Authentic Christianity

The Messy Truth

The Power of Authenticity and Vulnerability

Today I am going to start something new. Well, in actuality, I guess I am really continuing something old. I want to start posting some Throwback Thursday posts on my blog. These will be posts I have shared in years gone by that you may not have had a chance to read. Our first #throwbackbackthursday talks about messy truths and Instagram. I think this is a fitting way to kick off this collection of posts.

The Instagram Surprise

Instagram, while currently very popular, originally caught many of us by surprise. Who would have thought that an app that distorts your already low-quality cell phone images in an effort to create social media hipster art would become America’s favorite place to view pictures of each other’s kids, pets, and yes, even “selfies?”

At the time of this writing, there are over 200 million active users in the photo-sharing network. After only two years of existence, and without generating any income through ads, Instagram sold for $1 billion. That’s a big deal for an app that limits your pics to a square on your cell phone and was mostly used from its inception by people in skinny jeans and ironic shirts to take pictures of their lattes. 

It’s now common to see people both old and young taking pictures of their food at restaurants, and holding their phones high in the air with the screen facing towards them to make sure they get everyone in for that perfect selfie. I have always enjoyed taking pictures and personally took to the fun photo app, well, instantly.

Not everyone was impressed right away though. One friend of mine refused to get on the Instagram bandwagon at first because “putting a grainy filter and adding torn edges to an already horrible photo doesn’t make it creative or art.” He now regularly posts pics of his kids and food. No “selfies” yet though…. It’s only a matter of time.

The Perfect Selfie

For a long time, I have treated the truth of my experiences, disappointments, and failures like Instagram. I have gone out of my way to give the best presentation I can. This requires that I cut out parts of my story, the panoramic view that includes the pain and doubts, in order to fit it in only what I think people want to see; the perfectly filtered little square that is easy to “like.”

No one wants that surprise pic of them just waking up posted online. We want to keep retaking the photo until we get just the right image. Then we slip that perfect filter on there to give it that nice little extra touch. Everything looks perfect. Our lives appear so wonderful, but we lose something in the process – authenticity.

It’s the same way in life. Just as there are different filters for whatever picture you would like to post online, there are also different layers of the truth you generally share with others. 

For some people, life is just a bowl of cherries. You go from one mountaintop to the other, and I’m so happy that you have that going for you. The rest of us though have to walk through valleys in-between our mountaintops. We don’t need a lesson on how to live life on the peak. We need something that is going to get us through the valley.

Authenticity and Vulnerability

Authenticity and vulnerability are what give that to people, but it comes at a risk. The risk is rejection, and possibly some of your pride. The reward is a strength you never knew you had, and freedom to be exactly who you were made to be – an imperfect child of God that walks in the peace of knowing you are His. This liberates you from the weighty limitation of trying to maintain everyone else’s expectations. This is the battle that I had to overcome before I could start sharing my fish out of church story. I have honestly, never stopped wrestling with it.

It was while with a friend in downtown Baton Rouge when I think I first decided to step past this barrier and share my journey in a vulnerable way. We had our cameras with us and were exploring places to take photographs. As the conversation progressed, he eventually asked me why I left the ministry. I told him it was never my intention to be out of the church world, but I that I was glad things didn’t work out the way I planned.

My Messy Truth

Then, instead of putting a filter on things, and summing it up in a way where we could both end the conversation with, “Praise the Lord!” and a smile, I began to share with him my messy truth. I talked about my doubts, disappointments, and unanswered questions. I didn’t share the promises I was standing on at the time, because I had lost my ability to do anything but kneel a long time ago. 

We talked about how I didn’t know what was next, and how things would end, but that I have never felt more satisfied in my relationship with God, and with who I was becoming in the process. He listened unconditionally. He didn’t give advice about where I had obviously fallen short, or how he would have done it differently to avoid some of my wrong turns. Instead, he offered support. At one point he even said, “I hope you are writing this down. This could be a book!” I had thought about writing my story down for others before, but his encouragement that day is what pushed me over the edge. After this conversation, I began to wonder if what I had experienced could encourage others who were in a valley themselves, or ready for a new way of looking at their religious comfort zone.

There is a place for discretion and even Instagram filters. I am all for that. Sometimes though, I want to know what is going on outside of the square. I want the Imax version of the story. The messy truth can leave the hearer flabbergasted. It may even confront their own lack of authenticity, and cause them to reject you. The messy truth does not say how you want things to be; it just says how they are. It is the unwrapped present, the selfie without the filter or the posing. It leaves things hanging. When you are finished sharing the messy truth there are usually more questions than answers. It’s real, raw, but it is also refreshing when Christ is in the center of it.

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