“I feel busted,” a friend of mine confessed after listening to a song about prayer. Her words are still with me, months later, because it felt like she was speaking from my own heart, with words I’ve failed to muster. I’ve felt that before: completely found out—caught in the act, even. Romans 12:9 has a way of making me feel busted: “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them.”
We’ve all felt the disappointment that comes when someone’s words don’t match their actions—when something we allowed ourselves to get excited about never came to fruition. I’m also willing to bet we’ve all done it to some degree or another. I’ve been on the receiving end of people who have claimed to miss me, and never called; I’ve also dealt it out.
I feel busted when I read Romans 12:9 because I fear, all too often, I know the right things to say. There’s this term in psychology called “inappropriate affect” which refers to a mismatch in the content of what someone is saying and how they are saying it. When someone tells a sad story, with a smile on their face, or, someone states they are happy in a depressed tone, it tells us something is wrong. There is a disconnection. I see this in myself, when I’m willing to look. I’ve acted happy, when I was afraid of how unhappy I felt. I’ve acted like I cared about things I didn’t because I felt I should care. Honestly, I’ve done a whole lot of things to appear as though I’m kinder, and more loving, I really am. That’s why I feel busted when I read Romans 12:9—because I know I’m guilty of pretending.
I think Paul is advocating for connection and authenticity, when he says “really love them.” Essentially: mean it. It occurred to me the other day that the fight to be authentic is also the fight for vulnerability. Wrapped up in my moments of acting is a desire to appear stronger and more put together than I am—it is usually fueled by a desire to not appear vulnerable. The truth is that I am, and need to be, vulnerable. I am weak, and prone to fear, save for the grace of God, and need to be vulnerable before Him, and others, if I am to know intimacy.
It is my desire to be, more and more, a person who means what I say. I want to call a bad day a bad day, be the first to admit, and laugh at, my weakness, and learn to abound in love—genuine love. The thing is: it’s not easy. We’re in this constant fight against our own duplicity, but the good, good news is that we’re not alone in it. God made vulnerability, and change, possible by loving us first. It’s said that our greatest human need is to be fully known and fully loved, and every bit of that is demonstrated in Jesus’ work on the cross. Knowing all our sin, He took it onto Himself, and sacrificed His life that we may live. Because of that: there is no longer any condemnation, or need for shame.
We can come out of hiding.