that my life was incongruent—I felt whole. And forever since, this is where I picture myself: on my Father God’s lap. Completely wanted. Completely safe. Completely loved. He is NOT a harsh critic who rubs our noses in our accidents. He is a loving Father who longs to hold us.
I’d spent so much time face down in constant shame and grovelling that I didn’t even know him. I’d never given him the time to truly tell me who I was or what he thought of me. I’d never seen the loving look of acceptance in his eyes.
A double life—living in constant fear of being found out—is angst-filled and exhausting. And absolutely NOT what God intended for us. So I quit living a double life. I wanted to be real…to be fully who I was no matter where I was or who I was with. Regardless of expectation or location, whether at church, school, work, with strangers or with friends.
I felt whole and united and fully myself. The relief was palpable. In Psalm 32, David describes it like this:
Count yourself lucky, how happy you must be—
you get a fresh start,
your slate’s wiped clean.
Count yourself lucky—
God holds nothing against you
and you’re holding nothing back from him.
When I kept it all inside,
my bones turned to powder,
my words became daylong groans.
The pressure never let up;
all the juices of my life dried up.
Then I let it all out;
I said, “I’ll make a clean breast of my failures to God.”
Suddenly the pressure was gone—
my guilt dissolved,
my sin disappeared.”
(Ps. 32 1-5 The Message)
I won’t lie. There were certainly ramifications. As it turns out, many people prefer tidy, compliant, quiet, obedient and nice. And the thing is, healthy doesn’t always look “nice.” I would often picture myself like an organic banana, free from chemicals and pesticides. I may not have looked as pristine and blemish-free as the pretty, yellow bananas—I was slightly banged up and covered with black spots—but I was delicious and so much healthier!
Once unified, I stopped pandering to expected rules, which looked like talking openly with anyone and everyone or offering to pray for friends regardless of where we were—the university cafeteria or the Irish pub where I worked part-time. It also meant that I voiced opinions and ideas at church that I’d previously kept to myself (and that some likely wished I would have continued keeping to myself). Church people thought I’d gone “off the rails” and some of my friends thought I’d become “super churchy.” But, I didn’t care. I’d never felt more loved.
Perfect doesn’t exist; it’s false and forever elusive. And thank God, God isn’t looking for perfect people. Look at who he loved and deemed worthy of mention in the Bible: Adam, Eve, David, Jonah, the Disciples, Paul. None of these folks had it all together. But they had humility and contrition in common. Their hearts were for God. They went to him with their crap and connected with him at that raw level; honest and broken. It’s what allowed them to experience his love in a real way.
It’s the difference between knowing God loves you in your head and really feeling it and experiencing it at a visceral level.
And when we live LOVED, we can love ourselves and love others. As human beings, we long to be known for who we are and yet, we are so easily repulsed and offended by messy. But true intimacy hinges being completely real—we can’t have healthy relationship without it…with one another or with God.
Raw honesty with God allows us to know immense security, deep down in our foundations. When we understand that he wants us to be who he created us to be, with all of our emotions, eccentricities, quirks and yeah, even the occasional screwup that comes with having free will, we can begin to live fully.
We spend so much time and energy endeavouring to seem put together and presentable before God when he’s the one who knows us the best. He created us, he knows us, he loves us—every single part. No need for feigning. He knows it all anyway!
So, go ahead. Get honest with God. Ask him your questions. Pour out your feelings. Tell him what you really think. He loves your honesty. He loves you.