Unplanned Honesty

Unplanned Honesty

He told them to open their Bibles, ignoring their muffled sighs. Teenagers.  You’d recognize their expressions—rolling eyes and sluggardly movements. The teacher read from James anyway:

“You who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business, and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’”  James 4:13-15

He closed his Bible and solemnly told his students a personal example. His parents had wanted to be missionaries. Then, they both discovered they had cancer. Even our best plans, he explained, can be altered without warning. Little did the teacher know, that he would actually demonstrate his point.

He meant to give a well-thought-out Bible lesson with a meaningful illustration. The teaching was supposed to start and finish on time, like a Sunday sermon that ends by noon for the football game. Yet something totally unplanned happened.

photoAs he shared about his parents’ illnesses, his own grief welled up like a mighty, churning river and overflowed into the room. There he sat, weeping uncontrollably. The eighth-graders remained frozen in their seats, completely absorbed in the moment. Not a desk creaked. No one even dared to swallow.

Their teacher always spoke with carefully measured words. He even maintained self-control in heated moments of frustration. Yet there, before their eyes, he transformed into a real human being—a man confused about God’s ways, wrestling with doubt. How could a loving God let cancer ravage two people whose hearts were set on serving Him—as missionaries, no less?

The students were captivated, but not as people who gawk at the scene of an accident. They were drawn to their teacher, because he was being real.

For the teacher, it felt like an embarrassing mistake. But life is a live act. No rewinding or editing allowed. To his relief, the school day was ending, and the students would need to head for the bus.

The kids, however, didn’t want to tidy up the moment. Never again would they pigeonhole their teacher as a fake adult. In the days that followed, many students wrote him heartfelt notes. One girl baked him cookies over the weekend. Something  genuine had happened.

As adults, we often try to live by high standards, forgetting that we are a work-in-progress. Teenagers have ups and downs as they mature, but adults should know better, right? We aim to be good role models. But the truth is, we’d rather look good than truly be known by others.

Authenticity, or being genuine in who we are—with all our doubts and struggles—is not incompatible with godliness.

Jesus weptOne of the most compelling things about Jesus was His genuine humanity. For instance, He knew Lazarus would die because of His delayed arrival. He understood God’s power to raise Lazarus from the dead. Still, He entered into a human moment and wept.

Or how about the garden of Gethsemane? Jesus knew He was facing the cross. He showed his angst saying, “Let this cup pass from Me.” His prayers and emotions were real. We, on the other hand, tend to deny our humanity as something unspiritual.

Authenticity is the freedom to say, “I am what I am.” As Dag Hammarskjold said in his book, Markings, “He who has placed himself in God’s hand stands free vis-à-vis men: He is entirely at ease with them, because he has granted them the right to judge.” Authenticity is being honest with oneself and others about unresolved problems, spiritual questions, besetting sins, failures and true feelings. Why pretend or conceal? When we allow ourselves to be real, it releases others to do the same.

I’ve often thought that church groups should learn from the candid honesty found in AA meetings. “Hi, I’m Susan, a Christian with some doubts and fears.” If we introduced ourselves that way, it could change the dialogue. Wouldn’t we find more warmth in our relationships with others?

Dostoevsky photoBut mostly, I think of God’s warmth for us when we choose to be real with Him.

When Russian novelist, Fyodor Dostoevsky, lay dying on his bed, he asked for his children to come in. He wanted them to hear the story of the Prodigal Son. After the Scripture reading, he took their hands in his and said, “My children, never forget what you have just heard. Have absolute faith in God and never despair of His pardon. You are His children: humble yourselves, and He will rejoice over your repentance.” That evening, Dostoevsky quietly died while holding his wife’s hand.

Think about it…the father runs out to greet the son with a kiss. The son has returned home in the worst shape. No matter. The father embraces him wholeheartedly.

How long has it been since you’ve had an authentic conversation with God?Prodigal Son


  1. Susan, that was amazing. I am glad to say our church is honest like that. Before, when people asked how I was I just replied ok. Now if I am not, I say so. With people who are not in my church, they can be surprised and uncomfortable-because actually THEY too, are not being real. They do not really want to know how I am. They want to appear to care, but only that. When as humans we hurry along in our own lives-rushing to ask out of ‘politeness’ how people are – are we really doing it because that is who we are? I know I can be a fake like this.

