Far too often, Christians represent their lives, whether it be through social media or some other avenue, as bright, shiny portraits of beauty and happiness. While some of these people do so because they fall on the spectrum as cockeyed optimists, I would argue that more than a few of these people paint such rosy scenes because they’re afraid to let others in on their pain and their struggles.
We are commanded to rejoice always (Php. 4:4), but from what we find in some areas of Christian culture, we might start to wonder, like the Princess Bride’s Inigo Montoya, whether or not the word ‘joy’ means what many Christians think it means.
First off, notice the interesting little prepositional phrase found in the oft cited Philippians verse: “Rejoice in the Lord.” When Paul tells us to rejoice, he’s not suggesting that we should throw on a smile and pretend our circumstances are desirable. Paul is reminding his audience of just how spectacular the gift of the Lord is to be.
A few verses later, Paul declares that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” The only reason that joy could go beyond our understanding is if our circumstances were difficult beyond our capability to overcome them. In other words, they would have to be practically insurmountable under our own strength.
Sin is a Very Real Struggle
There’s a religion few know much about called Christian Science. One of the major tenets of Christian Science is that the evils of the world, including sickness and pain, are merely illusory. They are not real, and all who expend enough mental energy can rise above being concerned about such perceptions. This understanding begs a specific question: why did Christ die a brutal death on the cross if pain, evil, and sin are only illusions?
Christians oftentimes live their lives like practical Christian Scientists. Rarely do we ever share our struggles, anxieties, and pains with one another, and my concern is that if we are failing to take seriously the call to “bear one another’s burdens” and instead, at least in our outward conduct, pretend to be above certain hurts and sins as if we have arrived as “a somebody” and the temptations or anxieties that have seized our brothers and sisters are not common to them (cf. Gal. 6:1-3; 1 Cor. 10:13; 1 Jn. 1:8).
Refusing to confess our sin is a sign of one or two things. Many Christians are suffering in our sin in silence, being crushed by the weight of guilt in shame, or many Christians are not broken over their sin and are no longer made uncomfortable by it. Ultimately, the former tends to lead to the latter as Christians seek to cover up the shame of their sin by numbing their hearts to the sting of conviction.
We often hear of the terror of sin preached from the pulpit on Sunday, but far too often the sin seems to be described as something “out there” that “the world” struggles with but those in the church are immune to. Yet, the New Testament writers frequently ward against folly in the church (1 Cor. 10:12; Heb. 3:12; 2 Pt. 3:17), and if folly is only condemned from the pulpit without being confessed within the congregation, then the ground will eventually crumble beneath the church. For the people will drown in shame, stuck in an endless cycle, because they fear that confession will bring condemnation rather than healing (cf. Jm. 5:16; 1 Jn. 1:9).
When it comes to the sinful nature that we all wrestle with, we should not be afraid to hate that part of our lives. We should hate it so much that we ought to take the proper, biblical steps toward restoration and healing.
The Consequences of Sin Can Ruin Your Life
We need to be quick to confess our sin because when we fail to confront our sin, it festers and starts to spread. I heard a pastor point this out one time, and it’s very true. No husband wakes up one morning and, out of the blue, just decides, “Today, I’m going to have an affair and ruin the lives of my wife and kids.” No. It would start with a little bit of lust here and there, which can lead to an ever-intensifying search for pornography, which then can open up all sorts of doors to illicit sexual activity as what creeps in through his eyes starts to take root in his heart.
The longer we wait to confess our sin, the further down the rabbit hole we fall. Unfortunately, the consequences become greater and greater because our sins that start out as “private” will eventually affect and hurt those closest to us.
So, while healing comes when we confess our sin, the means required to bring that healing will become more and more extreme depending on how long the disease has been allowed to fester. A small cut requires a little bit of peroxide and a bandage. It stings for a bit then starts to heal. A cancerous sin, on the other hand, can require months, even years of treatment, and there may be some ways that, this side of heaven, you’ll never be the same. The treatment necessary will be excruciating compared to the numbness of pretending and ignorance. Even so, the healing will come even if you have to walk with a limp until the Kingdom comes.
When we suffer for doing what’s wrong (even if suffering of the kind that leads to our healing), we are more than free to hate it. No parent disciplines his or her child–no patient steps into rehab–with a cheerful smile and a grin. If and when you suffer for doing evil, you don’t have to pretend like the process is enjoyable. In fact, such pretense may tempt someone who feels the urge to confess or embrace the needed discipline because they dread the pain. Upon seeing someone in a similar situation plastering on a fake smile, they may think, “I must not be holy enough or cut out for this discipline thing” and abandon the process.
We need more people in the church who grunt under the brunt of the Christian life yet still embrace it declaring, “it’s worth it.”
The World is Tough Place to Live
Every Christian will endure “just sufferings” (Heb. 12:8), but we also live in a world that’s groaning under the weight of its fallenness (Rom. 8:20-22). Many of the tribulations that we face result from the fact that we live in a futile creation filled with disease and natural calamity. When cancer creeps in and death arrives uninvited and unannounced, we are not supposed to sit back and enjoy them. When tsunamis and floods and tornadoes destroy and take life, we ought to mourn.
We are free to hate such travesty. Finding strength in those difficult moments does not mean mustering up a smile. For the love of God and all who must endure such tragedies, do not trivialize such suffering with platitudes. Hate it! Bring those requests before God, and don’t be surprised when He weeps with you!
Jesus has been known to cry at funerals, even when He’s about to turn the dirge into a dance (cf. John 11:28-44). You have absolutely no reason to fake happiness when you feel despondent. Being brave in such circumstances will require you to own up to your brokenness, not “pressing on and keeping calm” as if you’ve glued all the shattered pieces back together.
So, yes. You need to rejoice always, but you need never fake it. Joy does not always look like happiness, and if you’re always faking it and looking like happiness, then there will be no one who knows to encourage you and remind you the reason you have to rejoice (cf. Heb. 10:23-25; 1 Pt. 3:15).
Quit faking it or else you’ll never make it to the well that never runs dry.