The past 2 weeks at my church here in Fayetteville, NC, we have been studying Psalm 42. Here are the first few verses.
“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”
Psalm 42:1-3, ESV
My heart aches and feels for this psalmist. I feel that discouragement. I feel that distance from God. I feel that despair. However, as an anti-messy, extreme perfectionist, I hate that I have these feelings.
Our pastor, John, has brought up how easily we ask others “how are you?” without expecting a real answer. He asked the congregation, “what if we answered like this? What if the next time someone walked up and said ‘how are ya’ we answered honestly?” Think of the reactions! It’s laughable, really. “How are you” tends to be one of the first things out of our mouths when we greet others. How often do you, or others, answer it truthfully and honestly? I know I don’t, even when someone is genuinely expecting an honest answer from me.
I have a lot of new “self-improvement” things that I am currently working on. One of the things I’ve been doing, thanks to “Switch on Your Brain” by Dr. Caroline Leaf, is not just identifying a “negative” behavior, but getting to the root of “why”. That is where change happens, friends.
I don’t think I realized I didn’t answer “how are you” honestly until a couple of months ago. I was having a rough time adjusting to this new season in life and was seeking some guidance. I reached out to one of our head pastors. Ever since I met him, he has felt like a “brotherly” presence in my life. He felt like someone that would hear my hurt and strongly and firmly point me to Jesus. We sat down in the board room at the school where church is held one Sunday after service. I sat on one side of the long, wide conference table, he on the other. I had my legs crossed, my hands on my knees, and a smile on my face. Little did he know, my palms were sweaty, my heart was pounding, and my mind was reeling. “Hey, Dani. How are you,” he asked as he settled into his seat. “I’m good,” I responded, with a relatively large smile on my face and a chipper tone to my voice. “Are you good? Are you really good,” he asked me as he raised his eyebrows. No, I thought to myself. My eyes immediately filled with tears and I reached for the tissues. Now, it should be noted that I cope with humor. I have my Newcombe family genes to thank for that. So as my pastor basically says, Dani, I know you’re not okay, I begin to laugh and cry at the same time and disclose that I am a “crier” and cry at everything, because then maybe it will make it seem like less of a big deal that I am completely sobbing at this point. Here I am, nursing a heartbreak that has flipped my world upside down, and I’m making sure I let my pastor know that I just always cry and I’m not that broken. I reach for the tissues and begin to carefully blot around my eyes, because God forbid my mascara start running and I look less than put together.
During this time, my pastor said something so profound. He said, “I bet you’ve never been fully known by anyone.” Whoa. “No, I don’t think I have,” I responded quietly in between sniffles. Trust me, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to prove him wrong in my head, but at the end of the day, there has yet to be one person that I have allowed in to even the deepest, darkest corners of my soul. I save those for myself.
Since that meeting, I’ve been trying to figure out WHY. Why do I not allow myself to be fully known by others? I know the root of it is perfectionism. If I allow others in, then they’ll realize I’m not perfect. HA! News flash: nobody’s perfect so there goes that excuse. I refuse to portray messiness. Except my room. That room of mine can stay messy. Up until that recent Google search that sparked the start of this blog, I denied my messiness. The refusal to embrace and acknowledge the messiness within our lives begins with a simple lie: “I’m good! How are you?”
While I don’t think we need to go around answering “how are you” with “I AM LIKE A DEER, PANTING, PINING FOR THE LORD,” I do think there is something incredibly powerful and hauntingly beautiful about starting to embrace and share the imperfections of our lives. For me, it’s started with this blog. It’s started with journaling and writing down my hurts, my joys, my fears, my dreams. It’s started with prayers being real. Let’s face it, if you can’t be real with God, the God who fully knows you, who can you be real with?
I’m not a big Harry Potter buff. I read the first, like, four books and saw some of the movies when I was younger but I never got into the hype. However, I found this quote and thought it fit perfectly.
“Dumbledore: ‘Harry, there is never a perfect answer in this messy, emotional world. Perfection is beyond the reach of magic. In every shining moment is that drop of poison: the knowledge that pain will come again. Be honest to those you love, show your pain. To suffer is as human as to breathe.”
– Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
I’ve been more aware of how often I ask, “how are you” when I greet friends. Heck, I’ve realized I’ll say it to random people as we pass each other in the midst of our busy days. While I know the kind gentleman saying “how are ya” as he passes me in Starbucks is not expecting an honest answer, I know that my dear friend from church asks me with the anticipation that I’ll share a bit of what’s on my heart, good or bad. I know that when someone close to me looks me in the eyes and says, “how are you” they are hoping that I’ll share some of my burden with them. I strive to be like some of the men and women that I am surrounded by, arms and hearts open, ready to help a friend carry the weight of some of their burdens.
Being fully known is frightening, especially to an anti-messy, hyper-perfectionist. We take a chance when we choose to be fully known. So what the hell is the point?! Can’t we all just keep our darkness to ourselves and move through life just fine? Timothy Keller said it best, so I’ll let his words take this one to wrap up this post.
“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”