Going now into the third week of Lent, I find myself face to face with the human tendency to keep our truths well hidden, both from ourselves and others.
We see this taking place on an international stage as Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi continues to make pronouncements that are difficult to swallow about the situation in Libya. He asserts that he is much adored by the people of that troubled country, where he has announced, "Either I will rule you or I will kill you."
Then there is Charlie Sheen, the talented and amazingly self-destructive actor, who speaks a version of truth that many who know him appear to have some trouble swallowing as accurate.
The challenge with truth-telling is that most of us want to tell the truth, or what we think is the truth, about others, but are less likely to want to speak it about ourselves. So Sheen calls the writers and producers of his TV show unspeakable things, but seems to see himself as a version of the Master of the Universe. Not a whole lot different from Col. Quddafi's public pronouncements. The rest of the world is evil and out of control and spaced out on drugs, but he himself? Well, he, of course, is a sane and much loved ruler of his people.
Most of us do the same thing, although generally on a smaller and less newsworthy scale. We spin public versions about ourselves in order to hold onto a carefully built outward image and also to keep from having to face sometimes painful inner truths.
Our personal spin jobs work for a while. In time, however, both the energy needed to keep them up and the internal discordance that they bring will wear us down. Only truth ultimately sets us free.
I watched part of a movie recently--it was so poorly done that I gave up after a short time--that showed a world where people spoke only truth. The movie portrayed a cold, cruel place, with no social graces, no softness or play. The person who learned to lie discovered a big social advantage over those who spoke "truth."
However, I don't think real, holy, God-centered truth looks like that. Real truth says, "I know I cut myself a lot of slack, and excuse a lot of my own behaviors, so maybe I should give others that same kind of space." Real truth acknowledges both our shortcomings and our accomplishments. Real truth shines the bright light of exposure on our own souls. Real truth pushes us to find the things that frighten us the most and helps us to see how that fear keeps us from loving God and loving others.
We hide because we fear what will happen if we don't. We hide from our real truths because it is easier to pretend all is OK. We hide from our doubts, disappointments, and betrayals because we are not sure we can embrace the pain of facing them fully. We hide from our sins so we don't have to really forgive the sins of others.
At our Ash Wednesday service, we sang, "It's Me, It's Me, O Lord, Standing in the Need of Prayer." Now, while the song uses questionable grammar (it should be "It's I" not "It's Me" but it just doesn't have the same ring!), the sentiment works: using this time to recognize that we ourselves are the ones in need of prayer. Too often, we spew hatred of others that actually reflects deep self-loathing. We hold grudges because we refuse to believe that God chooses to offer forgiveness to us. We choose fear over courage, thinking it will keep us safe, and we end up in binding chains.
The words of Jesus: You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free. A true Lenten journey.