Even in laughter the heart may ache, and joy may end in grief. Proverbs 14:13 (NIV)
A client of the business where my wife, Karen, works came in the other day and told the really sad story of his 21 year-old son committing suicide shortly after Christmas. His death came as a complete shock to his two parents, his 18-year-old brother, and his girlfriend who all thought everything was fine—he had seemed happy.
Christmas had been celebrated like so many before it—a family time of gifts and games and good food, and a lot of laughter. But …even in laughter, the heart may ache. The younger brother was the one who found him dead in the apartment they shared.
How does that happen? Why is it that we are so prone to hide our true selves from others? Even from those who love us?
The thought of allowing people to have a look at the real us is utterly terrifying to most people. And there are many compounding reasons why we stay closed, but I want to look at three primary reasons why we avoid personal openness and honesty. And the first reason is our effort to…
Keep the peace at all costs
Many times we rationalize not being open and honest to avoid confrontation with someone who might have a different opinion than us. We become chameleons, always smoothly blending into the situation. We make no waves, we pose no threat, we present no ideas, and in doing so we insulate ourselves from any risk related to honesty.
Let me make a statement that should be obvious to all of us here. You can’t have a caring, growing relationship if it is not built on honesty and trust. Agreed? This is a principle that holds true for all human relationships, right from childhood friendships to marriage and everything in between.
Relationships require regular interactions and sometimes confrontations. But for most of us, there is a temptation to want to keep the peace at all costs. And in the end, this attitude and approach if left unchecked just may cost you a friendship, maybe your job, possibly even your marriage. Let me explain it this way:
When our youngest son, Jesse, was in grade 2, he was at school playing on the monkey bars, and he fell off and hurt his wrist. He kept the pain to himself until he got home at the end of the school day, and then he told his mom what had happened. Karen looked at his arm, but she didn’t see or feel anything unusual, so she told him just to give it a couple of days and it would feel better.
When he woke up two mornings later his wrist was swollen to twice its normal size and was warm to the touch. So off went Jesse and I to the children’s hospital for a diagnosis and a cast fitting for his broken wrist, which was far more uncomfortable than it would have been, had we taken him for treatment when the injury first occurred.
And so it is with our relational injuries. Some little hurt of disappointment left untreated will only get worse and will eventually end up controlling you if you don’t deal with it at the first available opportunity. The Bible tells us in Eph 4:26 (NIV), “do not to let the sun go down while you are still angry”. If we keep things inside in a misguided nobility of trying to keep the peace, one hurt piles up on another until we are numbed and eventually crushed by the weight of the pain.
And while we desperately wish that someone knew how badly we are hurting, we won’t say ouch. Which leads me to my second point of why we avoid personal openness and honesty, and that is…
You see by saying ouch we are actually revealing ourselves and coming out of hiding. Unfortunately, many people are too proud to do that, even though we are warned in Proverbs 29:23 (NIV), “A man’s pride brings him low”. Rather than expose their true feelings or weaknesses we often choose to carry on with hurt and bitterness in our hearts.
And yes, it can be a blow to your ego to admit that seemingly trivial things have upset you, but even those things need to be brought into the light, talked about and prayed over.
When we are too proud to share our real feelings we will still let others know by our actions and expressions that something is wrong—but we won’t tell them what it is. We would rather have them guess, or somehow read our minds—true? We sometimes lend a little help by dropping a sarcastic hint, but we won’t come out and actually say what is bothering us.
When we act like this we are very frustrating to be around, not to mention to try to live with. We are really playing a cruel and selfish game—for we expect to be understood without making any effort to be understandable. I speak as an authority in this area because I’ve done it—just ask my wife.
Some of you would know who Charles Finney is. He was a great American preacher in the mid 1800’s. Finney said this, “ Now understand what lying is. Any form of designed deception is lying. Think of all your words, looks and actions designed to make an impression on others contrary to the truth, for selfish reasons. If you purpose to make an impression other than the naked truth, you lie.”
