Jesus tells us that He is the “truth” and I suspect most of us haven’t really thought about what that means in a practical sense. As a kid, I assumed He meant the church I was being raised in was The Truth, because for many of us that was the teaching of our particular brand of Christianity. Now that I’m older, however, I think there is a more practical application of His teaching. After 36 years as a Benedictine, many years as a spiritual director, priest and pastor, and now as an addictions peer recovery coach and SMART Recovery facilitator, I have a little more insight into what “truth” is all about. We all have a host of little truths we avoid, like getting our teeth cleaned, or mowing the hay field that used to be our lawn. But there are other times when the truth is huge, when we feel unable to face the reality of it. Most of the people I know who are in the grip of addictive behavior are in possession of a truth that they are terrified to share with anyone. They fear rejection or judgment. They fear these things most of all from themselves, so they keep the dark secret wrapped in shame, tucked away. And like all seeds planted in darkness, this truth, too, will eventually sprout and grow.
For the most part, we avoid truth because it terrifies us, or makes us face the hurt that someone we once gave our hearts to is betraying us, or makes us feel powerless and unable to act. We build a life for ourselves based on certain beliefs and understandings, some of them rational and some irrational. When one of those beliefs or understandings suddenly seems wrong or mistaken, we freak out. Our whole world is suddenly a hot mess, and we don’t even remember who we are exactly. It takes a strong person to face the truth in circumstances like these, and that’s why so many run for temporary relief in drugs or alcohol. Truth, however, is one of the foundational principles of our universe, and that’s why the truth hidden in darkness and shame will always, always manifest itself in forceful (and sometimes destructive) ways.
Ultimately, the truth is the truth is the truth, and regardless of how painful it seems, we can’t avoid it forever. The sooner we accept truth on truth’s terms, the better off we’ll be because, as Jesus reminds us, this truth will ultimately “set us free.” When we know the truth and accept that we may have to adjust our lives to accommodate it, we find ourselves once again living in the rational world. Our attempts to hide from it in drugs or other addictive behaviors only delayed our final acceptance. That’s how this big old universe is put together, by God’s gracious design. Besides coming at last to accept ourselves for who we really are, we also come to a second gift from God: compassion for others. We’ve struggled and fought and resisted and suffered in the process of coming to our truth, and now it’s just that much easier to be patient with others struggling to accept their truth. We’re all in this together. We are bound together in pain and triumph, loss and victory. And that is a another truth we can sincerely be grateful for because we are never, ever alone.
Praying with you and for you this week, that YOUR truth will set you free.