Who Do You think You Are?
An old adage: “You are not who you think you are. You are who you think other people think you are.” It simply means that who we are is determined by the opinions of others. We are so concerned about what others think about us, that it dominates who we believe we are. This is false.
Who do we want to be? As Christians, what is our goal? How do we want others to view us? Chuck Swindoll used to say (and I quote loosely from an impaired memory), “If you really knew me, you would not listen to me. But don’t worry. If I really knew you, I would not let you in this church!”
Do we know who we are? Or do we keep our real selves a secret known only to us? Often we live lives so guarded that we, ourselves, don’t even know who we are. We are so scared of what people will think of us that we hide everything ugly, everything dishonorable, everything that stinks . . . or just all the puke in our hair. We throw up and remove all evidence that it ever happened. We are too scared to be transparent.
Martin Luther On Transparency
Martin Luther once made a controversial statement: “Be a sinner. Sin boldly.” I love Luther. He did not hold his hair back when vomiting. He let the vomit shine for all to see. Luther was keenly aware of his sin, and of grace. Luther’s comment was meant to provocatively communicate something much deeper. “Sin boldly . . .” the statement begins; it continues, “. . . but believe more boldly.” Luther did not care much for self-righteousness. He did not like masks. He did not like trying to impress people. He was continually attempting to make those who were satisfied with their own works recognize their own utter depravity. “Look in the mirror,” he might have said. “You are a wretch. Let your wretchedness be seen. If you clean yourself up, you may fool yourself into thinking that you don’t need grace.” What a terrible place to be: Self-fooled and graceless. Therefore, when you sin, sin boldly and let it be known (don’t hold your hair back).
It was not so much the case that Luther wanted people to sin with a sense of comfort; he preferred they recognized their sin and its presence in their own life. When we sin and play cover-up, grace becomes invisible. Yes, it is there, but when we are so quick to clean ourselves up, we cannot see grace. We have to live with such a recognition of our brokenness that we are continually kneeling at the foot of the Cross in utter dependence on him. We never deserve anything.
But if we are transparent, we know our need for grace to a much greater degree. So we need to see the mess. Others need to see this mess. Quit cleaning yourself up. Let the vomit dry.
Being Real In Front of Others
There was a scene in an episode of the old AMC series Breaking Bad. The main character, who is dying of cancer, broke down crying in front of his son. His son watched as his dad fell apart. And it was a long crying session. Many tears that had been held for many years came out that night. The son did not know what to do. The next morning, dad came in to have a father-son talk. He apologized and told his son that he did not want him to remember him the way he was last night. He wanted him to remember a strong father figure who kept it together. The father had vomit in his hair and he wanted to clean it up in an attempt to erase its memory and smell. However, his son responded, “No. I want to remember you exactly the way you were last night. It was the first time you were real.”
Who are we? We are controlled by others’ perception of us, a fact which frequently motivates us to clean up too quickly. We are obsessed with what others say about us. We are not who we are, we are only that who we believe others think we are. In the process no one is helped. All of us need to show the vomit in our hair. All of us.
Men of God Did Not Hold Their Hair Back in the Bible
I am glad Paul did not hold his hair back in Romans 7. I am glad Abraham’s fumble—handing his wife off to another man out of fear—is recorded. I am glad Moses’ clothes are soiled with filth (as he sinned in disobedience). I’m glad that John the Baptist—the greatest man who was ever born of a woman—had manure on his shoes (as he doubted Christ’s identity right before he died). And Peter . . . God bless Peter. His failures created such a stench of repulsive odor that Paul had to get in his face and correct him (Gal. 2:11-14). If all the biblical characters were clean, well-shaved, and manicured, we would feel isolated and alone. Why? Because deep inside we know we are not looking too good. And we like it when others share in our struggles.
God, in his sovereign plan, wanted us to know everything about the great men of God. No one, except maybe Daniel, gets off without the throw up in their hair being revealed. The Bible is completely transparent. It gets so transparent, that we feel like covering the kids eyes when they get to certain parts. If the Bible were made into a hollywood movie, it would be rated R. I am not sure how all the Biblical characters feel about us know the good, the bad, and the ugly of their lives being revealed. I imagine Samson does not care (boy, was that guys life a mess). After all, who is going to make fun of him in heaven? He will beat you silly! But the rest, may not have signed that consent form. David may have objected to the ol’ Bathsheba incident being made public and going quite viral. Poor Thomas has one single bout with doubt and get’s a new first name—Doubting Thomas. I think he would like to edit John’s Gospel a bit. Nevertheless, God wanted us to know everything these guys did, especially the bad. And we are all glad he did. We can related to everyone of them (except, maybe, Daniel . . . I mean, who invited that “holier than thou” to the party anyway). We need people who can empathize with us and we find them all in the Bible.
Why Do We Hold Our Hair Back?
Many of our lives would be rated R were it turned into a movie. But we are embarrassed to let anyone see the script. We don’t sin boldly and we hold our hair back. We are scared to tell others at church or those in our family about the real us because we think our image is too important. The funny thing is that when you are transparent with your life, when you share the bad things, we you confess your sins to others, the exact opposite usually happens. Yes, you may lose some friends, but the ones keep and the new ones you gain will be inspired by your boldness. People want to see the real you. People who take themselves too seriously (hold their hair back too much) are not the ones we want to be around. I want to see your cuts, bruises, broken bones, closed wounds, open wounds, and displaced hips everywhere. I want to know what you really struggle with when no one is around. Transparency is a lost art among Christians of every stripe. Right when we get saved, we shape ourselves into this mold that that is a fake statue of ourselves in order to conform to the conformed. One has to be around non-believers to really open up.
Further Reading on Transparency: Why Country Music is So Popular and What We Can Learn From it by C Michael Patton
Yes, shampoo will cover it up. Yes, mouthwash will help. Change your clothes. spray your cologne, apply your deodorant and cover up. Remake your image. Fear what others would say if they really knew. But when we hold our hair back when we vomit, are we following in the footsteps of those who have gone before us? Is it biblical? From what I can see, the Scriptures go out of their way to reveal the brokenness – the vomit – of its greatest heroes.
Why are we so scared about being real?