The Great Pretender
"Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck....." Psalm 69:1
She looked so lonely sitting on the edge of a dirty park bench sipping coffee from a mug that read, I HEART New York. The quick glance from her eyes told me she wasn't okay, but she faked a smile. A smile that I don't think many people believed, but pretended to so the relationship could remain on the surface. After all, surface relationships are always easier. I had seen her sitting there on multiple occasions. We had exchanged friendly "hellos." She was getting really good at faking a smile. I was getting really good at pretending all was well. Practice makes perfect. But I could tell a part of her wished someone would dig deeper and force her to talk about her nagging afflictions. Another part of her, a bigger part of her, cupped its large hand over her mouth and hushed her to silence, telling her no one really cared about her problems. Voices told her that if she allowed people to know who she really was, they would judge her harshly before running in the opposite direction. Her past haunted her daily.
She wanted deep and meaningful friendships, but she remained retreated in her protective shell. After all, the unreachable are less likely to be hurt, right?
She read articles and saw quotes about living authentically, but she couldn't grasp what it really meant....maybe because she was not ready to be real with the world. She didn't realize it meant opening herself up to loving others even at the expense of getting hurt. It meant being transparent and honest at all times. It meant doing what she promised to do even when the emotions she felt when she promised to do it had passed.
She wasn't ready to tell her story. And, quite frankly, she wasn't sure if she would ever be fully ready. The word "raw" seemed so overused to her. What did it even mean? It seemed so cliche and trendy. Again, the voices told her no one really cared. And, to be honest, most people probably didn't. She felt alone and isolated. "People have their own lives and problems, they don't have time for mine," she whispered inside the walls of her own mind.
And if they knew her past, they would see her....differently. Anxiety crawled up her chest and neck like a slimy snake. Her throat felt constricted.
It was then she remembered Psalm 69: 1-3 from her daily devotional. David cried out,
Save me, O God,
for the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in the miry depths,
where there is no foothold.
I have come into the deep waters;
the floods engulf me.
I am worn out calling for help;
my throat is parched.
My eyes fail,
looking for my God.
It was in that moment that the Holy Spirit prompted me to turn around in my tracks and love on this woman. I wasn't sure I wanted to turn around. What if I wasn't who she thought I was? What if she finds out I don't have it all together either? Neither of us realized we had traveled similar roads in life. I had no business judging her for a past that was much like my own, both of us needing to accept Jesus's forgiveness, grace and mercy once and for all. Both of us needing to tear down our walls and accept one another.
In that moment, God was reminding her that her help comes from Him while reminding me to be His feet and His hands and His heart to a desperate and dying world. He was telling us both that He is our Comforter and our Friend; however, he was also reminding us that he sends people in our paths to love on us, because sometimes we need a flesh and bone hug.
She wasn't ready to share her struggle that day, but she was willing to let me love her where she was. We hugged and laughed nervously. She explained that she wasn't great at this whole "vulnerability thing," when I asked her how she was really doing.
Later, she was willing to cry on my shoulder and release the playhouse of emotions pent up inside of her. She welcomed the stories from my past with open arms while at the same time reminding me to let it go and move forward. She told me I was blessing in her life, yet, I felt like she was the blessing. It was a small step in our friendship, but a step nonetheless. By doing life with one another, we quickly learned that authenticity is the fertile soil where lively friendships grow. We created a safe haven for one another. A place of acceptance and understanding. Before long, we were both honestly sharing with one another--our dreams, our frustrations, and our hearts. Our relationship deepened because two people decided their stories were worth sharing, because of divine intervention, and because two people decided to stop pretending and live authentically with one another.
We all have a past, but with God we don't have to live in it. We don't have to wallow in it. We can't confuse sin with identity. And there's a difference in falling short of God's glory and choosing to live a lifestyle of sin. God is willing to take us in His arms, clean us up and give us a new name. He can give us a joy that ensures when we smile, it's real. Though people can be judgmental and hurtful, our Father is loving and forgiving. His opinion is the only one that matters. He is able to send genuine people to share in our journey if we ask Him. He never promises us that we will not suffer trials, but He does promise to guide us, give us wisdom, and help us cross to the other side.
In closing, Hebrews 10:24-25 tells us that we need one another. We shouldn't live in isolation forsaking meeting with one another, but that we should come together often and encourage one another. Our stories have meaning and have the power to help others in times of trouble. You never know who might need your encouragement and your story today. Turn that casual "hello," into a "How are you, really?" and mean it.
Father, thank you for always being willing to listen to my story when no one else seems to care. Thank you for the friends you have sent to me to remind me that there are people who do care. Thank you for friends who listen to and hear my heart. Please give me the love in my heart to care about others and the struggles they carry. Help me to live every day for you. Help me to always run to you first when trouble is in my path. Thank you for being where my help comes from and remind me daily that You are all I need. In Jesus's name, I pray. Amen.