Several months ago, I was trying to make a decision about whether to attend a family function or not. I discussed it with my counselor, and she encouraged me to ask myself the question if I went would I have anything to prove or protect?
It was a question I had to think about for a long time. Ultimately, I decided not to go to the gathering, because I knew if I did I’d feel the pressure to prove that I was not the same woman that I used to be. I’d also be careful to protect myself by not saying or doing anything that could bring me further harm. In the end, it was just better for me to stay at home and spare myself the painful stress.
I wish I didn’t care so much about what others think about me. I wish I didn’t want to prove that I’m not the same person that I was. I wish I didn’t feel the need to protect myself from further judgment, but I do.
That’s what happens to most of us when we’ve tried so hard to impress others by wearing a mask and our mask gets knocked off.
The shame of having my worst sins exposed never seems to go away.
The humiliation of knowing that people talk about me as a woman who cheated on her husband with the former pastor makes me feel sick with shame.
The reality of the pain and disillusionment my sins brought to my family, my children, and friends is sometimes almost more than I can bear.
I cling to and take great comfort in knowing that because of Jesus I don’t have anything to prove to God. He is my righteousness. He has forgiven my sins and washed and made me clean.
He also knows the truth about the abuse that occurred. (If you have suffered from spiritual abuse, rest assured He knows your pain, too.)
I am relieved that the pressure is off with God to protect myself from being judged. He isn’t watching and waiting for me to mess up. Because of Jesus, I have nothing to protect because He took the penalty of all my sins and will not condemn me. I am His child and that will never change.
Jesus knows everything and still loves me.
However, people are not so forgiving. I tell myself it should not matter what other people think, but is that really true? Of course it matters, because God created us for connection.
The sad truth is we all want to belong, but many of us do it by trying to be what we think others want us to be rather than being honest about who we really are.
We cover things up to prove and protect ourselves.
It’s one of the biggest problems that I’ve seen in the church, and also one of the main pressures that led me deeper into sin.
I’ve been reading the book Undefended by Pastor Daniel Bush. In the book, he talks about the three monkeys that illustrate the message see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil. He says:
Mizaru, Kikazaru, and Iwazaru will attest: Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil, is the way to live in the world. The Japanese proverb intends to encourage the heart to focus on doing good and not evil— to be of good mind, speech, and action, to rein yourself in, exercise self-control, and maintain propriety in all things.
The meaning has been lost in translation. In the West the mystic monkeys are understood as communicating that we can be good by ignoring the bad.
I relate so well to his analogy, because I have done it so much in my own life. I do not want to acknowledge how messed up I really am. I’d rather do like the monkeys and cover up my eyes, ears, and mouth. But the problem is when you’ve been exposed like me you can’t hide anymore, and my mask is just too shattered to put it back together again. But oh how I have tried.
I have also come to realize the presence of this tendency in other people’s lives. It was especially evident when I confessed my sin and other leaders in the church worked so hard to make it more palatable for others to hear. The truth that spiritual abuse had occurred was not something they wanted the church to hear. Now that time has passed I think I’m beginning to understand why they covered it up.
None of us really want to acknowledge how messed up we really are. It’s in our human DNA to prove and protect ourselves.
But the protection we think we have, the shiny masks we wear, are really walls that we build between ourselves, a thick massive structure that divide and keep us from the true connections God intended for us to have. And when we aren’t connected we become desperate for relief and we become susceptible to the very sins that we try so hard to deny that are there. I know because it happened to me.
It’s crucial that the church address the problem of spiritual abuse, because I think that abuse of adults and children in the church is an outward evidence of a serious internal problem in the church. It’s not just about the predators and the victims. It’s also not about shifting the blame to pastors and shirking responsibility for victims.
It’s about our tendency in the church to deny the evil that is in our hearts and pretend that it is not there.
It’s clear to me that it’s a problem, because when evil is exposed so many in the church don’t know what to do. Churches have a history of moving abusers around, covering up sins with quick forgiveness, and minimizing the seriousness of the evil that has occurred.
But if you’ve ever had someone truly hurt you, you know that the relationship cannot ever be the same until there has been an acknowledgement of all the damage that has occurred. My former pastor’s superficial apology to my husband in a letter did more harm than good.
We can call ourselves imperfect humans all day long, but until we truly own the pain we caused another, the relationship will never be restored.
Do we really think that God wants us to raise the rug and sweep our evil deeds under it just so everyone can stay comfortable and thinking they are fine? Do we really think that pretending that we are better than we are is going to earn us what we really want?
We cannot accomplish good by ignoring the bad.
I don’t have anything to prove, because my life and my choices have proven that I’ve messed up.
I don’t have anything to protect. The reputation that I could hold it all together and be strong has been proven to be a sham.
But what could have happened if I’d have gone to my former church looking for help and found a room full of people who were honest about their own messiness? What if I’d found a pastor who did not feel the need to hide his own sin?
Everything would have been different.
Sin and brokenness are evident all around me every time I turn on the news or scroll through social media. We are informed 24 hours a day about how messed up and evil our world can be. How is it we can look in the mirrors and pretend that we are fine?
We are not fine. We desperately need help.
… all have sinned and continually fall short of the glory of God…
I love that Steve Brown regularly reminds his listeners to kiss their demons on the lips. They are there and we might as well face them, but the truth is it’s almost impossible to do it alone. We need each other with the masks and walls that divide us removed.
We need to acknowledge our own brokenness and find relief through Christ’s forgiveness, so that we can truly offer the same acknowledgement of our sins and forgiveness to one another.
We don’t have anything to prove or protect.
We only have His grace and forgiveness through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and that is everything. And He has called us to live it out together.
Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord . Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.