I Want To Be Honest, But Not Really

- - Life With God

honest image

A lesson I learned early on as a young leader was this: “Be honest, but not really.”

The truth is, I was naive. I hadn’t learned the ropes yet. And I certainly didn’t know all the written and unwritten rules.

So when my pastor, who was visibly thrilled about a ministry event that had just taken place asked me, “Wasn’t that THE BEST EVER Brian?” I didn’t know only one answer would be acceptable.

Stupid me. I actually thought he was asking for my opinion – so my logical brain immediately determined this event was NOT the best ever. I slowly attempted to answer the question honestly and tactfully. “It was really good. Maybe not THE BEST EVER, but I liked it. It was good…”

In my naivety, I wasn’t prepared for his reaction. The look of visible excitement turned into disbelief, disgust, and anger. I was confused. He was acting as if I had just insulted his wife. My honest answer got me a lecture on the subject of bad attitudes.

This experience wasn’t fun. I walked away feeling like an idiot.

And so I learned this lesson: “Be honest, but not really.”

Now I’m paranoid, never sure if honesty will get me into trouble. I look for ways of giving safe, innocuous, non-answers. Honestly, I don’t trust myself – I’ve thought it was safe to speak truthfully before, only to discover my friends or colleagues didn’t really want that much truth.

I know there’s much to be said about tact, diplomacy, and speaking the truth in love. These are all skills that I struggle with and need to grow in.

Although I’ve learned the unwritten rule, “Be honest, but not really,” I still find myself being drawn to the unadorned truth. I like honesty without spin, and it scares me too.

Brennan Manning said, “There is a beautiful transparency to honest disciples who never wear a false face and do not pretend to be anything but who they are.” I love this quote, and it also scares the hell out of me.

If I’m transparent, honest, never wear a false face, and do not pretend to be anything but who I am, people will see ME exposed. I don’t know if I can handle the opinions and judgments and, here’s the real issue, potential rejection.

Maybe I’m too afraid of rejection. Perhaps I care too much about what others think of me. It’s possible that I spend far too much time creating my own spin, obsessing over image management to the point where the “public me” and the “real me” don’t share any genetic code.

God has only ever seen the real me, and He loves me perfectly. That’s pretty incredible.

I wish that was all I needed. But there are people in my world, so I must continue to wrestle with honesty and diplomacy, truth and love, being real and being tactful.

It’s not as if we can only have one or the other. It’s not truth or love. These things don’t have to work against each other.

I do think the church community needs to become a safer place to lay down our masks and be transparent. We can learn a lot from Alcoholics Anonymous…

AA is not built on scapegoating, but rather on being honest and courageous about ones own struggles and brokenness. Those who attend do not find unity in hiding from their conflicts, but in bringing them to the full light of day in a place of grace and acceptance. —Peter Rollins

I’m not sure I have any real answers to my own internal wrestling match between honesty and image management. I am willing to take some risks though. I do want to lead the way by putting myself out there with greater transparency. As a leader in the church, I want to create an environment where people feel safe to be themselves – where spin isn’t necessary, where grace and acceptance flow freely.

So I’m working on this. I’m trying to be more honest and vulnerable. I hope it helps, but I’m still nervous about the impressions and reactions. Just recently, I tweeted something honest:

I am a bundle of contradictions: grumpy yet full of hope, sinner & saint simultaneously, can’t stand most pastors & I am one. :)

What do you think? Is it helpful or do I need another lecture on bad attitudes?

This is part 2 of 3 posts this week. Come back tomorrow for “The Honesty And B.S. Graph.” Also, check out yesterday’s post, “Honest People Scare Me (And I’m Starting To Like It)


Have you wrestled with wanting to be honest, but not really? Have you taken hits for being “too honest?” I’d love to hear your stories…



I am a husband, father, pastor, leader & reader. I love God, love people & love life.

