At the risk of causing a popular Disney song to be stuck in your head for months, I have to say this:
“Conceal. Don’t feel. Don’t let them know.”
Of course, the movie Frozen is popular in our house. We have a 7-year-old daughter, and while “Let It Go” is overplayed and overused, its words are rich in meaning and application for life. This particular line, if you’re one of the seven people on the planet who haven’t seen the movie, stems from a girl’s years of protecting herself from her sister and the world at large so she doesn’t hurt anyone with her powers. She hides herself away until it’s unavoidable, and then, she gives in to the power, further shutting people out of her life. When she finally “lets it go,” she’s a destructive version of herself.
Fortunately for her, her sister is relentless in pursuing her and loving her, and it all ends well.
This story reminds me of myself sometimes, how easy it is for me to hide myself from others when I don’t want to hurt them, how I want to give in to the destructive nature inside of me and further push people away, especially if I feel I’ve been hurt or isolated or rejected.
But there is hope for those who want to hide.
“My poop stinks, too.”
We were having one of those conversations that happen when you’re living communally for a few weeks with people you aren’t related to. Bathroom habits become public knowledge when you’re sharing dorm-like bathrooms. My husband and I were in Kenya for 10 days this summer with a team of 15 from our church, and the bathroom arrangements were some of the most anxiety-inducing of the entire trip. I am not comfortable sharing bathrooms. I’m often embarrassed by the necessary work that takes place inside the stall. And I don’t like talking about it.
But in this group were people who were not at all embarrassed to talk about it, especially when certain smells filled the hallway after certain people used the bathroom. One of our team members voiced her complaint often and loudly. She wanted others to respect her and the rest of the team and just spray after taking care of business.
That’s when she said those words: “My poop stinks, too.”
It was a refreshing confession in the midst of a complaint, an acknowledgement that she wasn’t asking for the nature of bowel movements to be different but for the outcome to offer relief to others.
There was no need to be embarrassed by what is natural for everyone on earth, only to have enough care for the people sharing your space to not ignore the result or pretend it doesn’t exist. (Because I will confess: if the bathroom stinks after I leave it, I will blame it on someone else.)
Ignoring the truth is another way to hide.
On that trip, there was no place to hide. On day 2, I was detailing my bathroom habits to our missionary couple, who were nearly strangers, because I didn’t want to ignore the possibility of traveler’s diarrhea. If I went to the bathroom at all that week, someone knew. We shared shower times. One morning, when my husband and I were having a disagreement, it was hard to hide my mood from the others. Everything was shared, even our discomfort. By the end of the trip, I’d gotten my period, earlier than expected, and at least three people knew about it besides me because buying feminine products at a Kenyan shop was not in the plans.
When you allow yourself to live with other people, even if they aren’t always in your house, you open yourself up to revealing the “real you.” It’s far too easy to put on a face for others, to let them think your life is okay all the time, that you don’t struggle. This was a problem long before social media but it’s multiplied with social media because we can see everyone’s best side all the time from hundreds of miles away even.
If you locked yourself away in a room and only interacted with people online, it would be easy to convince yourself that your life was not as good as theirs. Or to create an image of your life that looks good to you but isn’t real.
On the positive side, on the first day, one of our team members was having a birthday and didn’t mean to tell anyone but accidentally let it slip. Later that night, we had a celebration for her because no one should have to celebrate their birthday in a foreign country without family and no fanfare.
Community creates opportunity for people to fill in where family can’t.
I know I could have told you that the hope for those of us who want to hide is Jesus, and I believe that He calls us out of hiding into the light. But I also believes He uses other people–we often call it community–to keep us there.
Living in community–and I’m not talking about a commune, though sometimes I think it’s a good idea–can be as simple as inviting other people to share a meal with you. It can be letting your answer to “how are you?” be somewhere closer to “not so great” than “fine.” It can be having people in your house when it’s not clean or expressing your weaknesses in a group so others know they’re not alone. (This happened to me recently when I confessed in church that I sometimes have trouble praying consistently, even though I know it’s good and I “should.” A friend was surprised and said she thought I probably had it all together where spiritual things were concerned. I tried not to laugh.)
Sharing your life with others is beautiful. It’s also uncomfortable sometimes. Like when someone who cares about you challenges you on your behavior or asks you to do something you don’t think you can do.
When you choose this way of community life, there is no place to hide.
But I’ve also discovered there’s no reason to hide.
Not one time during our Kenya trip did I regret the experience, even when we were teasing each other about bathroom habits, even when I couldn’t hide the fact that I was buying feminine products in the market. It was a safe community, a place to learn and grow and be myself.
This is the kind of community the church is meant to be: a place where people are accepted for who they are, are invited to share in the lives of others even when it’s uncomfortable, are challenged and loved in equal measure, a place where people don’t feel the need to hide.
Like the children’s game of hide-and-seek, let’s be the kind of community who cries, “Come out, come out wherever you are,” to the ones in hiding. And let us be the first to step into the light.