These past three weeks have been a wild ride in our house with three separate trips to three very different parts of the country. I love ya, Southwest, but we need some space. It's not you, it's definitely me.
I was anxious about going to the M19 conference for a number of reasons (read about that here), but it turned out to be a wonderful experience, largely in part because I decided from the first moment I was on site to be honest, 100% honest. Among other pastors and leaders, when someone asks you “How are things going?” it is all too easy to roll the highlight reel, a verbal version of our instagrammed life and ministry.
But no. For the sake of my own soul, I knew I could no longer play those games. I was honest. I shared the good stuff, the new believers, the prodigals returned, the slow and steady discipleship. But I also shared the broken stuff, the people that left over petty differences in hurtful ways, the flagging giving, the dips in attendance, and the lying voice of anxiety that tries to pin all the church’s disorder on me alone.
A couple weeks later as I spoke at MVNU with students, faculty, and other clergy, I pledged to do the same: honesty, no matter the cost. No false images. No pretending that I am a walking finished product. No subtle status cue-ing. I had the privilege of sharing in a Wellness Workshop about my almost 14-year journey with mental illness. No lies there either. No veneer. No false declarations of healing, but rather honest, vulnerable words about God’s sustaining power and refining work in my life in the midst of a persistent, chronic struggle.
And wouldn’t you know it…in almost every single conversation I had, whether it was with a pastor, a professor, a student, or faculty member, my honesty was met with a grateful sigh, more often than not followed by an honest account of the good and the broken in their own life. Shoulders visibly slackened, faces lost their tension, eyes lightened. Stories poured out, not litanies of cynical complaints and blame shifting, but honest stories of triumphs and losses, and the acknowledgement of the personal cost of both.
As I tried to describe the experience to my husband over the phone, he said simply, “Steph, you have the unusual gift of disruptive honesty.”
Disrupt: to cause disorder or turmoil; to radically change an industry.
Honesty: truthfulness, sincerity, frankness
Well, he ain’t wrong.
I don’t know when the shift occurred, but at some point during the last ten years of full-time vocational ministry, I decided that I love Jesus very much and wanted to follow him with all my heart and I was no longer willing to lie about what hurts.
It has been a costly decision in some ways. Some leaders have pushed back against my speech, written and otherwise, suggesting that my vulnerability is not becoming of the office I hold as pastor. I bare my soul for the world to see (okay, a few hundred readers max), and I often feel like my whole body is covered by fresh, new skin, unsettlingly sensitive to the slightest breeze. I am exposed, and I am often left feeling raw.
But, I also have a heart and mind full of emails, text messages, notes, and coffee dates with individuals who have experienced the freedom of the Spirit through my witness, through that disruptive honesty that will no longer hide behind the veneer of Christian propriety. Women who have also wrestled with the beast that is depression have embarked upon their course of study for the ministry. Men that have hidden in shame from their own pastoral anxiety have opened the door just a crack and found that they are not alone.
But don’t thank me. Don’t even look at me, lest you think that somehow my voice has wrought any change. Eyes on Jesus, friend. Like Paul, I will boast only of my weakness. For it is there in the disruptive honesty of my confession that I find the Lord saying over me ever so gently, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
Love Jesus, friend. Follow Him. And quit lying about what hurts. Freedom awaits. Deep breaths and sighs of relief, and, best of all, the blessed opportunity for genuine Christian community when we lay down the masks.
Grace and peace to you.
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