By Amber Toews
I've never been a "sharer." I've always been told I'm a good listener--partly because I am actually a good listener. But, to be honest, it is also because if I listen that means I don't have to talk. And talking is infinitely scarier to me than hearing anyone else's nightmares.
"Sharing" has become such a part of evangelical church life that I often wonder if it's a sin to hate it so much.
I loved one particular small group I was in. The worship was inspiring, the Bible reading and discussion were insightful, but as the evening passed and we neared "sharing" time, I started to get the "icks." I would sit there trying desperately to think of something to say that was truthful, yet not too revealing and wouldn't bring on the waterworks. (I'll get to that later). Others seemed to find comfort in sharing, but as my turn approached, the blushing and fidgeting would start and I was looking longingly at the exit.
Why does the thought of divulging a few personal reflections cause such a reaction? I think there are five fears at the root.
First, we fear transparency. I am all too aware of my own faults, inadequacies and sins. Choosing to make anyone else aware of them seems borderline psychotic.
Second, we fear displays of emotion. I am a sensitive person. When I see someone cry or hear that telltale wobbling in someone's voice, tears instantly spring to my eyes. I can hear my brain screaming, "Oh no! Here come the waterworks!" From that point on, I have to tune out whatever that person is saying, and all systems are redirected to the urgent task of damming up the inevitable and despised flood of emotion.
I heard a fellow waterworker once say, "The first tear is for the other, the next ones are usually for me." I think there is much truth to that statement. We want to identify with others, but our own issues are so tender and at the surface, that any pricking of the emotions can let loose a torrential overreaction.
Third, we fear people looking at us differently and seeing us as weak or "damaged" goods. Now be honest. Who hasn't thought, after a particularly revealing conversation with someone, "Whoa! I can't believe they said that. I would never tell anyone something like that." We can't help but expect that others will react in the same judgmental way we do.
Fourth, we fear others knowing that we are struggling spiritually. The root of this fear is that ugliest of sins--pride. I don't want anyone to think I'm the puny Christian who can't handle her life. I want to be the mature one, someone who has it all together, especially in comparison to those poor dears across the table with so much baggage.
Lastly and most of all, I want to be encouraging of others' faith. I don't want to drag someone down into my doldrums, even if honesty becomes the sacrificial lamb. Is it even possible to honestly share one's struggles without them becoming a weight of discouragement pulling at the spiritual neck of another?
What does the Bible say? Most convicting to me is James 5:16, which says, "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed" (NIV). When we avoid confession, we forego the Lord's promise of healing!
Plus, we often give others the idea that they are a spiritual weakling who somehow just can't get it together. A good Christian friend once said to me, "I wish I could be more like you. You always have it together. I don't know why I'm such a mess."
Those few words crushed me, knowing that my lack of authenticity made her feel she was a "mess," when in reality she was trying her best to live the Christian life with all its ups and downs.
In the end, I think it can be a freeing thing to share struggles with other believers. It can bring us closer together. And, when we are honest, we pave the way for others to be honest too. And that's when we can really grow in Christ together.
I think God wants us to be open to His nudges to have those "sharing" talks with someone, scary as they may be for some of us. Just don't forget your raincoat. You may be stirring up the waterworks.
Amber Toews is a 20-something writer who works in the area of communications and marketing for a Christian non-profit organization in Spokane, Washington. If, unlike Amber, you don't mind "sharing," feel free to write to her via the Letters page of this magazine.