I planned to get together with a new friend for coffee this morning. We were chatting on FB, and she offered to pick me up.
Sure, that would be great! I wrote back, and I gave her directions.
Then I had a horrified glance around my house.
Two drying racks of towels sat in the middle of the living room. A selection of dirty cups, a few spoons, and a plate full of toast crumbs graced the table. The carpet was covered with dog hair, cat hair, my hair, and little bits of paper. Every cupboard in my kitchen was open. And there was an accumulation of shoes and books and raincoats and DVDs and stuff everywhere.
And I panicked.
I can’t let her see I live this way! Maybe I can meet her outside by the letter box. Would that be weird? That would be weird. I wonder how much I can shove in a closet clean up in the ten minutes before she gets here?
Then she messaged me: I apologise in advance for my messy car.
And I stopped dead in my tracks with my arms full of empty cereal bowls and crumpled receipts.
Why was I so convinced I needed to offer up a clean house on her arrival?
What was I ashamed of?
What did I want to hide?
What impression did I want her to have?
That I’m so incredibly organised that my house is always clean, my family always fed, my washing always folded (and put away!) my bed always made?
That my life is so completely sorted that I have it altogether?
The short answer is yes.
Yes, I want everyone to be in awe of my housekeeping skills. Yes, I want everyone to think I have a perfect marriage and perfect children. Yes, I want everyone to think I keep my cool at all times whilst driving, especially at that intersection between the mall and the Bake House Café where you can turn right onto Tutanekai even though the light is red. What’s wrong with you people?!?
Where was I?
Yes, I want everyone to think I don’t possess any imperfections or shortcomings, and I’m sailing through life well-dressed, well-spoken with nary a hiccup, spot, or stain.
If you’re honest, you’ll say, me too!
And I’m tired of living up to that kind of expectation!
Can I get a collective yes and amen?
Then it occurred to me in a fresh and powerful way this morning how the need to present a perfect front can really rob the power of the witness Jesus Christ’s saving grace can be in my life.
The Biblical term for wanting to present a perfect front is hypocrite and comes from a Greek word connected with an actor. You’ve all seen the Greek drama masks, right? Well, when we pretend we’ve got everything sorted, we’re putting on a mask and hiding behind a persona.
The funny thing is, people can tell anyway! Oh, maybe we can pull off the deception for a little bit. But what’s that saying? You can fool some people some of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time?
Yeah. Nobody likes a hypocrite.
How much better is it when we show and tell someone the truth of what God’s doing in our lives? About the amazing way He’s rescued us from disastrous decisions and foolish choices?
I remember moving to New Zealand fourteen years ago and meeting two women who have become some of my best friends here. We were in that kinda awkward getting-to-know-each-other stage, and I really wanted to make a good impression on them.
We were out one evening, just the three of us, and instead of pretending I had everything together, to my shock and utter disbelief, I found myself telling them how, even though I’d been raised in a Christian home, I went off the rails in high school and college and drank heavily and experimented with drugs. How I wondered if God was even real. How I found myself unmarried and pregnant at twenty-one. How God grabbed a hold of me at that time, and told me He was never going to let me go.
Then I looked at both of them with their mouths open and shocked looks on their faces.
Uh oh. I’ve blown it now. I will never, ever be able to recover from this humiliation.
Finally one of them said what the other was thinking.
“Praise the Lord! Here I thought you were this perfect little pastor’s wife with a perfect little life. I’m so relieved to find out you’re normal. How refreshing!”
And I was amazed that the very struggles I’d gone through had ministered to both of them. They weren’t repulsed by my testimony, they were encouraged! They weren’t put-off, they were refreshed!
You see, the Bible says in Psalm 84
“Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.”
We’re on this journey to the heart of God, to His holy place, to eternity. And we pass through difficult seasons – some of them the result of our own folly. The temptation can be to hide those experiences. The Valley of Baka can also be translated ‘place of weeping,’ and sometimes we don’t want people to know about those times when we’ve blown it and are full of sorrow. But God wants to use our testimony.
So the next time you’re tempted to hide the messy life, don’t! Be bold! Be honest!
Open your mouth, your home, your life, and share!
I invited my friend inside, and she climbed over the plethora laptop cords to sit at my dining room table covered with rice and remote controls, and we talked about real things. About how good God is, and how He wants us to know Him more. About the amazing ways He’s brought us out of the pit and set our feet on the solid foundation that is Jesus Christ. About how a righteous person can stumble and fall, and yet God still will pick them up. Every. Single. Time.
There was ministry in the middle of the mess, and we’re both the stronger for it.