The Possibilities of Honesty
Life tests us in really hard ways, as I learned recently walking through a tough situation alongside someone I love. But until we face these challenges, we never have an opportunity to see what our faith is made of.
In the previous post, The Impossibility of Forgiveness, I introduced how and why forgiveness is possible. I recommend that you read it first as it really helps to lay a foundation for this post, where we can look at the practical ways to live out what the Bible teaches about love and forgiveness. Forgiveness is the right thing to do. If our faith is just theory that we never put into action, then it is pretty useless.
How The Ending Begins
When a truth comes to light that shatters everything we thought we knew, it is new and painful and shocking, but in dissecting it, we find it is old and long and slow. What you are experiencing is the culmination of a journey that started long before with a single step or a single thought. Something said or left unsaid. An action deftly hidden in shade that of necessity grows into deep darkness.
When someone you love keeps something from you, they probably lied because of love. This sounds cliche, but go with me here. When you make a mistake, what do you immediately want to do? You want to hide it. You want to pretend it never happened. You look around, hoping no one saw or noticed. Because if they did they will now know how stupid you are. At best, they will laugh, at worst they will walk away. Maybe both at the same time. They won’t like you or respect you or want to work with you again. This is our ingrained pattern of thought. It is utterly real and it is the paradigm we apply not only to the random stranger who saw us fail that one time (and probably neither noticed or cared), but to the people who know us on the deepest levels, whose good opinion we cannot stand to lose.
There is nothing worse than making a mistake you know will result in negative consequences for those you love. A bad financial investment, the crunched bumper of the car you just backed into, or the loss of a job that means your family’s future is uncertain. You know how it feels. You relive that mistake again and again in your mind. You would do anything to change what happened, go back in time and fix the situation.
Now apply those same emotions to the person who wronged you. Who kept something hidden because they could not bring themselves to overcome the shame and tell you what happened. Because they did not want to hurt you or make you angry. Because at the heart of the matter, they could not bring themselves to risk losing your love and respect.
Why Lies seem Better than the Truth
The thought of telling a loved one the truth can be so terrifying that it seems better to lie or withhold the information in order to preserve the false (but better) impression the other person has of you. We don’t think about it to this extent. We just do it. Humans have an amazing capacity for self-preservation. We know what feels safe and what is not. The truth is sometimes the most unsafe thing we can imagine.
You know the person you care about loves and accepts this version of yourself, so all you have to do is maintain the status quo. Preserve whatever impression they have of you so there’s no reason for them to leave. Live up to their good opinion and prove you’re worthy of their affection and commitment.
Sure, they might still love you if you reveal your true self, but that uncertainty is a black door to the unknown. It is scary, uncharted territory from which your relationship might never return. Better to stick with what is safe than risk losing what you have, even if it means you are not 100% certain of them loving the real you.
This is how lies begin and look so good. And this is why so many relationships end in hurt, confusion and lots and lots of pain.
It is because we are selfish and scared and we will do anything to keep the good opinion of those we love, even if it is built on lies.
The rift only grows. Likely both sides are withholding something. Nobody is perfect, but everybody wants others to believe they are. Both people feel uncertain about the other’s love. Both are afraid to take the leap into the dark by admitting their faults and mistakes that put them at the mercy of the other’s ability to forgive. It is too big a risk.
This is especially true if forgiveness has not been modeled for you in the examples you have seen in your life. Children who have experienced the divorce of their parents are usually terrified that the same thing will happen to them. But despite resolving that things will be different in their family and even talking openly about it with their spouse, typical marriages still only have about a 50% chance of success.
Why is this the case? Why does the pattern keep repeating itself? Why are we still crushed by stories and personal experiences of betrayal and hurt at the hands of our loved ones? Who actually really do love us!
Anything that ends up breaking a marriage or friendship is a long, slow journey of choosing a small lie over the truth one time…two times…three…in an ill-fated attempt to protect the love the other person has for us. But it is like sucking the oxygen out of the atmosphere and hoping a rose will bloom.
A relationship is built on mutual trust and understanding. When our expectations of honesty are unfulfilled and the truth is finally discovered, the hollow structure collapses with no foundation left to support it. It is only in our ignorance that we think these things happen overnight.