Do you know that there are three types of lying that are frequently practiced?
1) Saying something that isn’t true.
2) Telling the truth but only part of it.
3) Remaining silent, and causing others to believe something as true, even though you know it is false.
Lying and deception are rooted in pride, and so is the third primary reason we avoid openness and honesty, and that is…
The Fear of Man
Putting up a front means keeping it up at all times to avoid being found out. But this leads to a serious problem—we will never be satisfied in our relationships because we never know if we will be accepted for who we really are.
Yet in a strange way this can be a safe place for some people to be, because if for some reason they are rejected they can excuse themselves with the thought that “it wasn’t really me anyway”. Then they don’t have to take any responsibility for what might be wrong in their life or take any steps toward changing it. And if a person never takes steps toward changing it, then they don’t give themselves a chance to experience honest acceptance and love.
The fear of rejection is quite simply the fear of man. Proverbs 29:25 (NIV) teaches us that the “Fear of man will prove to be a snare”. Let me illustrate for you how the snare hinders us.
Karen and I were in Montreal. She was born there and grew up there, but it was my first time in the city. We were trying to find our way to a church where I was supposed to speak, and after driving back and forth across the same bridge many times, and running out of coins for the toll booth, I accepted the fact that I was lost and decided to pull over at a little corner store and ask for directions.
I talked to a really unfriendly lady behind the counter, who didn’t want to speak to me in English, but eventually managed to spit out a few go lefts, go rights, go to the next lights, and straight down such and such a street, and I said, “thanks”, and walked back to the car.
As I pulled out of the parking lot, Karen asked me where we were going, and I said, “I don’t have a clue”. But I knew I wasn’t going back to the intimidating person in the store to let them know that I couldn’t understand directions—even though I couldn’t, so I continued on, driving around lost in Montreal. That’s the fear of man, and I was snared by it.
Man pleasers are embarrassed if they stumble over their words, if they strike out a bat, if they slip on a stair, if they burn the toast. If a man pleaser was to say, “hey, there’s going to be an eclipse tomorrow”, and someone with a raised eyebrow responds, “are you sure?” …they feel embarrassed even though they know they’re telling the truth. Do you see how this becomes a primary hindrance to openness and honesty?
So how do we antidote this condition? And let’s be honest. The fear of man snares us in a lot more serious scenarios than burning the toast or getting lost in a strange city. How many of you have met the bullying first cousin of the fear of man known as “peer pressure”. Peer pressure is simply a psychological term that defines one form of the fear of man.
When we discuss things like teenage alcoholism and drug abuse, or pre-marital sex, or keeping up with the Jones’, or “if Billy was going to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you?”... we’re talking about peer pressure. We’re talking about the fear of man. Kind of brings it home, doesn’t it.
The antidote to the fear of man is simply to seek God’s approval, not the approval of people. Proverbs 9:10 (NIV), tells us that, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. If we fear the right person, we will find ourselves doing the right things and making the right choices.
Ask God to help you move past your fear mechanisms and open up to others in a way that you never have before. He can help you do that, you know.
But let me caution you not to confuse openness and honesty with blunt frankness. Frankness is a virtue when mixed with intelligent loving tact and discretion. However it is nothing less than sadistic when it is used in the form of unbridled opinion without any regard to people’s ideas or feelings.
We can easily excuse ourselves by saying, “well, I was just being honest.” But we can callously slander and destroy people by just “being honest”. Proverbs 12:18 (NIV) says it this way, “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
Do you desire to have an open and honest spirit about you? Do you desire to speak your words with a tongue that is controlled by wisdom? Do you desire to get more out of your relationships, in whatever form they may take and at whatever level they might be?
These few principles from the Book of Proverbs, can help you do that. If we sow openness and honesty into our relationships, most times we will reap the same from them. And in those cases where we do not see it coming back, at least we will be able to rest and relax in the fact that we have operated in transparent integrity. And that’s very freeing.
Pastor Craig Eagle