Rabbis tell a story about the day God pinned everyone’s troubles up on a big board for the whole world to see. God gave everyone in the world permission to go up to the board and pick the troubles they wanted to live with. According to the rabbis, each person went up and picked their own troubles. After seeing what everyone else had to live with, each person decided they would take back their own troubles. At least they knew how to live with their own pain.
One of the discoveries we’ve made in all of the religious surveys we’ve been taking over the past several years is that people lie. (OK, maybe we didn’t need a survey to find out that interesting fact.) Let me explain. When you ask a question like, “How many times do you go to church in a month?” people will answer by giving the number they “intend” to go, not necessarily the times they actually go. They intend to go to church three times a month, but when you check their actual schedule, you’ll find out they only went to church once. You know how it goes, a child gets sick or we schedule a quick weekend trip out of town. Now, we fully thought we were going to church, but it’s that we just can’t make it this Sunday.
Now, add Facebook and other social media platforms to this dishonest reality of human nature, and we’ve found ourselves in quite a fix. What fix is that? No one is telling the truth. We’ve developed this curious habit of only posting the great moments of our lives. If we only believed our social media posts, all of us have fantastic marriages and above average children.
Recently, social scientists and mental health professionals have been raising concerns about the growing rate of suicides in our nation. Believe it or not, one of the factors cited for this increase is the worthlessness and despair that comes from not being able to match the Facebook lives of their friends.
Like I said, people lie.
Why? Because lying buys us all a little time. Most of us know that sooner or later, we’ll have to deal with the truth, but right now, that’s just too hard for most of us.
And that’s a shame. Here’s why. All of us are hurting. All of us have our own stories of pain, and we’d be so much better off—all of us—if we’d just trust each other with a little honesty.
When I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2010, I was surprised by the number of guys, most of whom I had known for a long time, who would pull me aside and tell me their stories—when they were diagnosed, how they dealt with it, what treatment they chose, and how they were doing now. There was a whole fraternity of guys who had dealt with prostate cancer that had never told me before. Now, I was one of them, so they shared their stories.
And sometimes, it helps to just know you’re not on this journey by yourself.
I’ve been at the church where I currently serve for almost 27 years. I’ve been here long enough to know a lot of people’s stories. A lot of people work hard to put on a good face and keep up illusions that everything is fine.
It’s not, and everyone knows it…but again, lying buys a little time.
But lying also keeps us apart.
Church should be the one place you don’t have to pretend. Church should be the one place where it’s OK to say, “I’m having a bad day.”
Church should be the place where you can sit next to a friend and let them know you’re with them and that they’re going to be OK, and not have to use a lot of words. It should be a place where you can simply say, “I’ve been there too…”
Sometimes, all you need is to know you’re not alone. Church should be the place where you know that.
But you and I know it isn’t that way. And it won’t be that way until someone changes it—until someone takes a chance by being honest. We don’t have to share everything. We don’t have to tell everything we know to everyone. But what if we just took a little step?
Like finding a person who’s where you once were, taking their hand or touching their arm, and telling them, “I’ve been where you are. I got through it and so will you.”
Where do you start? How about on the pew where you sit? Or in the seat in front or behind you? You won’t have to look far to find hurting people. They’ll be sitting all around you.
We’ve been lying to each other long enough. Take a chance. Be honest with each other this Sunday. Well, maybe just a little bit honest. Let’s not try to do too much too fast.