Everyone Has a Story
Jon Malstrom is a great friend of mine who has a gift for writing, among other things. He wrote today’s post and it’s longer than usual for Punch and Press, but I didn’t want you to miss what he has to say or the way he says it. I know you will be blessed by reading Jon’s story about risk, authenticity, healing and relationship. – Brandon
It seems as if every single day I must once again face the fact that life is unpredictable and the only thing certain is uncertainty. I have issues with this. I’m not a go-with-the-flow Type-B kind of guy. Most of the time I’m pretty tightly wound and I have a need for predictable circumstances. When I’m forced to engage with chaos and change, I become very anxious. My rather acute and chronic anxiety has a profound impact on my day-to-day life. I find this ironic (and a tiny bit humorous), since my field of work is Organizational Change Management and I help employees adapt to change in the workplace.
The intensity of my anxiety ebbs and flows, but it’s always present. It most often begins to ramp when I’m in the midst of situations over which I have no control. (Do you get why my anxiety is ever-present?) My attempts to compensate and get things back under control cause me to behave in ways bordering the obsessive and annoying (extensive checklists, repetitive routines, facial tics, etc.). I periodically have full-blown panic attacks causing some pretty unpleasant behavior.
Now that I’ve come clean about the anxiety issue, I’ll be brave and go on to admit that this isn’t the only debilitating flaw I wrestle to overcome. I’m insecure, have low self-esteem, feel socially awkward, fear crowds, isolate myself from others to protect myself from hurt, and the list goes on. Some of the resulting wounds have scarred over, some are still open and festering after years of therapy work. I’m a hot mess, seemingly trapped in an ever-rotating cycle of fear, hopelessness, and shame.
This feels really off-center with how things are supposed to be for a Christ-follower. I claim to be a Christian so I’m supposed to be full of joy, peace, and self-control, right? I made the decision to follow Jesus when I was twelve. I should be “mature” by now, with a glowing halo and a shout of “Praise Jesus!” even when the toilet overflows. How can I still have sin issues, character flaws, and depression? This confusion and conflict in my soul produces overwhelming shame (which fuels my anxiety), so I try to cover it up so I won’t taint my saintly image. I hide behind a mask of illusion, displaying only what I want you to see and perceive about me. I pretend that I’ve got it together and life is perfect. I lie, hide, deceive – to protect this created image at all costs.
I’ll be honest with you (yes, really) – I’m terrified for you to know who I really am. I don’t think I can stand to see the disgust on your face and feel your rejection. It just seems easier to continue living by my script.
If you’re familiar with the story of creation and the fall of man in the Bible, my story may sound a little familiar. After the devil tempted Adam and Eve to commit the very first sin, God comes looking for them in the Garden of Eden, where they were hiding because they realized they were naked and were ashamed (Genesis 3:8-10).
This “Great Cover Up” started with the beginning of man. None of us are immune to it, though it may manifest itself differently and uniquely with each of us.
Deep down I know this pretending and hiding is not healthy, it’s not what God intended for me. And it eats me up inside. It keeps me isolated from others and fosters a “me-focus” instead of an “others-focus.” I believe God has placed within each of us a desire and a need to be known by others for who we really are. But our pride, position, isolation, or past get in the way. So what’s the solution? How do we begin the process of breaking down those titanium walls? Of stepping out from behind our Kevlar curtain of safety? How do we find the courage to be real with one another?
So, even though much of the time I may look like it, [Spoiler Alert] I do not have it all together. I need help. I’m just beginning to realize that it’s through a slow and steady investment in relationships that I learn the value and necessity of Christian community. God has been faithful throughout my years of struggle to carefully place individuals in my life with whom I can be myself. My real, true, authentic, unvarnished, unwashed, self.
I have the greatest wife any man could deserve. She’s my best friend and she knows and understands me well. Even though we’ve been married 25 years, we’re stilling learning about one another and the best ways to be a help-mate to the other.
There are also a few men that know my story – the good, the bad, and the very ugly. It didn’t happen overnight with these men, it took time. We hung out, we prayed together, played together, and sometimes we endured trials together. We held each other accountable. We did life together. As our relationships went deeper, our freedom to share struggles and pain increased. I realized that these guys needed me as much as I needed them. God created us for relationship and community. It’s where I’ve begun to find healing and wholeness again. It’s powerful stuff.
Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. James 5:16 NLT
I’m learning that when I’m willing and courageous enough to peel back my veneer and be transparent with another, something deeply spiritual and holy happens. I realize that everybody struggles with something. Everybody has their own stuff, their own past, their own addictions or compulsions. I’m not alone in my sin because we’re all broken in one way or another. We all need grace and God’s unconditional love. And we need each other to point us to the truth.
Yes, there is risk involved. The other person may not respond the way you wanted. Yes, trust is also required. Your “secrets” may not be held in confidence. Regardless, if we are to live as a New Testament church we must take the risk and we must give the trust. I believe God honors this type of relationship, and that it is holy. Never once have I been rejected or betrayed after sharing my deepest wounds with another. I’ve only found healing, acceptance, and understanding.
I have a favorite t-shirt with just a few simple words printed on the front: “Everyone Has a Story.” What’s yours? Are you ready to drop your mask and be real, even with one person? I challenge you to start praying today for God to lead you into the clear, cool, deep waters of true relationship.