Our pastor recently shared about his personal life in a very transparent sermon. One that gets you thinking, “Wow! I could never share about my struggles with my church friends (who are, of course, always happy and perfect Christians). Not to mention, sharing about my problems in front of a whole congregation!” Sadly, many of us, myself included, have spent many years in Christian circles trying to keep up pretenses. It’s just not worth it!
Pornographic materials of all kinds had a grip on my pastor’s life for many years, starting at age 12. He shared his story of how those materials entered his life, how they affected him in teenage and young adult years, and even into his early married years. Thankfully, he continually went back to God to get those images, stories, and thoughts out of his mind. He also confessed to his wife and made a commitment to take specific actions to guard himself. Now, he is able to proclaim that those things no longer hold him hostage!
During his sermon, he told the story of a church leader who was so frustrated with people’s lack of “realness” that he wished one of the men in his small group would get up and say that he wanted to kill his wife. Of course, not that wanting to kill his wife was a good thing, but that he would be honest and open enough to say how he felt in order to embrace the healing process.
I think I was in the women’s version of that small group. For two years, I helped lead worship for a women’s bible study at a fairly large church in southern California. Our “small” group that met after the large group worship and speaking session consisted of eight to ten women, including two leaders. After the initial few sessions, you hoped that people would start sharing their hurts and struggles more intimately. There were many days when I simply couldn’t hold back my tears as I shared, yet again, about my disintegrating marriage. I felt completely alone among dry eyes, sympathetic nods and bible memory verses.
But know that I’m writing this, I wonder how honest I really was. Did I really lay it on the line and tell those women that I had thought of divorce? I remember crying a lot, but maybe more of those tears fell in my car when I was finally alone. I did talk one-on-one with several women and ask for advice. My summary of that advice: be a better wife, spend more time with God, do everything at home (mind you, I was working full-time) so he can focus on being the “man of the house”, and give him more sex. I tried so hard to do all those things and whatever else I could think of. Nothing seemed to help!
I tried to put on my game face for church – especially for the young marrieds group we attended – but it just got harder. We did meet with one of the pastors one evening during the young marrieds group. (Again, I couldn’t hold back the tears!) We also met with a Christian counselor for a time. Eventually, we did get divorced. A part of me will always be saddened by the brokenness of that relationship.
But going back to that women’s bible study … a few weeks after the study ended, I received a call from the leader. Not my small group leader, but the leader of the entire study. She apologized to me and said she wished she had talked with me sooner. She knew that I was struggling, but didn’t know how difficult things were. She told me she should have been “Jesus with skin on.” That took my breath away. Even now I can hear her saying that phrase. “Jesus with skin on.”
I just wonder … am I being honest enough with others to allow them to care about me and love on me? Am I reaching out to others who are hurting or confused and offering to be “Jesus with skin on?”
I think we can all be a little more honest, a little more vulnerable, and a little more real.