I see two extremes in our society right now in how people deal with their painful stories or darker selves.
On one hand, we are encouraged to stay positive and to put our best face on for others to see. Social media is well-crafted to fuel addiction, so that we get a nice boost of dopamine with every reaction to the posts we make and with every notification.
We live in an age of selfies and photo filters, which make it so much easier to put our best life on display for others to see and react positively to. It feels good, and we want to connect with others—and even more when we are confined due to isolation restrictions put in place by our government.
On that same hand, we have a discouragement of being real about our struggles. We fear the shame it will cause us, or maybe we think that no one really cares. People are busy and don’t want to be bothered by our mess. It does not help when people are openly hostile to our struggles, and in this digital age, chances are we have run into more than a few.
On the other hand, we are encouraged to speak “our truth” and to be ourselves no matter what. We are encouraged to be loud and without shame. We are encouraged to accept who we are without being accountable for our shortcomings; there is always someone else we can blame. We are encouraged to call our darkness light—and as for those who oppose, we call their light darkness—because they are just bigoted, phobic, brainwashed, or self-righteous.
I understand some reasons why these extremes exist.
If a person has a problem, but people do not want to hear it or help but only shame or dismiss, then one of two things will happen. A person will either bury it behind a partially false image of themselves, or they will become further emboldened in their problem—even to the point of pride and boasting about it. If we are proud and call our darkness light, then who can hurt us?
On top of that, we have a constant onslaught of social pressures and influences through various forms of media that tell us to be positive, and to be who we are without any regrets. To hell with anyone who stands in our way. They are the problem. We are perfect just as we are. Bow down and worship me…okay maybe that’s too far…for now.
Here is the problem.
When we put on a false version of ourselves for others to see, we lose something inside of us. We lose trust in ourselves, and we instead begin to trust in others and what they think of us. We lose self-accountability, and instead look to the plethora of sources that give us opportunity to blame others.
Without accountability, we cannot look at ourselves honestly and we cannot grow. The false self grows and takes over until we are a shell of our former selves. We are void and empty, but we look good from the outside, so that’s what matters, right?
No. That emptiness is consuming.
So consuming for some that they cannot rest until they find other people to drag down with them through social movements that accuse, destroy, and slander that which is good—all the while telling those who participate that they are something special. You are part of the good crowd. Those other people, they are bad. They are evil. They must be destroyed. You’re such a hero.
Please see what is happening.
Here is one thing I propose we do to combat this problem: share your story.
Share your story, and the real version of it, darkness and all. What has happened in your life to shape you, good and bad? What lessons have you learned? What kind of person do you want to be, and what about you stands in the way? What dark things do you struggle with, and which have you already overcome?
Share your story in honesty, and in humility—not calling darkness light and light darkness, but with accountability and no small dash of self-forgiveness and grace.
You don’t have to hand your dirty laundry out online, but you can if you want—just remember to think of others who might be affected by your story and use discretion when needed. You can also talk to a safe friend who will not condemn you or share your story with others without your permission.
Write your story down in a journal so that you can face yourself honestly in a safe space.
Most importantly, I encourage you to tell your story to the One who already knows and cares: Jesus. When we are honest with Him, He shows up in a big way. He does not condemn us for our darkness, because we are already condemned by it.
He shows up to forgive us and to heal us so that we can move on and grow. He will tug on our heart and bring things to light that we may not see, and we might feel shame and guilt, but He doesn’t do this to harm us, but so that we can find healing through Him.
I’m sorry if this does not sound like the Jesus you know. I’m sorry that many Christians, including myself, have given Him a bad name with our overly harsh criticisms that target certain sins while overlooking our own or the sins of others. It is human nature, and Christians have that nature too.
I am thankful that Jesus can change our nature. He takes our pain and our sin struggles onto Himself so that we do not have to carry them anymore, and we are free. He then turns our past into strength, insight, and compassion; He takes our pain and transforms us into Himself by His power in us.
It is an amazing gift, and not one that we can repay. However, we can be faithful to this gift by investing it into others.
We can be a listening ear and a compassionate heart, just like He is. Not condemning. Not slandering. Not gossiping. But also, not condoning of behaviors that harm those we love. We can bring their darkness to light gently as He does, not to hurt others, but so that they might be healed.
However, there is a time for sharpness too; some hearts are hardened and can only be pierced with a sharp word. Sometimes, our sharp words that Jesus gives are necessary to defend ourselves and those who are unable to defend themselves, and sometimes those sharp words destroy just as they make alive. His Word is a sharp-two-edged sword—but if our words destroy—they better be His and now our own.
In all things, the goal is to defend others against darkness and to lead them to Jesus, because He alone can forgive us and raise us from the dead. No amount of self-help can do that. We can help others carry their cross until they have solid footing in Christ, then they can do the same.
It is like the story of John the Baptist and Jesus. John was that voice crying in the wilderness, preparing the way for the Lord and making His path straight. We do that for others. We pave the way for Jesus to enter their lives, and we hold their hand while He grows inside of them because this process is painful. Once He begins to emerge, we praise Jesus as He takes over and allows that person to be a John for someone else.
Embrace your own time in the wilderness. Get away from the influences of others who want to tear you down or cause you to embrace and boast of darkness. Get acquainted with yourself, get acquainted with Jesus, and then tell your story. Tell it with whatever amount of boldness Jesus places in your heart, and He will give you strength because you first told your story to Him and He will use your story to help others and lead them to Himself.
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