The root of the word courage is cor- the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage ... meant "to speak one's mind by telling all one's heart." - Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
It takes a lot of courage to be vulnerable with someone. But what if that someone was God?
Is it even possible to be authentic in the presence of a God who already knows everything there is to know about us?
And if it is, why is it so hard sometimes?
What does it mean to be authentic with God?
Remember, when we talk about authenticity, we talk about honesty, being true, genuine, vulnerable, real.
Brene Brown says it like this: "Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It's about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen."
There seem to be a lot of layers to this conversation on authenticity with God, though.
I believe that it means knowing God and being known by God. To know God, one must know His word. To study it, to befriend it. To memorize it. Because knowing God's word is knowing God.
And many times we have faulty beliefs about God, and sometimes those beliefs hold us back from being authentic with Him. But some would say that it is not important to be honest with God because He already knows our thoughts and feelings and shortcomings anyway.
But isn't honesty what opens the door to deeper relationships? It is one thing to just know at an intellectual level that God knows us, but to allow ourselves to really be known... That's a whole other thing.
It is letting God into all the brokenness, the fears, the doubts, the failures. It is showing Him the ugly things that go through our minds. It is telling him the difficult things. No matter how out of line with truth they are. His presence is most definitely a safe place to share those things. It is clear all throughout scripture. Over and over again we see people crying out to God, telling Him the hard things.
And if we can't be honest with God, then gosh, who can we be honest with?
What holds us back from it?
I will never forget it. I sat across from her while she told me her story. She told about the most vile forms of sexual abuse I could imagine. Things that would make your skin crawl. Those kind of stories will make an advocate out of anyone. Or they should.
She got to a point in her story where she finally allowed herself to start to feel. She had numbed for so long, you see, and she needed to feel again. She looked at me and said, "Kerrah, I feel like I just need to be honest about something. I am really mad at God for letting me go through this."
I sat with her in that for a minute, and I said, "So why don't you tell Him that?"
The look on her face suggested that she was shocked I would dare even think such a thing was OK.
She said she can't do that. Because deep down, she said, that she believed He was merciless and cruel.
It made me think, I wonder what holds us back from telling God the truth- about how we feel or what we think or what we are going through. I wonder what keeps us from being truly authentic in the presence of God.
So I asked people.
Some said that it may be because someone does not believe God is who He says he is-maybe a lack of biblical knowledge, maybe because of their experiences that don't seem to line up with His character or sovereignty.
Some said it may be out of fear- that He won't love them anymore if they tell Him the truth. Or that maybe He will think less of them or judge them. Maybe He will abandon them like others have. Maybe they fear that He is who He says He is and is actually capable of doing what He says He will.
Maybe we are thinking God is too much like man.
Some said it is shame, a fear of ourselves. Or some filling in our heads of our voices over His.
Some said that it is the enemy, that Satan wants nothing more than to create disconnection between us and God. Maybe we are afraid of what genuine connection can actually mean.
Maybe it is because we do not believe that He really cares or even wants intimacy with us.
Maybe we are not self-aware enough to even know the depths of our heart to be able to share with God.
Maybe we are not sure if we are allowed to.
And I get it. Vulnerability is risky, but that is what makes it so courageous. And when we spend our lives knowing God in deeper ways, we will know that he can handle anything that we need to tell him. When David cried out in fear, God reminded him that He will never leave him (Psalm 22). When Moses expressed doubt that he was the man for the job, God reminded Him that He is the one who gave Moses power to do the job (Exodus 4:10-12). When Job was angry, God reminded Him that He is sovereign and will take care of him (Job 38-42). When Jesus expressed sorrow, God heard and gave him strength (Luke 22:39-43).
He is kind, loving, gracious, merciful, slow to anger, quick to show compassion. He is a good listener. He is a comforter, a protector, a friend. He is just and righteous and holy and sovereign. And he is understanding.
He can handle what you have to say.
Why is authenticity with God more important than authenticity with others?
When I spoke to her next, she had tears in her eyes. She had been kind of angry with me for suggesting that she tell God that she was angry with Him, too. I patiently waited for the "but."
And there it was in her pool of tears. She told how grateful she was that I had said it, too, because when she was finally able to get it all out in the presence of God- all the hurt she felt, all the brokenness that came with her abuse, all of the anger she felt toward Him because she had believed that He could have stopped it all... She said it all.
And she smiled with mascara all over her face, and she told me that in that moment she felt God in the most real way she had ever experienced. She immediately had felt peace, and was reminded that God loves her. That he hurts when she hurts. That he hates abuse. That the world is a broken place, and that breaks Him, too. That it was not supposed to be this way. She keeps spilling out all of these truths that she began to think about that day.
And she said that she finally felt free. Free to move forward. Free from shame. Free from her anger. I asked her what it was that made her feel free. She said,
Because when I was honest with God, he was honest with me. He heard me, and then He filled my mind with truth of who he really is. It was the truth I shared, and the truth given back to me. It was the truth that set me free.
And that is why I believe that being honest with God FIRST about the ugly thoughts in our heads, or the conflicting feelings we feel, or the sins we have done is more important than sharing those things with others. Because when we share with God, he fills our minds with real, honest truth. And it is through the lens of that truth that we are then, and only then, able to be fully authentic with ourselves and with others.
God is the only person from whom you can hide nothing. Before Him you will unavoidably come to see yourself in a new, unique light. Prayer, therefore, leads to a self-knowledge that is impossible to achieve any other way...You may be filled with self-pity, or... justifying resentment or anger...Or you may be filled with with anxiety, and during prayer you come to wonder what you were so worried about...[Prayer] is the bracing clarity of a new perspective... -Tim Keller, Prayer
I confess that sometimes I struggle with honesty in your presence.
I don't always share my feelings of fear, anger, doubt, or shame with you.
I don't tell you my thoughts, my hurts, my dreams, my experiences.
I am afraid.
I do not believe.
Remind me of the safety of your presence.
Bring the things that are in the dark to the light.
Show me how to be more honest with you.
And may I be open to the truths you will show me.
You are welcome here.
I want to know you, and I want to allow myself to be known by you.
In Jesus' Name,
Creative Journaling Prompt
What holds you back from telling God how you feel, what you think, what you are struggling with?
Think back on your story. Where could this have come from?
Family expressions of feelings/thoughts/struggles
Others' reactions from past moments of your vulnerability
Labels given to you
How the church communicated or responded to you/others regarding these things
Read Psalm 139 in several versions