I travel a good bit, teaching and preaching, in all kinds of churches. Most are filled with people who appear contented and at peace but inside they’re desperately yearning for someone to love them…just as they are…tired, frustrated, confused, often afraid, ashamed, and often unable to tell anyone how they feel.
If you’re wondering how I know this is true; consider the adage: It takes a crook to catch a crook. In other words, I too know how to pretend. Yet, another way that I know it’s true is because people have told me so.
For instance, a while ago, a talented artist friend wrote to me in an e-mail that he was “in the middle of a horrible crisis” that began when his church asked him to exhibit a self-portrait for a special event. The painting reflected his conviction that there’s no room for pretending for those who follow Jesus. His particular concern was with religious people changing their appearance when among other religious people in order to fit in or to be accepted as holy. We are told that Jesus loves us as we are, sin and all, ugly bits and worthless bits. We are quoted clichés like, ‘Come as you are.’ We’re offered relief from the burden of hiding in our guilt and shame. We are offered ultimate acceptance.
The problem begins for many of us, from my friend’s perspective, when we’re confronted with an endless stream of things that are wrong in our lives, things to repent of, things that need changing. Meanwhile, the Bible instructs us, “Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed” (James 5:16). Yet nobody does it, because that would mean taking off our mask. Therefore, we live our lives jumping through imaginary hoops in order to be accepted by the very people who invited us to “come as you are.”
I wonder what you are thinking as you read this. So, may I ask you to consider some questions that have confronted me—and my own masks?
Do you ever fear that if those who say they love you were given an opportunity to really know you, they would turn away and withhold their affection? Do you sometimes feel unlovable as the result of repetitive rejection? Have you foolishly or bravely chosen to risk being authentic and been met with the crushing realization that those who know you don’t love you? How has this experience deformed your life? Have you then become a slick imposter, skillfully giving the impression that you are the mask you wear? Despite your “glittering image,” do you live in confusion and fear behind the isolating walls you built for your protection? Have you deluded yourself for so long that pretending has become not only acceptable but also necessary? Do you ever feel like God is angry with you and that you must be God’s biggest disappointment?
Nearly twenty-five years ago, during a particularly dark season in my life, I invited a trusted friend to follow me into the hidden harbor of my heart, where fear, loneliness, denial, and shame had dropped anchor. After listening for a while, he made a statement that changed my life: Fil, God loves you as you are, not as you should be, since you’ll never be the person you should be. Years later, that same friend introduced me to a song, Come As You Are, written by Paul Gurr, an Australian priest. No song has ever unleashed more power to transform my soul.
Come as you are. That’s how I want you.
Come as you are. Feel quite at home.
Close to my heart, loved and forgiven,
Come as you are, why stand alone.
No need to fear, love sets no limits,
No need to fear, love never ends.
Don’t run away, shamed and disheartened
Rest in my love, trust me again.
I came to call sinners, not just the virtuous,
I came to bring peace, not to condemn.
Each time you fail, to live by my promise,
Why do you think I’d love you the less.
Come as you are, that’s how I love you,
Come as you are, trust me again.
Nothing can change the love that I bear you,
All will be well, come as you are.
These lyrics, like ocean waves constantly crashing onto a rocky shore, have transformed my soul. More and more, I’m coming to believe that until the unlimited, unbridled and unrelenting love of God takes root in our life, until God’s reckless pursuit of us captures our imagination, until our head knowledge of God settles into our heart through pure grace, nothing really changes.
What daily reminders does God give you that He loves you as you are?
How do these reminders impact your life?
Fil Anderson is Executive Director of Journey Resources, based in Greensboro, North Carolina. He’s a frequent speaker at conferences, offers individual spiritual direction, and directs retreats and workshops around the country. He's the author of two books, Running on Empty: Contemplative Spirituality for Overachievers and Breaking the Rules: Trading Performance for Intimacy with God.