I’ve always been good at hiding. Just ask Eliza and Alice, who couldn’t find me during hide and seek at the park yesterday. I was lying flat on my back behind the stone retaining wall that circles the playground. It’s just tall enough to conceal a person and just short enough and plain enough that it’s easy to overlook. I knew the kids would focus on searching for me among the eye-catching playground equipment. So I made myself very still and quiet. I basked in the sunshine and listened to them wonder where I could be.
I noticed that Psalm 32 gives us mixed messages about hiding. On the one hand, the psalmist portrays hiding as a state of dishonesty about who we are, a spiritual dis-ease. Whether we lie overtly, or simply refrain from letting important truths about ourselves be known, our lives lack integrity and harmony. Sometimes, we even fool ourselves. Because God lives deep within us, when we hide from ourselves, we also hide from God. We separate ourselves from the one who knows us most intimately and loves us most fully. The psalmist illustrates with vivid metaphors how this sort of hiding feels: “While I kept silence my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. . . . Your hand was heavy upon me. My strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.”
The Psalmist makes the decision to get things out in the open, to come clean, to name, and seek to repair, their alienation from God, self, and others. “I did not hide.” This honesty is an immense relief. And yet, then the psalmist goes back into hiding, saying to God: “You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble.” First, God is an adversary, an authority figure with a heavy hand that presses us with truth until we yield. Once the truth is out; however, God becomes an advocate. God’s hand provides shelter and protection. What I hear in this is that living honestly is absolutely essential for our spiritual health and wholeness, and it is also risky. When we confess our wrongs, when we reveal important truths about our lives, when we ask for help, we can never know how other people will react. We may experience judgment and rejection, misunderstanding and exploitation. Or we may find kindness, support, and solidarity. Mostly likely, we’ll receive a little of both. Whatever the reaction of the world around us, the psalmist promises that if we stop hiding from God and our true selves, then God will hide us. God’s unconditional acceptance and love will be our refuge and strength.
Nora McInerny is the host of the podcast “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.” The podcast, and her first book, probe McInerny’s experience of losing her first husband, their unborn child, and her father in the course of just a few weeks. Now she has released a new book titled No Happy Endings, which tells the story of falling in love with her now husband Matthew and having another baby. In an interview on MPR, she recalled meeting Matthew almost exactly a year after Aaron died. On that first date with Matthew, McInerny chose to be honest. That evening, she read to him from a book of poems by Mary Oliver, poems about Oliver’s own experience of grieving the death of her life partner. “He didn’t freak out” she marveled. She said, “I read it out loud to Matthew, bawling, sitting on my floor and he was like ‘Okay, yeah, these are beautiful poems. Can I get you a glass of water?’” She remarks:
So many of us are afraid that the things that we are feeling will be too much for someone. And if they are, that person is not your someone. That person is not your friend, that person is not the person you should marry. You should not hide parts of yourself because you are afraid that another person can’t handle it. That’s a good red flag that they might not be for you. So I was really doing Matthew a favor. Saying, here’s who I am. Run if you wish. This is sometimes what I do on a Wednesday night. So, welcome.
McInerny said she realized that up until the point when she met Matthew, she had not really grieved Aaron’s death. Instead, she made herself busy. She tried to work her way through it, tried to trick herself into being okay. She says,
It caught up with me when I fell in love with Matthew because I had space to truly fall apart. And I did. And how confusing that we can have all these feelings at once. [Up until that point] I truly did believe in some sort of emotional switchboard like, “happy on, sad off.”
It’s quite beautiful, the way Matthew sheltered Nora as she grieved Aaron. What relief there must have been in allowing herself to feel what she was feeling, with honesty, a complex mixture of deep pain and sadness and deep love and joy. For me, this story was an image, this week, of how God both calls us into honesty and shelters us in our exposure.
The story Jesus tells in Luke’s Gospel, that we heard this morning, is known as the parable of the prodigal son. A colleague suggested that we should instead name it the parable of the dysfunctional family. Rather than isolating the younger son (the prodigal) as the problem, let’s notice that all the characters are enmeshed in a troubled system. They are all caught in a web of broken relationships. In every family member, I see the self-imposed torture that comes with the unhealthy sort of hiding. Something within the younger son is driving him to feel not at home in his home. Jealousy? Greed? Trauma? So he treats his father with the most extreme kind of disrespect. By asking for his inheritance, he regards his father as if he’s already dead. And the father, too, is motivated by something hidden. Why did he give the son the inheritance? He could have said no. Was it guilt? Did he feel unloved by his son? And the older son, wow, he’s nursing some resentment. What’s happening inside of him that he feels so angry? All this hiding sucks the life out of this family. They are in agony; they are exhausted; they are alienated from themselves, each other and God.
This past Thursday I attended the lobby day for our Sanctuary congregations, which was focused around driver’s licenses for all. On the way to the event, I gave a ride to someone who is undocumented. She speaks almost no English and I speak almost no Spanish. So it was a very quiet drive. At one point, I looked down at my speedometer. And I looked up at the speed limit sign. And I realized that I was speeding. And I recognized that for me there are no significant consequences for that behavior. Sure, I might get a ticket. But I won’t get deported. I won’t be taken away from my family. I can’t lose my whole life just because the police pulled me over. In this simple moment of clarity, I saw how insulated I am from the pain of the dysfunctional family system we call immigration. I caught myself hiding behind the shield of privilege, lulling myself into forgetting that not everyone can live their lives, care for their families, and contribute to our community with the same ease and security I enjoy.
Friends, if we can see our privilege we can also use it. We have a real chance during this legislative session to win driver’s licenses for all. This policy will include everyone in the scope of human dignity. It will mean that our economy can thrive with the full participation of immigrants. And it will improve public safety if everyone driving has gone through education and testing, and is required to be insured. This legislation is expected to pass in the MN House of Representatives this coming Friday, April 5. However, it does not yet have enough support in the State Senate. There will be a press conference at 10:30 on Friday to make clear the broad coalition—faith, labor, business—that stands for this policy. This gathering will shine a light on the Senate’s lack of leadership and show that there is a widespread public expectation that they will step up and make this happen. It is only honest to recognize that all the families to which we belong are dysfunctional— our blood families, our families of choice, the families of our neighborhoods and our government, and the family of our world community. We are full of dis-ease and dishonesty. We hide from our ourselves, from each other, from God. At the same time, it is also true that in the families we inhabit, God is there as persistent grace, enduring love, and the promise that transformation is always possible. So, friends, let us hide in the shelter God’s own heart. And let us risk living with honesty.