I have always been open about myself. Even though I’ve become a bit timid, I don’t hesitate to tell someone something about myself if they ask. But last year, when I was sharing my struggles with someone and they essentially asked me if I was crazy. . . something changed. I’ve found that now I try to water down the truth in order to appear okay, that I’m afraid to be honest because sometimes the truth is hideous.
I didn’t realize this until recently, when I was wrestling with sadness and ended up talking about it with two different people. The first person saw my sadness, and their response was to ask me questions. They were rather broad questions that didn’t really pertain to my sadness, but I tried to answer them. The more I was asked, the more I tried to hide the truth, because I knew this person would not understand. I left that experience feeling more sad and alone than before.
The next day, I met with my small group. Every time we get together, we go around the room and share our “rose and thorn,” basically the best and worst elements of the week for us. It was my turn, and I gladly shared the “rose” of a dear friend having her baby. We rejoiced for my friend and gushed about the incredible beauty of new life. We were just about to move on until someone said, “Wait. Tessa, have you shared your thorn?” All attention was directed to me. My heart was in my stomach, and I quickly mustered, “Oh, my thorn is just brain stuff. It’s okay.” But that wasn’t enough. Our leader asked me, “What does that mean?” Everyone waited for me to answer. I began hesitantly. . . but I told them. Whatever truth about the state of my heart came to mind, I spoke aloud—my fear of sounding crazy, why I had that fear, the feelings I had that reminded me of depression, the helplessness that made me feel—everything. Their response? Genuine sympathy and understanding. They didn’t try to fix me like the person the day before had; they simply prayed for me and showed loving concern for me, and that was the best thing they could possibly do. I felt loved and cared for, by them and Jesus. That was the day I learned that being vague about myself doesn’t help me; it keeps me from experiencing the joy and freedom of truth.
Jesus says, “The truth will set you free” (John 8:32), and He is so right. But have you ever considered that this doesn’t simply mean “stop lying”? Lies are not the only thing to keep truth from us; sometimes concealing the truth is just as harmful as trying to replace it. Being vague is essentially keeping the truth from someone, right? Lying keeps truth from people, too, only instead of being secretive it is manipulative. Lies and vagueness are related, and as Christians we cannot be liars. Jesus Himself is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). If we live contrary to the truth, we are living contrary to Him. Again, this does not refer only to lying; Paul almost suggests that being vague angers God when he says, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18). God doesn’t want us to hide.
Being vague, in actuality, does not even serve the purpose we want it to. Instead of preventing people from knowing any details, it makes them crave the details even more, because it seems as if something is being kept from them. I will give you a disclaimer right now and say that I’m about to be a bit vague in the stories I tell, but it is not to conceal the truth from you; it is simply to respect the people in these stories. I think that is one of the only situations that makes it okay to be vague: when you need to protect the identity or confidence of others. That being said, a man was recently fired from his job for reasons unknown to the public. Because no one involved in the situation has given anyone any information, the public is not only insatiably curious—they assume the worst about him. They know nothing, but because the truth has been kept from them, they think it must be an incredibly ugly truth.
When I was a sophomore in high school, my youth pastor was fired and sent back to his home state. It was indeed for an ugly reason: he had been unfaithful to his wife with an intern in the church. It was a horrible, painful truth—but it was the truth. And because the church leadership was open about it, we didn’t have to be curious; all we had to do was cry, grieve, and heal. Knowing the truth brought that healing to us, because it allowed us to be unified. It hurt, so much, but hurt heals.
Sometimes vagueness creates curiosity, but other times the reverse is true: it can create a sense of tolerance. If we’re crafty enough about it, we can make things seem smaller or less important than they are. For example, politicians are often vague, so much so that it is hard to understand what is actually being said. Many people are adamant about finding the truth, but more commonly I see people simply give up trying to know. George Orwell, in his essay “Politics and the English Language,” states it this way: “In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of atom bombs on Japan can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.” I believe that this kind of vagueness creates an attitude of cloudy tolerance in people, and that leads me to ask myself:
Do I want to be simply TOLERATED?
If I become crafty in vagueness, it doesn’t allow anyone to actually know me. They can have a conversation with me and leave with no more understanding of me and my life than before. It might make me “safe,” but not known. There is great value in being understood by someone; we all long for it, yet rarely to we give anyone the opportunity to give that gift to us.
Just last month, I received it.
Again, I must be a little vague to honor the other person involved in the story, but I trust this will not robbed of its power or beauty even if a few details are not elaborated. I was having a conversation with a dear friend I’ve known since grade school; we have grown together in age and in spirit, and she is a treasure to me. But, in all the years we’ve been close, we had never shared our testimonies with each other. Maybe we figured we lived them together, but, still, we didn’t know the whole story. During this conversation with her last week, I told her I needed prayer but was afraid to say why. She paused, then pursued, “Can I tell you my whole story?” I said, “Of course,” and with every sentence she spoke my heart rate increased.
She was telling me my own story.
She was speaking about herself, but she was unknowingly telling me, “Our testimonies are almost the same.” We had fallen into the same sins, felt the same guilt, received the same revelations! Nearly every detail lined up. When she finished her narrative, I thanked her, and said, “I was the same way.” She gasped, and whispered, “You, too, Tessa?” We laughed and trembled joyously at the gift God had given us: assurance, understanding, and FREEDOM.
Just imagine if my friend had given me a cloudy version of her testimony! We would never have experienced the miracle we did. We had been vague with each other about our testimonies for many years, but inside we carried one of the deepest connections possible. I am infinitely grateful that she was honest with me; it gave me the courage to be honest with her, and as a result we now walk in so many blessings we couldn’t have before. The whole truth led to more wholeness in our friendship.
Most of all, it made me see that I hadn’t been honest with myself. I lived with the belief that no one else who lives the way I do now would have a past like mine. But SHE DID. I had been lying to myself.
We MUST be honest. Not only is it firmly required of us, but God is practical in His requirements; honesty in all things, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, is one of the most important elements of walking in freedom. The truth will set you free. And sometimes, you must set the truth free first. Let it out.