My seminary-student son recently told me about a Web site called soulpancake.com. Specifically, he mentioned a thread of responses to the question, “What do you lie to yourself about?”
When I went to the site and began to read the anonymous responses, I was struck by the honesty and poignancy of what I found. Here’s a sampling of answers to “What do you lie to yourself about?”
- That I know where I’m going in life.
- That things will be better if I make more money.
- The biggest lie I tell myself is that I do not judge … except I’m possibly the most judgmental person I know.
- That I’m happy.
- I lie to myself that I don’t feel sorrow, separation.
- I tell myself that I’m comfortable with my body, and that the media and its perception of “beauty” doesn’t affect me.
You get the drift. Reading these comments is sobering and thought-provoking. I began to wonder how ministers would respond to such a question. All too often, I’m afraid they would say “I don’t lie to myself.” Such honesty and transparency are rarely encouraged in the clergy world, and that is a huge problem.
One common clergy struggle is the ability to reflect on our lives critically. We are trained to see the faults, sins and foibles of those around us, and we are generally up to that task. The prophetic role is one that many clergy relish and practice regularly. However, when it comes to honest self-reflection and self-assessment, most of us suffer from the delusion of grandeur that our position inadvertently encourages.
We begin to think that because we are invited to speak for God, we must share some of the same attributes as God. Namely, we must appear to be sinless. Of course, we would never claim such a thing, but there are times our people must wonder if we don’t secretly harbor such a thought.
I regularly meet clergy who are clueless about how they come across to others, how their prejudices are obvious to their congregants, or how their unresolved personal issues are driving their behaviors. They lie to themselves rather than face up to the truth about who they are as a sinner in need of God’s grace.
We ministers must regularly fight the multiple expectations that we will not sin or struggle or doubt or wonder. We must constantly invite the Holy Spirit to continue to bring salvation to the parts of us that have not yet heard the gospel. We must admit our limited vision and invite trusted friends to coach us along our way. In short, we must daily humble ourselves, confess, repent and start anew.
Of course, there are those clergy who suffer from the other extreme: unrelenting guilt. Such a hell-on-earth is as much a lie as is the denial of our flaws. To fixate on all the ways we are a failure is to believe the lie that we are on our own, that the grace we urge others to find in Jesus Christ is not available to us.
If we are to stop the lying, perhaps it is time to reclaim these two words: humility and grace. We need them both, in full measure, if we are to be the men and women God has called us to be.
Bill Wilson is president of the Center for Congregational Health in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Bill Wilson is president of the Center for Healthy Churches (CHC) housed at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.