To be honest
“You’re so honest!” is what many said to Rosemary and me, following our interview
about suffering with Roger Carswell at the Emmanuel Mission last year. We, along with Alexander, our little boy with Down’s syndrome, have been regulars at the 11am service for 5 years, and have had opportunities to share our struggles with infertility, having a disabled child, and depression. “You’re so honest” recently got me thinking more deeply about honesty with God, with ourselves, and with each other.
In my worst times, I’ve sworn at God, told him exactly what I think of him and said things to him that I’m deeply ashamed of. Yet I’ve always had this feeling that when I meet him, God might say ‘at least you were honest with me’. And because Psalm 139:4 says, “Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely”, I’ve learned that it makes no sense to keep our deepest feelings from him. I trained as a Christian counsellor and when I was suicidal at the time Alexander was born, my supervisor said to me, ‘when you are the Father’s child, you can express anything to him – he knows anyway.’ And in a way, having that type of relationship with my heavenly Father eventually led to me not wanting to swear at him anymore.
As I hurtle through middle age, I continue to learn that I need to be honest with myself about my sin, and am always challenged by Psalm 51:3, where David says to God, “I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.” I don’t know about you; but I’m not sure that I always know my transgressions – I need to be honest and pray David’s prayer of Psalm 139:23–24 where he asks God to search his heart for sin and point it out. It feels like I’m so sinful that I can’t even see all my sin, let alone confess it.
What about honesty with each other as Christians, whether it is about our sin or our struggles? It occurred to me recently that having Alexander, who is highly visible and clearly disabled, maybe makes it easier for Rosemary and me to be honest, perhaps because others might expect us to struggle. Do we unwittingly just express honesty about ‘acceptable’ things? What about the unseen struggles? Maybe it’s depression, which, with my clinician’s hat on, I recently contended with small group leaders, is a real and devastating illness. Or perhaps it’s not feeling connected to God, or anger, or something else. Are these ‘less acceptable’ things to be honest about? If so, why is that, and is it a barrier to increasing honesty with our prayer partners and small group brothers and sisters?
“You’re so honest” suggests to me that honesty is valued at Emmanuel. So the question is how we might develop honesty. Here are a few questions that could be useful to ponder and to pray over:
Is there struggle or sin in your life that you’ve not told God about because it feels off-limits to him?
What do you think about David’s prayer in Psalm 139:23–24? Scary or possible?
What sort of prayer requests do you share with other Christians? Are they deep, superficial or somewhere in between? Who could you share more deeply with?
When asking each other ‘How are you?’, should we gently and lovingly challenge the ‘Fine thanks’ response that doesn’t match the body language?