“Spiritual formation is not about steps or stages on the way to perfection. It’s about the movements from the mind to the heart through prayer in its many forms that reunite us with God, each other, and our truest selves.” –Henri Nouwen
I scanned the refrigerator, looking for something to pack for my lunch. As I set the lunch bag on the table, I reached over for the last avocado, staring at me from the bowl. I held it lovingly in my hand and admired its beauty. With a gentle squeeze, I knew that this avocado was perfect and couldn’t wait to open it and enjoy it at lunch.
Fast forward a few hours. I happily grabbed the butter knife from my bag and allowed it to glide through my perfect avocado. As I opened it, I has horrified by what I saw. Not the perfect green shade of everyone’s favorite avocado, but a grey, dingy color that filled every inch. It was literally rotten to the core. Like disgustingly rotten. I immediately closed it back up and sadly walked to the trash can.
What had happened to that avocado? Usually I can tell when one is too ripe. Its just a little too squishy with an outside skin that just looks a little too shriveled. When you squeeze it, it almost feels hollow. But this one had fooled me completely.
In Matthew 23, Jesus spends a good portion of the chapter saying, “Woe to you” as he addresses the pharisees and teachers of the law. Paragraph after paragraph, he confronts the difference between what they look like on the outside and what is really going on in the inside. At one point he says, “You hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
Ouch. I imagine the pharisees squirming with anger as their faces reddened. It isn’t an easy thing to hear nor is it an easy thing to read. Jesus was calling them out in front of everyone.
I think we all need to be aware of times when we are being prideful or stubborn and self-righteous and repent of such behavior. I never want to be blind to my sin and ask that the Lord would open my eyes when I am. However, I do want to say that for the most part, the Christians I know have authentic hearts and really want to honor God with their actions and lives. They never want to be labeled as hypocrites nor do they want to seem “holier than thou” or full of themselves because of how “righteous” they are. I’m not saying there aren’t modern day pharisees out there, and I am not saying that authentic people never sin, but there are also a lot of beautiful souls striving to live beautiful lives.
That being said, I do think a lot of us struggle to make everything look good on the outside even when we are really hurting on the inside. The thought of being vulnerable enough to be honest about all that we are thinking about or wrestling with can feel terrifying. It is much easier to just act like everything is ok. And perfect.
What are some of the ways we strive to look perfect on the outside? What are the things we work to hide from others? Depression? Anger? Anxiety? Bitterness and unforgiveness?
During some really dark days, I have looked people in the eye and told them I was doing great.
I have been frustrated with someone, but never talked through it with them because it was easier to just avoid the conflict.
I have berated myself when I didn’t do something well and refused to accept grace for my mistakes.
And most of the time no one would ever know.
Here is what I am learning. Confession is important. With the Lord and with those we love. But not just confession about the obvious sins. Confession about all that is going on inside of our hearts and minds too. Frederick Buechner wrote, “To confess your sins to God is not to tell God anything God doesn’t already know. Until you confess them, however, they are the abyss between you. When you confess them, they become the Golden Gate Bridge.” But for many of us that remains difficult. In the book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality,Peter Scazzero writes, “Our fear of bringing secrets and sin into the light, however, drives many people to prefer the illusion that if they don’t think about it, it somehow goes away. It doesn’t. Unhealed wounds open us up to habitual sin against God and others. “
We base our faith on the fact that God so loved the world that He gave His only son so that we might live. We quote scripture and tell others that God loves them. But do we believe it? Or do we give God the side eye and say, “I trust you with some things, but I just can’t trust you with this.”
I believe true confession starts to happen when we really know and trust that we are loved. No matter what.
Recently, a friend told me of a difficult time in her life when she basically avoided everyone who loved her. Some people expressed anger and judgement at her while others just threw up their hands, unsure of what to do. But one friend got on a plane and came to find her. She grabbed her by the shoulders and said, “What are you doing? Don’t you know that I love you and nothing you are going through would ever change that. I love you no matter what.”
What a beautiful picture of unconditional love.
Do we believe that God loves us like this?
Nothing we confess to Him could ever change His perfect love for us. And yet, if we are always striving to look perfect on the outside, we may never experience the freedom that comes with His perfect love.
This week, may we rest in His love for us. May we just be still and know that He is God and we can trust Him. And as you take the time to sit with Him, may you sense Him grabbing you by the shoulders and saying, “Nothing. NOTHING. Nothing could ever separate you from my love.”
photo credits: https://unsplash.com/photos/ZLc9yTIFzNk