How to Rebuild
Here is the analogy that has been revolutionary for my life lately. Think of the relationships in your life that you care about and want to protect. This might be with your spouse, a friend, parent, or sibling. Now think of everything in that relationship as a brick. Every conversation, every interaction and every piece of information exchanged is a brick. And you can use a brick in two ways: you can build a wall or you can build a bridge.
Building Walls is Easy
We tend to overlook it about ourselves, but we are always running our own PR campaign. We are justifying, defending, and trying to make ourselves look good to live up to what we have promised others (or ourselves) we will be.
Everything we have talked about with the desire to hide mistakes in order to be loved and accepted is a daily struggle we often do not even know we are a part of.
Every time you hide your true self from the other person out of fear, you are taking a brick and building a wall. You are acting on the belief that the other person will not accept and love the real you. You think you are protecting yourself and them, but you are actually making room for division and mistrust. Giving cause to hide, withdraw, and lie. The problem with building a wall is you have to keep putting bricks in, and even building more walls around the truth to hide the lies you have already told. You lay bricks on bricks on bricks until there are so many dividing you that if they ever came down, you fear it would crush you both completely. This is our natural inclination. We like to build walls of protection because it feels the safer route.
Building Bridges is Hard
Now imagine taking that same brick and instead of slapping it into a wall that separates you from the person you love, you use it to build a bridge towards them instead. The brick represents a piece of information about yourself. And it feels risky to show it to the other person, to place yourself in their hands and risk their judgement.
But if you share something honest, some mistake, lie, or fault and are still accepted and loved, that builds a precedent for honesty in your relationship. It creates a bridge between your true self and the other person. It is hard. It will probably feel hard every time, because we are great at building walls and horrible at building bridges. But the more you are honest and find the other person still loves you, the easier it will become. You will have a foundation of trust for your relationship that is true. You can know they really love the real you. You can be confident that it is okay to be imperfect and make mistakes because forgiveness is available. And the more both of you practice it towards each other, the more it will freely flow. You don’t need to lie because you already know the other person is on your side. It’s not a burden for them to forgive you, it’s a joy.
Just put yourself in their shoes. What could possibly cause you to reject and walk away from the person you love? When they admit to making a mistake, don’t you want to comfort them and tell them it’s all ok? Don’t you reassure them you’re in this together, and resolve to do anything you can to help? Of course you do! And that’s how they feel about you too when (not if) you make a mistake.
Take the brick and use it to build a bridge of unconditional love, communication, and acceptance. Every brick you place in the bridge is one less in the wall.
What if I’m Scared?
I get it. This all sounds beautiful and wonderful in theory. But when you’re sitting across from someone and trying to imagine telling them the truth, while fearing more than anything their reaction, it’s not so easy.
But don’t shy away from being honest, and withhold their chance to forgive you. When the time comes to forgive, it is an opportunity to show our love is truly unconditional. Prove that the other person’s fears were unjustified and that you will still love and accept them no matter what. Sure, you might be disappointed. You might even be hurt, but it doesn’t mean you would rather not know. Because the minute we stop communicating the truth to each other out of fear is the moment we’ve consigned our relationship to doom. We’ve said it’s not strong enough to handle the truth, so we can’t risk it. And the wall goes up.
If your world is crumbling down around you because of a betrayal, let the bricks of the wall fall, get them all down and out of the way. Let the dust clear and look at the real person on the other side. The imperfect, vulnerable, frightened one who wants to be with you more than anything else and start laying the bricks of a bridge. Meet this opportunity head on, because rather than broken friendships, hated parents, children who grow up and never look back, or a divorce, this is an opportunity. An opportunity to build a real relationship with a real human, who is just as broken as you are. You have a chance to make something new and beautiful: a relationship where honesty is the default and forgiveness as automatic as breathing.
We can only forgive because Christ first forgave. Only love because God first loved. But it is a joy to put what we have experienced into practice. Love people fiercely as Christ loves you. Welcome the chance to forgive every day. There is no better foundation for a relationship. There is no more satisfying feeling than the peace that comes with that true companionship where everything is known, and together, you can move forward supporting and encouraging one another and being each other’s strength in areas of weakness.