With a criminal record and a history with drugs and alcoholism, Glennon Doyle Melton was having a hard time landing even a volunteering job. Despite her father’s suggestion that maybe “there [were] some things [she] should take to the grave,” Melton decided that she didn’t want to hide any part of her story, she wanted “to die used up and emptied out.” In her hilarious and beautifully honest book Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed, Melton talks, among other things, about her decision to share her story—which, of course, really meant sharing her struggles—with others. With the same arresting candidness that we recently applauded in Kimm Crandall’s new book on motherhood, Melton’s openness in sharing her shortcomings as a human, a Christian, and a mother is refreshing. Melton describes confessing all of her faults to a new friend one day while watching their kids at the playground.
[Melton says,] ‘Listen. I want you to know that I’m a recovering alcohol, drug, and food addict. I’ve been arrested because of those things. Craig and I got accidentally pregnant and married a year after we started dating. We love each other madly, but I’m secretly terrified that our issues with sex and anger will eventually screw things up. Sometimes I feel sad and worried when good things happen to other people. I snap at customer service people and my kids and husband regularly. I always have rage right beneath the surface. And right now I’m dealing with postpartum depression. I spend most of my day wishing my kids would just leave me alone. Chase brought me a note the other morning that said, “I hope Mommy is nice today.” It’s depressing and scary, because I keep wondering what will happen if that feeling never goes away. Maybe I can’t handle this mommy thing. Anyway, I wanted to let you know.’
Melton hoped that letting her guard down would enable deeper levels of connection and friendship with the other mother, Tess, but rather than offering just a little information in hopes of a sort of secret-for-secret exchange, Melton let it all out. She wanted to help Tess feel comfortable enough to open up, but she didn’t have an agenda. This is remarkable because confession can so often be twisted into a tool for manipulation. I volunteer a small secret hoping that you will feel obligated to reveal a little part of your dirty life as well and I can walk away feeling a little cleaner—as if there were a finite amount of failures shared between the two of us and you’re confession would lessen my share. Or how about false confessions? I can easily remember a number of times, usually in a bible study or group prayer setting, where I have “confessed” a small struggle as a prayer request, pretending it was really weighing on my soul. It’s that move where, instead of admitting your battles with rage, lust, or egotistic pride, you say, “I’ve been getting a little distracted at the end of my hour-long morning devotional times lately,” or, “I just feel so bad because I haven’t committed a new bible verse to memory since last week—it’s like, am I putting God first or not?” One goal of this maneuver is to make everyone else think, “Wow- that’s what she struggles with?! She’s so holy… and kind and smart and stylish.” More often than not, however, we hide behind mild confessions so that we can avoid revealing the true ugliness of our hearts and lives.
It’s such a blessing when someone is willing to spill everything and launch themselves into the danger (read: vulnerable) zone with such selfless abandon. Melton does just this—she swings open the door to her closet and lets all the skeletons of her past fall out. She admits all of her deepest struggles in the present, and even her worries about the future. The result of this particular incident was exactly what Melton had hoped for.
Tess stared at me for so long that I wondered if she was going to call our minister or 911. Then I saw some tears dribble down her cheek. We sat there, and she told me everything. Things with her husband were bad, apparently. Really bad. Tess felt scared and alone. But at the playground that day, Tess decided she wanted help and love more than she wanted me to think she was perfect.