It is vitally important for each of us to realize that our relationships with God are always in the development process; they are organic and alive. They must be cared for, nurtured and attended to; they suffer setbacks when they are put on ignore or relegated to mere forms. From God’s point of view, as revealed in Scripture, His desire is for intimacy with His people, both on an individual and corporate level, and to achieve this intimacy, He has done great things. When there are difficulties in this relationship, the genesis of disconnect is found on the human side, not on the divine side.
I’ve noticed that in this discussion of naked before God in community, that there is hesitancy on the part of some with regard to any level of openness in community, or at least to a level of openness that goes very far beyond mere formality, and the reason for this unease is a lack of a feeling of safety. Obviously I cannot speak for others, and I have no inclination or desire to dismiss another’s discomfort; for all I know they have every reason to be uncomfortable. All I can really offer is this: If you find yourself in a faith community where hostility and condemnation of other brothers and sisters in Christ is the norm, then why are you still there? If you are part of a denomination in which this is the norm, then why are you still in that denomination?
Once upon a time, I was speaking with a pastor who was having some marital difficulties. He was speaking to me about the situation because he couldn’t discuss it with anyone in his denomination, for if his congregation should discover that he and his wife were going through difficulties, he would surely be fired, even though he had faithfully served that congregation for many years. Before I could catch myself, I blurted out: “What have you been teaching your flock all these years?” As mortified as I was at my own lapse in the area of tact, he had been teaching a great deal of finger-pointing and legalism, and even though his marital situation wasn’t in difficulty because of sin or affairs or anything of that sort, he had taught his congregation to always assume the worst and point fingers; very sad. The truth of the situation was that his wife was an introvert, and could no longer deal with always being in the spotlight and having to meet the unrealistic expectations of others for “the pastor’s wife”. My friend lost his job when his wife went to stay with her sister for an extended visit.
You see dear reader, the problem often is that there is no openness because there is no feeling of safety, and there is no feeling of safety because there is no openness.
The good news is that most congregations are not like this. Yet most every congregation contains one or more individuals who behave in a similar fashion, and it is important for each of us to bear in mind that these people are also “works in progress” just as we are.
There is a misconception in the minds of some people that being naked before Go in community means that we must stand up in front of everyone and bare all, reciting every sin, evil thought and temptation to the rest of the community, and nothing could be further from the truth! While such a demonstration might be therapeutic for the speaker in certain cases, it would be nothing other than a distraction for everyone else; it would not build the Body of Christ. Rather, being naked before God in community means to be open and honest in our relationships with the people in that community. It means being real, sincere, genuine, loving and forgiving; it means being as much like our Lord as we can manage. It also recognizes that some are farther down the path of maturity than others, while each is doing what he or she can at their level of growth.
It requires that we “get naked” in the sense that we learn leave off the facades and the pretense; it means we are who we really are, instead of who others expect us to be. In the end, it will mean that we are imperfect, just like everyone else.
Is this transformation too difficult?
The answer to that, quite honestly, is “yes and no”
It will be difficult if we need to replace one façade with another façade. It will be pretty much impossible if we haven’t developed the habit of being naked before God. On the other hand, if we have developed the habit of being naked before God, then sooner or later we will move that “nakedness” into community without even having to try, for it will have become a part of who we are. I hope this doesn’t seem to be too lacking in tactfulness, but the chances are that if you feel too uncomfortable with the notion of ‘naked before God in community’, you probably need to give extra attention to your individual relationship with Him right now. If you think that you have been ‘naked before God in community’ for a very long time, and that you are way down the path of maturity, way beyond most everyone you know, then you might want to do some soul searching, since most of us find that we are not quite as far along as we like think we are.
As always, I look forward to your comments and observations. To be fully candid with you, they will determine where we go next in this discussion…