I was on a mentor panel last weekend, representing homemakers at a Christian retreat for graduate students in and around Boston. I shared some of the joys and hardships of staying home in order to homeschool our two sons and raise our high-school-age daughter. The feedback from the panel came in two forms. The first can best be described as gratefulness.
One woman came up to me after the panel with tears in her eyes, thanking me for admitting that marriage and family life can be hard. ”Your parents have a perfect marriage?” I asked.
“No, it’s terrible. But everything I’ve ever heard in church is that if you love God, you’ll have a great family. I thought there was something wrong with us.”
“There is something wrong with you. It’s just that you’re not alone.”
Dozens of people came up to thank me for saying that staying at home was an option for highly educated women, for saying that staying home was rewarding, for saying that staying home can be painful and exasperating, for saying that it can expose your sinful pride in ways little else can, and for saying that in it all, Jesus will show up and love you. You will not be alone.
But several people were quite disturbed. Someone told Jeff after the panel that it seemed as if I had given up everything up to stay at home and now I was miserable. One person wrote afterward that she was “very uncomfortable with the level of honesty and personal sharing at the mentor panel.” She wanted to hear from someone with a “successful career and marriage.”
Some part of these two reactions, no doubt, is age. Young people, people in graduate school at Harvard, may still believe that they can have it all and nothing will suffer. They still believe that the promise of faith is health and happiness. Or if they themselves are not healthy and happy, they believe they are the only ones because so many of their peers appear to be on a fast track to nirvana.
The bigger issue, though, is not age. It is with Christian culture in general.
Last week, I wrote a post about what a tough year Jeff and I have had. After hearing the comments at the mentor panel, I was worried that people would not understand that our tough year did not negate the fact that we love each other and that God is good. Instead, the feedback from that post thus far has been nothing but positive. I attribute this primarily to the fact that the people who read my blog tend to be older, old enough to have seen their fair share of frailty and failure.
I have noticed, though, that a fair number of the comments thank me for being honest. And all of those comments have been by Christians. Not one of my non-Christian friends or readers commented on how “real” I am. What is it about our religious culture that breeds hiding? The hiding of our real selves?
Look, I have no interest in keeping it real for real’s sake. As Jeff always says, “Honesty is a thin virtue.”
For example, there is little honor in proclaiming, “Yup. I killed him.”
So honesty about the mess we sometimes find ourselves in is not enough. But those of us who profess Jesus as savior and friend diminish his good news if he is only good news when we get a new job or a cure for cancer.
Not one person who does not profess to love Jesus thanked me for my honesty last week. They liked the post, but didn’t find it surprising to hear someone say that some years are awful. I find that terribly sad, that we are so surprised by honesty. Our silence leads to – as I experienced on the retreat – one group of people feeling alone and ashamed and another group with the delusion that Jesus is like Santa Claus, handing out goodies to good girls and boys.
Everyone knows that you have some junk you need to work on, a question you need an answer to, or a place of darkness in desperate need of light. Find someone to tell. Invite a community to witness your life, to walk alongside you, and encourage your faith. Give testimony to what you see, or long to see, God doing in your life. And know that it’s okay that sometimes our testimony is simply that – by grace alone – we haven’t given up.