Don’t pretend. Cry. Scream. Break a few things if you need to. God is not afraid of your darkness. ~ Carlos A Rodriguez1
It was the middle of the night my sophomore year in college. The snow had been falling for a few hours — an unfriendly, cold Missouri January — but I was not deterred. I slipped into my cold car, blasted the heater, and prayed my way for forty-five minutes back to my parents’ front door, waking my mom out of bed to confess to her about my two conflicting lives of good church girl and party girl, living with the repercussions of having gotten in too deep my freshman year. In so doing,
I experienced a level of coming clean I had never previously known.
At the time I wasn’t trying to make a Jesus-over-everything decision. I was simply trying not to be secretly sick anymore.
Anyone who has kept secrets knows what I mean: That gnawing pit in the stomach from a sustained cover-up. Guilt because of hiding things from people you love. Worry that someone will find out your truth. Fear that the lies will catch up with you. The effort it takes to fool people around us and keep them from knowing what we’ve been doing, how far away we’ve been living from God, and what our life looks like without the masks and costumes is quite something to pull off. It’s exhausting to be someone living more than one life at the same time. The reason for my confession to my mother back then was the same as it is for anyone who ever musters enough strength to confess:
I wanted a well soul more than anything else, and truth was the only way to get there.
I didn’t want to disappoint my mother — the one who seemed to always be the innocent bystander to people messing up in her life. I hated to add to that list. But I had to stand up to that voice inside my head telling me she wouldn’t love me anymore if she knew who I had become. Deep down, I believed she would, but this would prove it.
While Jesus had already forgiven me for the things I had done, my secrets were still making me sick. It can be easy to believe that because Jesus has forgiven us, we don’t need to take next steps to living clean. But truth has to be dealt with, and confessing to the people we love is often involved in that next step. Even though I’d left my party-girl lifestyle, the repercussions remained. Hiding may have been easier, but honesty was the only way to a good life. I knew that if not outed, it would only be a matter of time until those secrets would sprout tentacles to pull me back to a heart of compromise, and we’d be in the same place again, only maybe then it would be worse.
Yet, on this night, my heart was entrenched in a spiritual battle. Nothing was easy or made a lot of good sense. I knew my mother would be confused at my arrival, wondering why I had just driven the forty-five miles back from college after spending the weekend at home. I knew that waking her up in the middle of the night might even scare her. My mind wandered deeper. If my sleeping father woke up, he might panic and think I was breaking into the house and accidentally shoot me with his bedside gun. The weather conditions were dangerous; my mother surely wouldn’t have wanted me on the road. The list went on. Satan continued to whisper loudly for several hours as the night kept getting darker — telling me to stop being silly about nothing and just go to bed. Lies, especially ones you want to believe, can be convincing.
But Jesus kept pulling me closer and speaking too: What do you want, really want? Do you want peace? Do you want joy? Do you want your soul to be fully well? Do you want to walk in freedom?
I was so tired of hiding. So worn from living a double life. Things had become so very complicated by all my lies and scrambling. I didn’t just want peace all the way to my bones; I needed it. I was angry that Satan had something on me, at how he used it against me every day of my life to make me hate myself. This night I’d finally had enough. It is what is always required of living a fully free life: we hate the thing that enslaves us enough to finally do whatever it takes to free ourselves from its grip.
So I made the drive. I got Mom out of bed, led her to my car outside, and with the heaters on in the cold of the night, I told her the truth about everything. (Mom woke up almost as if she’d been expecting me — Daddy never woke up at all.)
It was hard. I shed many tears, and though she put up her strong front, I knew on some level I had broken my mother’s heart. But God helped me, every step, and in ways that let me know it could be only Him. I drove back to college with at least six thousand pounds of emotional bricks taken off of me. I fell on my dorm bed, cheeks stained by tears, and lay there lifeless for what seemed like hours. The truth had drained my body of all the angst it had been carrying for months and replaced it with calm, peace, and the morning-after weariness of a night wrestling with pain. After a while some thoughts occurred to me, and my heart pushed me to express them in the way I’ve always done best — with paper and pen. I’ve always loved journaling, and on this day it seemed particularly important.
I’m happy for us. You made a good decision to tell your mom the truth. See? She DOES still love you. God loves you too. He isn’t mad at you for the past, so don’t be mad at yourself, either. Just do the right thing, now. And don’t look back. Stay in the Word. Pray, every day. And don’t worry too much about what’s next. Just don’t lie about anything, anymore. Remember how it feels to live when you did.
I finished writing and lay on the bed for what seemed like hours more.
Class was about to start on a regular old Monday. Nothing had changed, yet everything had. The sun was now up, a beautiful yellow halo on white snowy ground, and the day was new. To date, after six books and hundreds of thousands of words written and published, those words on spiral-bound, college-ruled notebook paper, back in 1991, are some of the hardest, best words I’ve ever written or read. Through the years I’ve often revisited them.
I haven’t lived perfectly since that time. I haven’t lived without ever telling another lie. Honesty is a hard, good choice to make, and I well know it, but even then the pull to hide is strong. I have traveled so many miles, literally, since this time in my life and heard so many people’s stories. I feel them. I know them. I relate to them all. I met a fellow pastor’s daughter in a rehab facility not long ago, sleeved-out from all her tattoos — and I knew what struggle it had taken for her to get there to get honest and well. The unearthing it took to pull off those Christian veneers and be one of those people who hit rock bottom was humbling beyond words. A lot of pride had to fall off. A lot of programming. But we all are one of those people, really.
Excerpted with permission from Jesus Over Everything by Lisa Whittle, copyright Lisa Whittle.
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Let’s not hide. God is not unaware of who we are and what we’ve done. He knows the pride we need to fall off of us. He knows us and love us still! Come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We want to hear from you about honesty with Jesus! ~ Devotionals Daily