Scott Jones, Gilbert Campus Pastor
A couple of months ago Donita and I dropped our daughter Morgan off for her first semester at Northern Arizona University. At first it was kind of exciting. Helping her get set up, telling her about dorm life, warning her that guys have cooties. At 2 o’clock in the afternoon she had to go to a leadership gathering and that’s when we would have to leave. As she walked away to go, 18 years suddenly got summed up in a single moment. And that’s when the tears began to flow from Donita. I was kind of holding it in processing everything internally. She cried all the way home and I “processed” all the way home. It was hard. But as Donita and I talked it out we realized that though we felt deep pain from letting her go, releasing her was going to bring about a greater good. But after about a week with her gone something got exposed. We noticed a gap. Sure there was a difference at the dinner table. Now there were three instead of four. More food for everyone but less conversation. Sure there was less arguing in the household. Noah didn’t have his big sister to argue the finer points of Lion King or Lord of the Rings. Less fighting over whether they would watch Adventure Time or Regular Show. But we noticed a bigger, more substantial gap.
Donita and I noticed a gap between us. It was a gap that had been covered up but now was exposed. It was a gap that we didn’t know existed until now. The gap was in our conversation, our connecting. Morgan had filled that gap. But now that she was gone we began to notice it. We discovered that the conversations we had with Morgan – more the conversations Donita had with Morgan – had masked the reality that the conversations we had with each other had diminished. And the scary part is, we didn’t even know it. It took Morgan’s absence to expose our weakness.
Now this revelation has started some new conversations about what happened, how we reconnect and how we make sure that it doesn’t take Noah going off to college, to war, to prison or to Mars to recognize that we might be experiencing relational drift. But it also got me thinking about things that cover up relational drift in our relationship with God.
Is it possible that you have drifted in your relationship with God and others and don’t even know it?
Do you ever wonder if we all have a little bit of cover up going on in our lives? Are there things in our lives that mask the reality that things are not as good as we think they are? And if it’s true, what are they? I don’t profess to have a lock on this but after working in the church world and dealing with people for over 20 years I think I have a clue. There are a few things that I have seen serve to cover up the true quality of our relationship with God and those we love.
Maybe it’s your work. Oh I get it, your work is important. You make good money. You do it for your marriage, your family. You do it for God. I’ve been there. But are you using your work to cover up the gap in your relationship with your spouse, your kids, your friends, with God? I think we have to look deeply at this.
For others, maybe it’s alcohol or drugs. Sure you’re not a raging alcoholic or visiting dark alleys to get a heroin fix. It’s more subtle, more sophisticated. What used to be a drink after work to take the edge off, what started as a legitimate prescription to manage the pain has turned into a way to mask a deeper pain, to take the edge off a more profound reality that you’re not happy with yourself or the direction of your life. Can you be honest about that?
Here’s one you might not expect from a pastor. Maybe it’s church. Yeah. Maybe you’re too involved. Maybe your busyness and flurry of church activity are a cover up for something that you haven’t been willing to face. There’s a possibility that all you do isn’t for the noble reasons that you offer. Could there be unresolved feelings of false guilt or a desire to make yourself acceptable to God by earning his approval?
There’s not a one of us who isn’t susceptible to covering up instead of facing the demons in our lives.
And before we point any fingers, it’s only by the grace of God that we steer clear of this kind of movement. So how do we invite the grace of God to empower us to be free of the cover up? I’m always hesitant to offer formulas or lists toward spiritual formation. So at the risk of oversimplification, I mention a few things that I hope will be helpful.
First, be honest. In the safe, quietness of your own soul, ask yourself, “Is there anything I’m covering up?” Don’t rush it. Don’t expect a major revelation or the voice of God moments after asking. You may need to sit with it for a while. Perhaps spend some time in solitude and silence a few times a week until you get the clarity you need.
Second, ask someone you trust. We are masters at self deception so let’s be honest, there’s a bit of irony in asking ourselves if we are guilty of a cover up. We need the community of others to tell us what we may not be able or willing to tell ourselves. It’s an ask that could change things if we’re willing to listen.
Finally, look at someone you respect. Ask them questions about how they live. Ask about their relationship with God, their wife, their kids, their work. Ask what it looks like and why it looks good. Ask about their practices, their family traditions. Ask about emotional health. Inquire deeply about how they handle stress, disappointment, loss and success.
So what will happen if you do these those things? Well, I can’t guarantee that everything go will go up and to the right if you do but I can guarantee that they won’t if you choose to do nothing at all. The choice is ours. The stakes are high. And the outcome will be good for all.
So now that the cover up has been exposed, Donita and I are talking more, connecting more. It’s not perfect but it’s good. How about you? So for all of us who are willing to admit that we cover up and to those of us who aren’t, may God give us grace to see the gap and fill it with the honesty of our soul, the wisdom of others and the courage of God to do what is best.