Monday, November 06, 2006

Living a double life

Many have already weighed in on Ted Haggard's difficulties (go here for a good post from my senior pastor). One aspect of the story that's worth exploring more deeply is just how a person can live a double life and survive psychologically.

In counseling parlance (a la Carl Rogers), every human being has an "external self" (that's the person we appear to be on the outside) and an "internal self" (the person we really are). When the two are pretty much in agreement with each other, you have an authentic person. The fancy word for that is homeostatic balance. Homeostatic balance is one of the things that makes a person happy, healthy, and holy. Adam and Eve were in homeostatic balance (with each other and within themselves) before the Fall. Sin ruined that.

A person who lives a double life experiences incongruence or imbalance between his or her two "selves." And that incongruence produces anxiety. It takes an enormous amount of emotional energy to carry that anxiety and still keep up a good front. Apparently a lot of people -- like Ted Haggard, Mark Foley, and countless numbers of lesser-knowns -- are able to do this. How?

The Bible's explanation is the deceitfulness of sin. One of sin's properties is the power to delude the sinner into thinking that his sin is not all that bad. Sin creates self-deception, which energizes us for a while and creates the illusion of safety. You know what I'm talking about, because all of us have rationalized our bad attitudes, excused our mistakes, and justified our immoral choices by blaming others for them. All of us experience incongruence from time to time.

What makes an authentic person different from a hypocrite is that the former can't stand living with incongruence. He or she takes steps to return to homeostatic balance, while the hypocrite finds ways to live with the anxiety of incongruence.

The Bible and our own experience agree that living a double life does not pay. Again and again we've seen the Ted Haggards of the world get found out and suffer the humiliation of public disgrace. But ironically, we don't learn the lesson. You may say that you'll never be "that bad." The truth is, every one of us has the capacity to deceive ourselves into horrible crimes against God, against the people we love, and against ourselves.

So what can we do to keep our two "selves" in balance and thus stay happy, healthy, and holy?

One way is to be in community with a small group of others who will keep us honest. The Bible says in Hebrews 12:12-13,

"See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness."

A small group of trusted friends who know us well can tell when our external self does not line up with our internal self. They can ask us the hard questions, and challenge us when they see us taking short-cuts. That's what the writer of Hebrews was talking about when he said, "Encourage one another daily."

Of course, I'm sure Ted Haggard was in a small group too. And he was apparently able to hide from them for a long time. So it's not fool-proof. But if we'll work hard to let our friends know what's really going on inside, no matter how dark and ugly it may be, we'll be less likely to succeed at living a double life.

And we'll be happier, healthier, and holier.


Mark Bates said...

Excellent post. I thought of that double life aspect many times in relation to this and to other pastors who have fallen. I remember thinking about a pastor in our presbytery, rather judgmentally, what his daily schedule must have looked like:

1 PM - Work on sermon
5 PM - Fling at the Holiday Inn
7 PM - Lead Bible study

Yet, the truth is, all of us--to some degree--are leading a double life. That is why many Christians are far more miserable than most non-Christians. What the gospel (and gospel community) should be doing in us is bringing those two lives together so that we are a) more honest about who we really are, and b) becoming more and more the person God wants us to be. In that way, we are becoming more real, more authentic, and more truly human.

PaulF said...

A double life seems to be mutually exclusive from going to someone with your secret - especially a group of friends. They are the ones you want to disappoint the least and the ones you try the hardest to hide your condition from.

I mean, there's a reason people lead a double life, and it's not so strangers won't be disappointed.

I think there are people at both extremes that don't live double lives. One has a real understanding of the Gospel and his sinful nature, the other one simply doesn't care what other people think and, in effect, has an single, but empty, life.

It's going to take a heck of a lot of faith to tell anyone. When you get on that double life road, it must seem as if there's no safe place to stop and make a u-turn.

So the small group thing is a good idea, but even better is somehow getting people to actually believe the Gospel is real and can change them, so that then they have the strength and faith to go their small group and seek help.

The scary thing to me is that I'm sure Ted Haggard has forgotten more about the Gospel and God's Word than I'll ever learn, and this still happened.

Am I making any sense?

Mike said...

Yes, Paul, it definitely makes sense. Thanks for the good comment. I said that ONE way to prevent living a double life is being honest with a small group of trusted friends. Obviously the main way is to believe the gospel enough that you're not trying to build a reputation around yourself, but rather are finding so much security in Christ and His love that you don't need to hide behind a facade of righteousness. But I believe that sharing one's "stuff" with other Christians IS believing the gospel. That is, God has provided the community of believers as an extension of Himself, so that when we share our struggles with others we are in effect living out of the grace of the gospel. We are refusing to boast in our own record, and are trusting that all the righteousness we need was secured for us at the cross.

As to your point about Ted Haggard knowing a lot about the gospel and God's Word... Ironically, many people who know God's Word well and even teach it to others do not in fact understand the gospel. That's the point of the book of Galatians. Some of the most knowledgeable people in Christendom are also the most Pharisaical.