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Tell Me the Truth

I’m slow on edicts these days, but here’s one I’m willing to venture: a church should not teach people to lie.

But we do.

Whenever we sift through Scripture in search of ideals, all the while missing the humanity, the struggle and the long plod toward love, we abuse the story but we also abuse the soul. No matter the clarity of our moral perceptions, we are no friend of grace whenever our pronouncements weigh people down, whenever the burden of our expectations delivers the subtle message that we must ignore or squash the realities simmering just beneath the surface. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it: “Christ did not, like an ethicist, love a theory about the good; he loved real people.” And real people come with real desires, real foibles, real fears, real longings.

When Jesus passed blind Bartimaeus on the road to Jericho, Bartimaeus cried out, “Jesus, have mercy.” I love this prayer. There are plenty of days when it’s all the prayer I can muster. Jesus stopped, looked Bartimaeus’ way and asked the plainest question: “What do you want?” Jesus did not ask Bartimaeus to identify what he should want. Jesus did not ask Bartimaeus what desire Torah would suggest. Jesus did not ask Bartimaeus to conjure an obedient word on virtue, responsibility or human sinfulness. Jesus asked what the poor fellow longed for, and then Jesus waited for the answer.

Bartimaeus’ desire was obvious; he wanted to be able to see. For most of us, however, our want lies buried under so much neglect and rubble that it’s nearly impossible to locate. Few of us know what it is we actually want, what we crave, what would make us truly giddy if it happened our way.

If we ask someone Jesus’ question: what do you want?, many of us religious folk will offer a squeaky-clean reply, something straight out of a tame Sunday School lesson. The answers are fine, but they possess all the verve of a dead fish. I want the real stuff, what makes the heart race and the energy peak and the sorrow sit heavy as lead.

Often, it would be more truthful if we said: I really want my wife to enjoy sex with me again or I want to stop puking in the toilet or I want money so I can fly the family to Italy for the summer or I want the voices to stop. If it’s true that what we really want is to land on the Times bestseller list or to be kissed like mad, why don’t we say so?

Whenever we are able to locate that first layer of our wants and desires (no matter how healthy, noble or immature they might be), we’re scratching at the truth – and then we’ve got something to work with. If we follow that longing deeper and deeper, eventually we’ll find something more potent, something more profoundly true. I’m convinced we’ll find something very near to God.

17 thoughts on “Tell Me the Truth

  1. Oh Winn, this really speaks to me and is so true about our being taught to be dishonest about what we really want. I know I would love for my writing to find a much wider audience than it has. I’d love for my book to have sold enough copies to pay for itself and then some, sold enough copies so a publisher would publish me without my having to pay, and would help me promote the next book. But I’ve muted that desire because I’ve read how the Kingdom of God is about small, small, small. (In fact that truth has been of great comfort to me as I’ve met with “noes” with regards to promoting my book etc, and with my tiny readership.) But of course I’d like my writing to pay for itself plus some…

    I also found that when my desire to get married unified and stopped being ambivalent, that’s when I met Bruce. There’s something to our being honest and not double minded. God is able to sift out our desires, granting us only what’s good for us, brushing aside the other…

    Thank you for this…

    1. Yes, Katie, I think that’s an important piece, trusting God to bring the good to the surface. We can’t really do it on our own anyway.

  2. Excellent, my friend! You command of thought to pen truly scratches beauty!

  3. I want to know myself as beloved (which is easier to say than ‘I want to love myself’ or even ‘I want to be loved’), without depending on feedback from others, without having to meet some self-imposed or external standard, and to know it in a fullness and steadiness that I can barely imagine.

    It would be nice if we could know how much, how long, to be with these surface or immediate or raw desires, before we must / are ready to dig deeper to arrive, once again but I guess more groundedly and authentically, at the Sunday School answers, the things we know we’re supposed to want most, and what it turns out we do want most after all.

    1. It would be nice, wouldn’t it? I guess that’s why we must walk through it, to learn these sorts of things. And I want many of the same things you want, all the while still being appropriately dependent on the love of those around me. It’s a tricky thing. Let’s keep moving closer toward the love, toward the truth.

      1. “Appropriately dependent” — good phrase, and a great mystery!

  4. Used this for discussion at our men’s small group. Got lots of feedback, as well as some who will let it settle before they comment. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks, Ed. Let me know if any of the feedback especially strikes you.

  5. I was always afraid of my wants because they practically engulfed me in overpowering need and that didn’t mix so well with the teaching of self denial that I heard over and over. I felt my wants, that were not the Sunday school brand, were unholy and selfish. Oh goodness me. I’m 64 now and see things differently. If I had taken better care of my heart and not been so afraid of myself, to admit those needs outright, out loud to God,I’m convinced today I would be filled with more peace and humility. Dishonesty quenched the Spirit, stunted growth-stunted love actually. But our God is full of mercy and grace and we’re back at square one and it’s refreshing, like coming up for air, to be free to be who HE has made me instead of what I made me. Some of those old needs have vanished but there are always new ones at any age. But at least we’re (God and I) are talking about them! Thank you for that profoundly honest question.

    1. Exactly. We need better guidance for the pathways involved between our wants and needs and the misunderstood ideals of self-denial, holiness, and love of neighbor. And how I wish there were more places and structures for talking about such things in community, not in the abstract, but heart to heart. It’s too threatening — sharing about loneliness or the like could make the listeners feel unappreciated or pressured… I have found various snippets from Nouwen to be especially helpful in my efforts to navigate between my wants and needs and my desire to love others well / rightly.

    2. Lee, you sound young at heart and full of good hope – I think God loves that.

  6. Oh, lordy, yes. We don’t have the honesty, or the decency, to allow what we want to surface. To own it, to say it, to examine it, to live into it. Thank you for this, Winn. So worth writing about and exploring.

    1. “Decency” – a word I’m growing to like very much.

  7. I want to not want.

    1. I think that requires being dead.

words have a way of making friends. drop a few here.