One of the fastest ways to make me angry is to tell me half. “My room is clean now” sounds great, but it’s really only half if you’ve shoved a bunch of candy wrappers under the bed. “She hit me” is only half if she was pinched first. “This car would be cheaper than the one you have now” is only half if the new car comes with no warranty and requires more expensive gas.
Just tell me the truth already. Because half is not truth. Truth is always whole.
I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness lately. What makes people happy, does everyone have a right to be happy, is it wrong to be happy when people we love are not, is it weird to be happy when your life has a big problem in it? Is hope the key to happiness? Or faith? Love? Xanax?
I’ve decided that people who say happiness is a choice are right, but they are really only telling you half. The key to happiness is not in any choice in something external – it’s not in love, not in the achievement of a goal, not in a person, and not even in a faith of some sort. Anyone can choose a mate or a puppy or a bottle or a cause or a church. But none of these things, these choices, will ever be enough to get you to happy. And that’s because the real key to happiness, I am convinced, is 100 percent internal – it’s in learning to like yourself, it’s in living in a way such that you can like yourself, and then in simply owning who you are.
If we are honest with ourselves about who we are, and if we like ourselves when we’re alone with ourselves, we can be happy. And if we can be ourselves no matter who’s around and no matter where we are, we can be happy. But if who we are is different based on who we’re around, one of two things is true: either we don’t know who we are yet, or we are well aware of who we are and we don’t want others to see that person. It’s when we speak half or live half – only showing a part of ourselves in hopes others will like us – that prevents us from being wholly happy.
We must stop living half. And we must stop half-telling our story.
If we tell people we need forgiveness for hurting others because we struggle with an addiction or a disease, but in private we don’t seek professional help to help ourselves…we’re telling half.
If we only show people the pictures where our hair is in place and our house is clean…that’s half.
The thing about our halves is that we may be hiding them from others, but we’re not hiding them from ourselves. We know we’re showing half – and if we’re at all good people, we can’t really get to happy by showing half. The halves that we hide because we’re ashamed of them or because we think they make us the most unworthy or the most bad will actually lose their power over us when we own them. It’s in our transparency, in our ability to reject the urge to only show half, that we find the freedom to be happy.
Real humans have a whole story, and in every one of those stories the human is imperfect and/or their life has something wrong with it.
This weekend I watched a group of young people tell my seven year old they missed her at an event a while back. Her face fell and her entire countenance changed. Her confidence was gone in an instant, and that’s because she remembered why we missed it – she doesn’t have a traditional family anymore and that’s been a very tough reality for her to accept. And just as I was about to smooth things over, she blurted out that her Dad doesn’t live with us anymore and he has a different life. I could not have been more proud that she spoke a truth that hurts her deeply. And two seconds later my heart burst with gratitude as I watched a teenager reply, “Yeah, my Dad, too. But I’m still gonna be a doctor. What are you going to be?”
I realized in that moment – the moment where I almost spoke half to smooth things over, which would have cheated my daughter of a wonderful moment – that not only does our transparency about our whole self and our whole life allow us to free ourselves of a bondage, it also allows us to see that others are like us. If we don’t share our whole selves we can’t possibly feel the grace and love others have to offer us. If we live and speak only half, we’re essentially cheating ourselves of our ability to heal.
I’m determined not to live and speak half – not just because I’m not smart enough to keep up with all the omissions, but because I want to spend my life doing stuff other than hiding and pretending.
So…I go to church and yet I sometimes drop F bombs (especially when in traffic). I’m a Mom who doesn’t like to cook and I’m a Mom who embraces restaurants. I will not hide that from bus stop Moms who are good cooks. I’m a Christian who has gotten so angry that I have shouted that I hate people and that I can’t wait to attend their funerals. When my pastor asked how I was doing later that day and I said “fine,” that was half. Because while I am actually a good bit more than fine at this point, there’s still a shameful, angry truth – a half – that I hide.
A few months ago, I was wandering around an antique store and I came across a couple shelves of old books. To my surprise and complete delight, I found an old copy of one of my favorite books: The Scarlet Letter. I read it the first time in high school, loving the story but thinking it was outdated and didn’t really apply to life now. That was more than 25 years ago, and I’ve found The Scarlet Letter speaks to me today more than ever. While I’d love to see some people have to wear a scarlet A upon their chest, that wouldn’t send a message most people around them don’t already suspect. The timeless message is this: “No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.”
I’m not bewildered about who I am. I know I’m a person who doesn’t really wish harm on others and that loves people and that does her best to live the right way and that is a Christian…but still, that’s just half. I’m a Christian who has a heart that has hate and anger in it, and that’s not a half of which I’m proud.
But you know what? That’s my whole.