    I also think it is so important, how you pointed out about being honest with ourselves -when we deny the truth about how we really feel. For example one of my coping mechanisms is ‘I don’t care.’ I never realized until a few years ago that that was a lie. I did care, in fact I really cared. The truth is, I was hurting or angry-frequently both!. But I had learnt to suppress my feelings and cover them with the mantra,’ I do not care’. Breaking the habit is hell. I find myself wanting to say it. Or I say it. But then I say to myself, NO, I DO care, actually, this is how I feel………..Until we are truthful with ourselves about what we hide or avoid we cant be honest with others. We are superficial. And that means, God cannot see us. He cannot stand in our lies-because they are not real. So we cannot stand with Him, until we come to Him and admit the truth. And that can hurt. Alot. I have so many issues with being truthful with myself. But I am learning. I do not want to live my life where God cannot come because I will not show Him my true self, because I am hiding. Like Adam and Eve, we still run away and God has to patiently ask ‘Where are you?’ I am beginning very slowly to realize He actually, is not concerned when I am angry and scream hate to Him, or tell him my doubts and Fears or show my pain and hurts and let Him know I feel he deserted and betrayed me-He wants my honesty. He is pleased with my honesty because then it is in the light and we can deal with it. He is so very much more concerned when we hide from Him because until we turn to Him and admit who we are and where we really are at, he cannot help.

    • Dear Friends…
      Thank you for all your great comments and honesty here. Honesty with self, honesty with others, honesty with God–are so important. But I am also reminded of a couple things. One is honesty without love can be brutality, and love without honesty can be sentimentality–so when it comes to others and being real, we must have both in balance. Secondly, while it’s important to be real and authentic, it is also wise to not share everything with everyone. It’s okay to show real feelings and not stuff them down, but some painful soul-searching discussions need to be shared in relationships where confidentiality is upheld. To go around bemoaning to everyone you meet about things that are causing you pain is not healthy. But I’m sure you all know that already! Thank you for taking time to share your thoughts on my blog site. Susan

  2. Suzanne ferenczy :

    Susan, I am going to print this and hang it up at church… maybe print a bunch. Do I have to wait for permission, or is it okay? It will be the whole thing with all the symbols and pictures, including who wrote it (you).

    Love you “all much”,


    • Suzanne! Of course— print it and share it with others as much as you want! Thank you for the courtesy of asking. Please invite others to join my blog by putting my website on the page. You are the best! Susan Hill

  3. Susan,
    This is good! We talk about ‘being real’ with each other, but I forget to ‘be real’ with God often times. Thank you for this reminder.

  4. Excellent message and observation. Authenticity may be the greatest challenge for me as a very codependent person who fears the isolation and separation that conflict might bring. That makes authenticity dangerous, and it makes life lonely. Thank God for loving us as He knows us to be regardless of how we wish He knew us to be. In my own journey I’m finding authenticity in recovery groups where we’ve discovered how the facade keeps us in bondage.

    This morning in church a lady I don’t know well shared with me her struggle with depression and bi-polar. It was one of the kindest, greatest gifts I’ve gotten in that group. She offered me trust; she opened herself and invited me to look. She infused me with courage as well as compassion.

    Thanks for a sensitive post on a powerful subject.

  5. i love “life is a live act” and my favorite story in the bible is possibly the prodigal son. that tenderness that is available just for me whenever i seek it out is beyond compare. even just the possibility of an authentic conversation with god is so glorious, it saddens me that i don’t go there constantly. i know he is waiting and delights the most when we come for a visit, a sit down with him. i will be having an authentic conversation with him soon i think! i have mini ones all the time but they are pretty one sided. i blab to him and keep moving along like a steam engine, too loud and too fast to hear his voice. my pardon at the cross is my only hope. again, thanks for the reminder and the nudge. lovey dovey uses you beautifully in your posts. cause you LET him.
    suzee B

  6. Jennifer Long :

    Wow… Thank you Susan, thank you so much. For years I have covered up my emotions because I was afraid to be real because others would see me as “non-Christian”. This message gave me freedom. I find myself, years later, 7 years older in the Lord, showing more emotion that I used to and maybe this is the Lord allowing me to let go, rather than cover up my emotions and being authentic rather than fake (“Stepford wife”).