After being introduced, I stepped onto the stage and greeted the audience. “How’s everyone doing tonight?” The auditorium was dark and the spotlights hit me square in the eyes. I knew that the place was about a third full, though at the moment I could only see spots. Maybe six or seven hundred people that I couldn’t see were looking squarely at me, quietly. I asked the question again: “How is everyone tonight?” Oh, he actually wants an answer. This time I got a rousing chorus of hoots and hollers, applause, shouts of “good,” “great,” and “awesome.”
I was speaking to a group of college students at a Christian university and was preparing to tell them the story of when I surrendered my life to Christ. A key piece to that story was the witness of several Christian friends who were completely transparent with me. Instead of trying to have all the answers to my questions about God and the universe, they were vulnerable and completely honest about their fears, doubts, and the questions they simply couldn’t answer. I wanted to make a point with these students about transparency.
“Really?” I asked. “Every single one of you is having the best day of your life?” They looked at me funny. Isn’t that the right answer when someone asks how you’re doing? “No one is stressed about grades or assignments? Not one of you is struggling in your relationships with your parents? Nobody broke up with a boyfriend or girlfriend this week and is sad about it?” The room became very quiet. I had their attention.
Admittedly, it’s probably not appropriate for several hundred people to start dishing all their struggles to a guest speaker in an auditorium when he casually asks how they are doing. But the problem is that we do this in everyday life when we are face-to-face with people. We offer a smile and say that “it’s all good” when we’re one-on-one with a co-worker, friend, or even a family member. Society tells us, in so many words, that we mustn’t burden others with our problems. It also tells us that we should be ashamed of our struggles and either sort them out on our own or keep them hidden from sight.
But nothing could be further from the truth, not if we want to live deep, rich, fulfilling lives, lives of mental and emotional health and strength, lives of true joy. In his second letter to the church at Corinth, the apostle Paul reminds them of his transparency with them.
“We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open.” (2 Corinthians 6:11-13)
And later in the same letter he wrote, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)
Read that last verse again, slowly: When I am weak, then I am strong. One of the great ironies of this life is that we can only be strong when we are willing to set aside our pride and be vulnerable. We must confess our sins, share our struggles, admit our fears and doubts. It is only the alcoholic who admits he has a problem and needs help, only he will fully heal from his addiction. Likewise, only when we share our troubles with others who we trust, others who can encourage us, bear our burdens with us, and pray for us; only then can we find hope and healing.
We can even bring our true selves to the Father. He can handle our questions and doubts. He is more than capable of absorbing our anger and frustration. In fact, it is this sort of raw honesty before God that has the potential to spur on the greatest spiritual growth in our lives. Looking for a sure-fire way to remain just as you are spiritually? Keep telling God that “it’s all good.” Keep coming to Him with only the “right” words, the churchy words.
So the next time someone says to you, “Hi, how are you?” pause for a minute and consider your answer. This may be the Father’s way of coaxing you out. And the next time you pray and hear His Spirit ask you, “How are you?” maybe sit quietly a while before answering. When you allow God and others to truly know you, you may be surprised at the results.