15 Comments to I Want To Be Honest, But Not Really

  1. Nice segway from the Welcome Home series.. Thinking this “truth” hits home to many of us- Thanks for keeping it real. Have a good day!

  2. Yeah, I can relate for sure. I’ve given my share of sheepish, half-truthed replies to people I didn’t want to upset. Sometimes I have a bit of internal monologue before I answer—”Yes, that dress does make you look fat…But say something nice, smile, and leave it alone.” I think Thumper from Bambi left me messed up from childhood with the timeless, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” Crap, my lack of honesty has been dictated by a fictitious, cartoon rabbit. I’m not sure what to think anymore. :)

  3. Speaking in cliches is so much easier yet not very genuine.

    I try my best not to, but sometimes it’s just too tempting.

    I’m looking forward to creating a culture where speaking the truth in love is not just taught but practiced regularly.

    • Brian Dolleman

      This thought about cliches is going to make it onto the BS graph in tomorrow’s post. Thanks!

  4. Yes, I relate to this. There have been times I want to share what I really think but usually that desire is followed by thoughts of:

    -what if this causes more hurt than help?
    -what if I get yelled at/corrected for being honest?
    -what if what I say causes people to tell me what they really think of me…do I want that?
    -what if being honest leaves me on the outside looking in?
    -what if people stop liking me?
    -what if what I say causes me to look dumb?

    There’s something in all of us that wants to be transparent..to share what we really think and believe…but overcoming the obstacles detours our honesty into being shallow and fake. Being “yes” men/women seems easier than confrontation. Saying what people want to hear is less messy than what people need to hear. And the scary thing about this is…this honesty goes both ways…which terrifies me.

    I’ve always been told, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it all.”

    How do we do this while being honest and real? Is it possible? If so, how is it done?

    Carefully…very careully. =)

    Good stuff pb! Can’t wait for tomorrows post.

    • Brian Dolleman

      I wish I had answers to your series of questions – but I’m asking the same questions myself. I guess we keep trudging forward with huge measures of grace towards what is real, true, honest.

      I mentioned this a bit yesterday, but in our truth-telling, I feel like we do need to consider…

      —is this restorative or bridge-burning?
      —can I say this in a way so that grace is the loudest point I make?

      Still, being restorative and making grace loud as we are honest / real / transparent doesn’t take away our fear of rejection. Yay! (sarcasm)

  5. Well, in one respect I feel like I’m being chased by a broom–but not totally in a bad way. I was raised in a home where one opinion ruled, and all others were wrong and invalid. To disagree or be honest brought on unpleasant lectures, correction and sometimes punishment. Even at an age I’d rather not admit, these big shadows of disapproval loom out of the closet when there’s a call for “how I feel about something”. It is always easier to keep my thoughts to myself, put-up-and-shut-up. Fear of rejection is the biggest hurdle I have to overcome when weighing an “honest answer”. And there’s always the question if the other person really wants an honest answer, or looking for affirmation. Or maybe I just think it over too much. I think it boils down to a daily (sometimes minute-by-minute) dependence on God, Holy Spirit guidance, soft heart and willingness to repent when we screw up. I kind of think that’s where He wants us to be anyway.

    • Brian Dolleman

      “These big shadows of disapproval loom out of the closet…” Wow. I feel that.

      Thank you for the wisdom shared here – “It boils down to daily dependence on God, Holy Spirit guidance, soft heart, and willingness to repent when we screw up.”

      I love this Cathy. Appreciate you adding to the conversation.

  6. Chelsea Bennett

    It’s when I’ve been faithful, given it my all, and felt like I’ve had everything invested – that’s when it stings the worst. When I feel disappointed in myself or God, or when I’ve felt like crawling into a corner with a blanket, that’s when HE finds me! He seeks me out, just like you found Ashah. He embraces as to say, ‘I’m here, It’s okay, I love you, you got this, I got you.’

