Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Road to Wholeness Is Blocked By Good Impressions

The Church is often marked by what John Ortberg calls "impression management." He is speaking of the practice of doing things around others that give them the impression of us that we want to convey. For example, when mentioning a TV show, we may say, "I don't watch much TV, but I saw this program the other day..."

Why do we say, "I don't watch much TV" to begin our sentence? Usually it is because the people around us may not value us as truly spiritual, intellectual, or serious if we DO watch a lot of TV, so we add the disclaimer to create an impression.

Impressions are vitally important in the Church, it seems. We must make sure that people think we are spiritual, or at least desirous of being spiritual. We want them to believe our families are attaining all the right goals and ideals. We hope that people see us as if we have it together in our marriages, our jobs, and most of all in our walk with Christ.

Sometimes, when the impressions we want to create are endangered, we will find ways to comment on the inconsistency or failure of others, doing so as a prayer request or a concerned inquiry. By doing so we highlight our better stance and our spiritual concern--a double win!

And sometimes, we are so concerned to maintain others' good impression of us, we don't ask for help when we hurt, don't admit when we fail, don't talk about our doubts, and certainly don't acknowledge that we are wrong. Only when the crisis comes and the distance between what people think and what is real comes into the light do we finally give up on impression management--and that is because those false impressions can't be maintained any more--the truth is out.

The old saying goes, "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions." I'm not sure it's always true. But I have come to believe that the road to wholeness can be blocked by good impressions. The hard work of maintaining our image is not only time consuming; it distracts us from the more vital work of the Spirit to bring healing and wholeness into our redeemed and yet still broken lives.

Why do we do it? That's pretty easy to answer. I watch as we gravitate in awe toward those who give the impression of success and satisfaction in our own desired goal (family, career, holy living), and treat them at times with what verges on idolatry. It's as if we believe our own status will be enhanced by being in their shadow.

Why do I say this blocks the road the wholeness? Because only those who know and admit they are sick need a physician, and only those who acknowledge they are broken will take the steps needed to become whole. What are those steps? Honesty, repentance, and accountability for starters. Our own brokenness stays broken because we have not found, on our own, the means to overcome it. The Lord is able, but the Lord's working in "mysterious ways" almost always involves other broken people--sometimes those who have shared our brokenness, and sometimes those who are not broken in the same way we are but have been humbled and changed in another area.

If there is a temptation unique to our very "Christianized" culture here in Cedarville, I think it is the practice of impression management, because so much rides on what the rest of the community "thinks" of us. Actually, that isn't true. So much more rides on whether or not we will prefer honesty and humility over honor, and care most about God's evaluation instead of our neighbor's. After all, we will all give account before God, and that evaluation has eternal significance. Let go of managing impressions, and grab hold of the grace and mercy of Christ.