What Kendrick Lamar does in his music we fail to do even within the most intimate settings. Within Christendom, I have observed that we can get so wrapped up in politically correct responses and being what we are expected to be that we fail to express how we really feel.
It may seem odd to bring up Kendrick, but I have learned plenty from listening to him despite plenty of crude and profane lyrical tendencies, which I am in no way condoning. His major label debut is essentially his story of redemption from a difficult environment and upbringing. His beliefs, experience and ability to construct a narrative make him a fascinating and successful musician.
Not everyone will or should aspire to learn from his music, and that is ok. But for me, I can look at his life, faith and music and apply it in any number of ways to my walk with the Lord, but I will zero in on one particular lesson. I love that Kendrick Lamar is (seemingly, I have never met him) unapologetically Kendrick Lamar. He is raw, honest and insightful all at once.
His struggle with his newfound fame is one of many themes throughout his brilliant new record. (I would recommend reading this article before listening.) Over and over again, he looks in the mirror and raps about the failure that he sees. On “u,” he, through tears, acknowledges that it is hard to love himself because of the numerous ways he has failed. He goes on to name those failures in the same song.
Later in “How Much a Dollar Cost,” Kendrick tells the story of an encounter with a poor man who asks him for money. He assumes he will use it for drugs. As the song unfolds, it becomes clear that Kendrick is reenacting Matthew 25 as he learns that the poor man is not a drug abuser but is instead God. He promptly repents and asks for help to change.
This type of transparency that goes to an emotional level is not a new concept. Look at the Psalms. David frequently models how to effectively and vividly express what you’re feeling. If I were in David’s small group, I wouldn’t have to wonder what is really going on beneath the surface. He feels abandoned (Psalm 13), hated (Psalm 69), broken (Psalm 22) and so on. He is in agony often.
Kendrick and David model a deep level of transparency that we frequently shy away from. Their expression of their emotions allows us to feel what they are feeling. We often will report actions but fail to get to the emotional and heart issues underneath the actions.
I am not imploring anyone to release a record where they examine the deep, dark recesses of their heart over spectacular funk and jazz beats. However, I am advocating for a real evaluation of how “emotionally transparent” you really are.
I think that Christian culture has turned us into robots. We have these programmed responses and reactions for specific scenarios that we have grown to see as appropriate and even morally upstanding. They keep us from standing out and allow us to preserve some sense of control as we reveal an area of vulnerability. It’s the easiest way to get it over with, but not the most productive way.
Here is how this generally plays out: a small group member comes in and, in monotone, explains how he dropped the ball this week or how his life is collapsing around him. He is probably staring at his feet. He comes in and says what he is expected to say and acts how he is expected to act according to social norms. I have watched this before (and done it too) and wondered if that individual is really beat up by their failures or if they are just saying what is expected. They know they are supposed to share, but is anything going to happen afterwards?
To no credit of my own, I am grateful that I can say that this doesn’t look like my small group. When brothers fail, they get angry at that sin. Sometimes a four-letter word is the only word you have to express how sick of a sin you are. And guess what? I would argue that that’s ok within the right context.
When we hurt, we explain how and why. We invite each other into our messes. When the group hears of these situations, we empathize. These are not overly emotional men but men of conviction. Living under the grace of God that Christ purchased for us on the cross, there is a time and place to be unapologetically yourself. One of those places is called cell group.
A lack of honesty about what you’re going through and how it makes you feel puts those around you in a difficult position. How do you expect me to hurt with you if you won’t let me know how much you hurt? How can I struggle with you when I don’t know how much you are really struggling?
Let’s get real. Let people into the mess. For someone to reveal a vulnerability is undoubtedly a victory regardless of what that looks like, but it’s important that we keep striving for a deeper level of vulnerability and honesty within our small groups that gets down to an emotional and heart level. Resist the temptation of being what you are expected to be and be what you need to be: honest, real and vulnerable.