We need authenticity, within healthy relationships, to find the freedom to become the people God wants us to be.
A few years ago, Josh McDowell rallied our ministry speaking team when he sat us down with his friend, Dr. Henry Cloud, a giant in the counseling world. You might have seen Dr. Cloud’s name on the back of one of his many internationally best-selling books, including his Boundaries series.
As Dr. Cloud notes in his book Changes That Heal, “Every week I see Christians who are suffering from a whole range of emotional problems: anxiety, loneliness, grief over broken relationships, resentment, and feelings of inadequacy. Often they have been struggling with these problems for years. They are people in pain.”
Some — myself, included — learn to hide that pain so well, for years, that no one sees it. Even though it’s at the forefront of our minds every minute. And every single one of those minutes, we live in fear that we’ll be discovered.
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We’re Designed for Relationships
As Dr. Cloud taught us about developing healthy relationships, he offered us a biblical model for addressing these struggles. He really opened our minds with his research, knowledge, and wisdom. But what impacted me most during our time together was the realization of how much he cares for individuals, even me.
Nearing the end of our training session, Dr. Cloud handed each of us a book titled The Power of the Other. He told us it would be a game-changer, if we read it. When I later opened the book, I was confronted with this statement:
“There was only one thing that brought about change… the relationship. What actually brings about change in people, and the cure, is the relationship.”
This statement is super important, because it is foundational. The bottom line: For someone to speak into our life, we first need to feel that they care. We can choose from the best resources, books, and tools, to “fix” ourselves, but in the end, the curative force that helps us change is healthy relationships. People who care about us. People willing to offer us companionship — and grace.
Think about your hobbies. Maybe you’re into surfing, skiing, video games, or boardgames. Sure, these are fun to do alone. But I know that I would way rather surf with my friends than surf alone. Doing things with my friends fulfills me because we are enjoying them together. Even if we’re in an unexpected period of “social distancing” like we find ourselves in now, we still need relationships.
At the core of our being, I think we all know this: we crave connection. Even the most introverted or antisocial among us need connection. Do you know someone who doesn’t particularly like people, but has one or more pets? They are meeting their need for connection.
The Bible gives a pretty good explanation for why we crave relationships with others. Simply put, Genesis 1 tells us that we have been created for intimacy with God. Genesis 2 adds that we also are created for intimacy with others.
But here’s the catch: relationships only work when they are healthy. Lying and manipulating both stress and hurt relationships. But in healthy relationships, authenticity, vulnerability, intimacy, and selflessness bring us closer together. In healthy relationships we are able to identify and deal with our emotions. In healthy relationships, we are able to work through our pain. In healthy relationships we are able to share our hidden parts of ourselves, guided by the Holy Spirit.
The Weight of Disconnection
One of the points Dr. Cloud shared with our team is that our hearts have two basic desires: to be fully known and fully loved. I really love what Dr. Timothy Keller, a renowned speaker and pastor in New York City, says about the joy of being fully known:
“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.”
When we are lost in addiction, loneliness, and pain, we feel the weight of disconnection. When we are not fully known or fully loved within healthy relationships, we feel the weight of disconnect. I personally struggled with this disconnect for 11 years, when I was addicted to pornography.
While on the outside I appeared to have it all together, I was hurting and wounded on the inside. I desperately hid this part of myself — even from my family who love me so much — because I was afraid of being rejected.
I want you to ponder this statement for a minute, until it really sinks in: When you are 99 percent known, but still 1 percent unknown, you are fully unknown.
Living in Our 1 Percent
When I first heard this concept from Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church in Dallas, Texas, I was skeptical of its truth. But as I compared it with my personal experience, and the experience of others that I know, I realized that it is valid.
If you are skeptical, here’s the bottom line: It’s not so much about the percentage, but the principle of the statement. When we don’t feel fully known, we don’t feel fully loved or accepted.
For years I shared most of my life with others. But I hid my addiction to pornography, which prevented anyone from fully knowing me. I was consumed with guilt and shame, but I learned to act like everything was okay. It took so much effort. And kept me in fear.
I filtered everything through that guilt and shame. When someone would compliment me on something, I thought they would retract their statement if they knew about my hidden sin. If a person told me that they loved or valued me, I didn’t believe it. Because they didn’t fully know me. When we are even 1 percent unknown, we live as if we are fully unknown. We put up walls of facade to protect ourselves.
Authenticity Leads to Freedom
But Jesus is looking for our honesty. In our failures, He wants to see progress in our repentance from sin, not our perfection. What matters to Him is the actions we take when we sin. Unfortunately, there’s a problem in the Church. Too many people get the idea that they have to be “alright” all the time.
I grew up in church; I’m a pastor’s son. I internalized the message that the ideal Christian prays continuously, studies the Word, evangelizes everyone, and is holy all the time. Which is why we see so many Christians afraid to admit their sin. But if we accept this lie of perfection, all we can see is our sin and failure.
Yes, we can try to fill our desire of being loved and accepted by portraying a false version of ourselves, as I did for almost a decade. People will accept us for putting on a show, but will our hiding a part of ourselves bring us closer together? No. As I found out, it just brought more pain. I hated myself.
But one of the greatest sources of healing in my recovery from porn addiction was my decision to be 100 percent vulnerable with the people I love and trust. I was so afraid to do so, but when I finally pulled back the curtain on my junk to my parents, they offered me what Jesus also offers: unconditional grace and acceptance. Choosing to become 100 percent authentic has allowed me to step into healthy relationships that have brought me closer to God and others.
Now it’s your turn. What is the 1 percent that is isolating you from people? What do you need to stop hiding, so that you can begin to walk in self-forgiveness and grace? I encourage you to share your burden with people you trust.
Are you worried what they will think of you? If it is someone you trust to love you, my guess is they won’t disown you or kick you to the curb. I bet their response will go something like this, “Hey thanks for being honest.” James 5:16 states that when we confess our sins to each other and pray for each other, we will be healed. I know this verse is true, because I am living it.
If I can encourage you further, please leave a comment below. God unconditionally loves you. Don’t think your sin can ever change that.
- Want Josh McDowell Ministry to pray for you? Share your needs with us.
- Who does God say that you are? Check out Ben Bennett’s article.
- Check out Josh’s research on the epidemic of pornography.
- Interested in a list of ministries that help people to overcome porn? Click here.