One of my greatest struggles is balancing my public and personal personas. On one hand, I am an expert in the field of intimacy, and on the other, I am just a girl. One moment I am dispensing advice on the radio, TV or to a live audience, and the next I am making lunches, helping with homework and chatting with a friend. I have worked very hard to develop both my career and my relationships, but some days, especially when I feel like I am screwing up more than usual, the dichotomy between the two worlds becomes very painful. Who am I to speak about being kind to one another when I want to stuff those horrible words I uttered back in my mouth? Who am I to talk about balance when I can’t hear what my daughter is telling me because I am too absorbed with work? Who am I to talk about the wonders of marriage when Eric and I just had a knock-down drag out…on the way to the marriage conference?
In those moments of feeling like a complete fraud and failure, I realize that I am not alone. I remember the pastor’s wife who felt like she would get kicked out of the church if anyone found out that she loved Harlequin romances, the Marriage Ministry pastor who hated sex and lived like roommates with her husband, the youth leader who felt forever tainted because of a little action in the back seat of a car when she was a teenager, the elder who struggled daily with a porn addiction, and the pastor’s wife who was in love with another woman. There are other people who struggle with their public and personal realities as well. We all just do it in secret.
Sometime over the past 2000+ years, we have drifted into a country club type of Christianity. We have to show up perfectly polished and radiant. We have to look good. We have to be successful. We have to be winning the battle. Sin? Sure, that’s something that I deal with…but not often…and I gain victory over it quickly. Church is very rarely a place where you can be anything other than the public persona. Did you just find out that your husband has been cheating on you? Did you just get let go from work? Did you scream at your kids on the drive? Then put happy smiles on your faces as you walk through the door because you are going to worship Jesus.
And yet, the Jesus I read about hung out with the tainted, the screw-ups, the outsiders, and the unwanted. He had endless compassion for the people who came to him with the realization that they didn’t have it all together. In fact, the only people who pissed him off were the religious folks who, well, refused to acknowledge anything but their public personas. So why do we work so diligently to hide our sin when the church should be a place of refuge for all of us who realize how deeply broken we really are? Why do we feel the need – in our ministries and public lives – to have everything figured out, all the time?
I don’t have it together all the time. In fact, probably not even most of the time. But I also have a deeply held belief that I cannot lead other people places I myself fear to tread. If I refuse to acknowledge or examine the difficult, the scary, the thorny, the inconvenient, the ugly, and the broken parts of myself, and I am the “expert,” then what hope can I offer to the “broken” people who show up in my office?
The simple and tidy answer that the “Christian expert” would offer is, of course, I offer the hope of Jesus. And while there is truth to that – I grew up an evangelical, singing the lines, Jesus is the answer for the world today – I know that life is rarely simple and tidy. I think it’s disingenuous of us to offer up the trite “Jesus is the answer” when Jesus rarely answered questions directly when he was walking on the earth. He liked to remain silent, to tell stories or to respond with a question.
Somewhere along the line, we became afraid of questions and started worshiping the answers. Jesus camped out in the questions. I believe we will still find him there today. Because when we walk naked into the questions, we have stripped away our façade, our arrogance and our pretense, and have become those whom Jesus said he was sent to. “It is not the healthy who need a physician but the sick. But go and learn what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
So after all the training, all the studying, and all the years of “becoming an expert,” what I can offer is exactly what I need myself: compassion, empathy and understanding. It is from this place that Jesus still works miracles.