    I’ve held onto a tidbit from a sermon from a while back – hurting people help heal people (or something like that). We relate. God is right there with us, He understands pain, sorrow, and loss and yet He is the almighty healer – amazing .

  7. Danielle Pridgen

    Sometimes I just have to say the things which I think need to be said. Not because I am always objective and correct and everyone is entitled to my opinion (lol!) but because I am a person with a mind and a mouth like everyone else, and I have things on my heart to share, and discuss throughout my journey. Some people have applauded me for doing this, other people looked really confused, some disagreed, some felt empowered to say how they really felt in response. In any scenario, it has turned out good, bad, and ambiguously. Sometimes Ive gotten a big mouthful of my own foot, and had to take a long walk to let my ego air out. Haha. Oh well…

    Regardless of what happens though, I think it is important for all of us to be honest about who we are, and what we experience and think. I’d rather feel like a fool for saying something stupid, than feel like a slave to a system which says I have no right to be real, or have an imperfect opinion.

    • Brian Dolleman

      I HATE feeling like a slave to a system that says I have no right to be real or have an imperfect opinion. Really hate that.

    • Danielle Pridgen

      Sorry, follow up on that last sentence… I didn’t quite word it the way I was thinking it….

      I’m looking for something more like, “It’s ok with me that I might be considered a fool for expressing myself with authenticity. It seems better to feel judged for what I am, than to feel enslaved by a system which says there is no Need for me to be real, and nothing to be Learned from an imperfect opinion.”

      Yeah, that’s a little more like it. :-)

  8. Armando Farinas

    In my opinion it is a lack of honesty and authenticity in our world today that has kept many of us if not all bound in some way. Including at times the church. I read a book many years ago and in it, it stated that “feelings and emotions are neither right or wrong….they just are and they are real”. But in order to be able to express them openly and freely an atmosphere of safety must be achieved first. The lack of self honesty in society is in relation to the lack of safe environments in which to express them. Heck there are some people that have a hard time being honest in their marriage because it’s not safe…..lol

    That is more than likely why in AA they set the foundation of safety first so surrender is easy. A surrendered life requires honesty. I often wonder about all the people in the bible that approached Jesus for a miracle and what their position on honesty and authenticity was in those moments. It would seem to me that each was willing to take the mask off as to say here I am this is me this is the truth of who I am, what I have done, what I am dealing with and what I am going through. So getting to Jesus required mask removal in that moment. When Jesus spoke the truth was He brutally honest at times? Yes. Did the truth hurt sometimes? Yes. Did the truth set many free? Yes. But, He was skillful at it. He created an environment of safety first so people felt at ease to approach Him.

    He did this by:
    1. Establishing relations by hanging out with them (sinners)
    2. He did not judge or condemn (His opinion of their condition)
    3. He healed them all (met their need)
    4. And when He saw them He had compassion (His behavior toward them)
    5. Feed them (cared for them)

    I am sure there are more that I have missed but the point is He created an environment of safety through action where honesty and taking off the mask was not only OK but in some ways you could say was a required risk in order to approach and ask Him for something.

    I am somewhat convinced that people that take issue with honest people are at times reacting negatively because the honest person is projecting to them their worst fear and that is if you take off the mask then that means I will have to take off mine and I don’t want to reveal what is hidden so I am adverse to honesty and authenticity because it forces my hand to be played and for me to put my cards on the table. So keep your mask on so I can keep mine on.

    Honesty is restorative when the environment of safety is present. The girl in the office felt she was in a safe place, free of judgement and fully accepted that allowed her to share and reveal her condition with honesty, authenticity and sincerity. Can honesty be brutal? absolutely but if you have the skill of Jesus telling the truth won’t bother you nor will it be a problem when in the context of love and grace in a safe place. I can only imagine what the early church must have looked like as they practiced “confessing their sins one to another so that they may be healed”. Maybe the world would come running to the church if they could see that that is who we really are. Just a thought.

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