Our One Word for September is HONESTY, and we’ve paired it with Psalm 139. In the Psalms, we encounter a psalmist who is gut-wrenchingly honest about his emotions. And he stands, “naked like a baby and unashamed as the beloved of God” (Open and Unafraid: The Psalms As a Guide to Life by W. David O. Taylor, p. 4). Psalm 139 speaks of the all-knowing, ever-present God who created us, fully knowing who we are and who we would become, down to the number of hairs on our head. “For it was you who created my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Ps. 139:13). The Psalmist stands, naked, honest with his emotions about his enemies: “God, if only you would kill the wicked–you bloodthirsty men, stay away from me–who invoke you deceitfully (Ps. 139:19).” He knows intimately that God created him: “For it was you who created my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb (Ps. 139:13).” And wherever he goes, he cannot escape the ever-present God (Ps. 139:7-12). The Psalmist invites God to search his heart, to know him intimately (Ps. 139:1-6, 23-24).
We can be this honest with God. We can tell God about our innermost pain and rejections. We can tell him our laments and frustrations. He can take our immature emotions and form it when we have the courage to be honest with Him about how we really feel. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that we must be this honest with God— because it is only in confession to God about what is really going on in our hearts that we can seek to become whole and open our spirits to be corrected by the gentle, loving Shepherd who desires to know us and love us.
Honesty: know my heart, O God!
a reflection by
Honesty is one of my core values, I believe. Or I did believe this, until I really had to think long and hard about how honest I really am.
As a parent, I was honest with my daughters. We had real conversations while they were growing up; we still do. Yet, recently, my youngest daughter wrote a blog about how mothers (all mothers everywhere, not just me) are not honest about what it is really like to have a baby and to be a new mom. Why, she asked, did she not know about the weeks of sleep-deprived nights and days? The middle-of-the-night feedings when she’d be so lonely and just want to be back in bed with her husband? The times when she could sleep but instead found herself listening to hear if the baby was breathing? And what about that moment when it hit her: she was now totally responsible for another little human! Which then brought on the questions, all the questions: Is the baby getting enough milk? Is he growing? Is he pooping and peeing the right amount? “It’s overwhelming,” she said! Absolutely. Maybe the reason I did not focus on all those things was because I could honestly say it was worth every one of those hard moments to get to all the other wonderful moments of my daughters’ lives which I got to share with them. But I do remember the hard days, which begs the question: was I being dishonest when I glossed over the unpleasant memories and focused on the positive ones?
I didn’t mean to be.
The international students I teach tell me that we Americans are not very honest in the way we greet each other. They tell me they don’t understand why we ask “How are you?” as we smile and continue to walk right past them. They have asked me how they can reply if we keep walking away? More puzzling to them is why we even want to know about how they are! They say we really don’t want to know, and quite frankly, they don’t want to tell us! They learned by listening to everyone around them that they are supposed to smile and say they are “fine.” But what if they are not fine? What if they really need to say I’m anxious; I’m overwhelmed; I’m worried about everything. Sadly, I realized they were right—I didn’t really want to know how they were: I didn’t want to take the time to listen. I said the words to be polite because that’s what we do, especially in the South! So am I dishonest when I ask how a person is when I really don’t have time to wait for an honest answer?
I don’t mean to be.
Then there’s this: being honest with friends. I have a blog, which could be an open forum for sharing honest feelings about life, but my blog is unpublished—private. Why? Because deep down I am afraid if others read my honest thoughts, they might be shocked or, at the very least, surprised about all my failures and shortcomings.
It’s hard to be honest, even with friends.
And there’s also this: being honest with myself. I have written in journals for most of my life. I am usually very honest in them, but that’s because they are just for me. No one else will be reading them unless I give them permission, so it’s easier to be honest. Sometimes, though, I am not even honest with the words I write to myself, about myself.
It’s hard to be honest, even with myself.
And finally, there’s being honest with God. I want to be honest with God. I want to say like David in Psalm 139: “Know my heart!” I believe that before I utter a word that God knows what I am thinking, but like David, I can’t fully comprehend it. So, like my students, I think, why does He even want to know my heart, my thoughts, my feelings?” They are sometimes so ugly, so dark, so full of selfishness and resentment and anger. I struggle to tell the God who created me and formed my “inward parts” so wonderfully and beautifully that now I am not that person. I’d prefer to tell Him the good stuff: when I prayed for my neighbor, when I had patience with my grandchild, or when I helped a friend. So, I am back to my question: Am I being dishonest when I gloss over my shortcomings and do not bring those to God?
It’s hard to be honest, especially with God.
Over the past few months, I said all these things to God just as I said to my daughter and my students: I didn’t mean to hide things from You; I didn’t mean to be insincere or dishonest, but honesty is hard. So hard. And He said right back to me: try harder.
So I did. I was honest with God in a real way, admitting my hardness of heart, my unforgiveness towards others, my failings of not telling Him the truth about all the ugly things I held back from Him (even though he already knew all of it. Of course, he did.). And you know what? Being honest with God was hard! But, just like motherhood, now that the hardness has passed, I can only remember the lightness I felt in my soul: the freedom I felt at confessing, not only to God, but also during a formal confession (also very hard, but so worth it!). I came to realize that I love a God who loves me and in return, forgives me and tells me: Start again. Do better. Be honest. Keep being honest.
My prayer for me and for you is this: Imagine if the next time we ask someone, “How are you?” we honestly mean it, and we take the time to listen to how the person really is. Imagine if we honestly share life—the good and not-so-good moments with friends—so they can walk beside us and pray with us? Imagine if we are completely honest with ourselves and with God. Imagine what a difference it would make if we live out the truths of Psalm 139, knowing beyond all doubt “if I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there [in my loneliness, in my failures, in my hardness of heart] your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.”
Imagine if we could all do better: be honest, and keep being honest. Even when it’s hard—especially then.
Sue was inspired and challenged to look at honesty through the lens of Psalm 139.
One Word is an artistic endeavor of Trinity Anglican Church. On the first Friday of every month, we will debut an online gallery “scroll” on a particular theme. To read more about this effort and see our next word, click here.