“Write hard and clear about what hurts.” Ernest Hemmingway
The best fiction is filled with truth. The people may not be real. The scenarios may not be real. But there is honesty in the story’s portrayal of the emotional journey, the path of growth for those made up characters that speaks to the reader. It doesn’t happen in all fictional stories, but it does happen in the best. It takes place when the writer’s story proceeds from a place of complete honesty, and that takes place when writers are completely honest with themselves.
I heard a conference presenter speak one time about the need for the writer to be emotionally healthy. She said when the writer is able to draw from the pains and joys they’ve experienced, they can create scenes with more depth and realism allowing the readers to really feel what the characters go through. She cautioned writers to make sure all the junk from the past was dealt with in healthy ways and fully. Without proper handling of the past, trying to draw out the emotions from those events can be harmful to the author. With it, the author can remember the thoughts and feelings with clarity and use them to create characters that go beyond being caricatures.
To deal with their characters’ pain, the author draws from their own. It’s not too far removed from the actor that uses experiences from their past to draw out the emotions they need for their current scene. It’s one way an author writes what they know, and the author that accomplishes it creates stories that will resonate with the readers.
Thinking about it, maybe that’s one of the issues the church has had in recent years. There are exceptions, but overall, we’ve decided it’s better to put on a good face so the world can see how much better it is on the other side. When we ignore our hurts and preach a gospel that says the true believer will know only health and wealth, we create a grossly exaggerated picture of what a life of faith looks like. People try out this genie-in-a-bottle style faith, and when it doesn’t work for them, they fall away.
On the other side, we have those who embrace their own spiritual unhealthiness. They take such a laissez faire attitude towards their sinfulness that it becomes unimportant. The idea starts off well with the belief that we all sin and we should acknowledge our sin. But rather than being broken by our sin and dropped to our knees in repentance, we say, “Oh well, God forgives. There’s no need to purge it from my life.” We proudly announce our sin like the shaming signs we put over the neck of our pet cat when it eats the family goldfish. It becomes our twisted badge of honor. “See, I’m a real person, just like you.” This caricature goes to the other side of the spectrum and leave others saying, “I don’t need their God, because they are no different than me.”
It’s time for us to deal with our sins in a healthy way. We will sin. And when we do, it should break our hearts knowing it strains our relationship with our Father. It should bring us to the place of repentance. Yes, we may continue to struggle with that particular sin, but each time, we bring our failure to God and each time He will forgive. Our sin will not be something to be proud of. It will be something to learn from.
It’s time for us to deal with our struggles with honesty. Maybe you’ve never bought into the idea that the Christian life is all roses and sunshine. Great. But have you ever perpetuated the myth even in a small way by refusing to be real with others? How many times have we heard the jokes about family members biting each others’ heads off all the way to church only to get out of the car and greet others with a giant smile and an “I’m so blessed. How about you?” attitude? We put on our church face and pretend we’re fine when we’re breaking inside. We have to look like we have it all together or maybe the brother across the aisle will think we’re less Christian than he is.
I’m not saying everyone needs to know every sin or every struggle we face, but there is a level of vulnerability the church seems to lack these days. We’re supposed to share one another’s joys and pains. We’re great about announcing our blessings, but our pains hit a little too close to home. What if someone judges us because of them? What if my struggle is so much worse than everyone else’s struggles? What if I really am alone in this? Rather than face that possibility, we put on our happy church goer mask that isn’t marred by the pain of sin or struggle.
How much more powerful would our witness be if we were to humbly deal with and acknowledge sin in our lives and point to the One who is helping us overcome? How much more strength would we find through the support of others if we were honest about our struggles? And how much more open would those in the world be to embracing faith if we erased the caricatures and went forward with a true portrait of faith that included the depths of pains or disappointments we faced before God brought us out of it into our joys?
By the Book: Have you been real with others in your faith or have you become a caricature? Have you been real with yourself in your faith?