Transparency, authenticity, and vulnerability are popular buzz words these days. We sometimes use them as if they were synonyms, but they’re not.
Transparency means we’re open and not hiding anything; authenticity means what we offer to others is valid and accurate.
Vulnerability, in its most beautiful offering, means I’m willing to be transparent and authentic because I need and trust your help. We say, “I’m hurt” or “I’m afraid” in the same conversation with “…and I don’t want to stay this way.”
In a way, the freedom granted by transparency gives anyone who wants it a kind of permission to come clean.
“I’m a nerd.”
“I’m a jerk.”
“I’m not a perfect parent.”
“My kids are NOT on the honor roll.”
It seems to be a great idea because it invites everyone to stop pretending and to take off their masks.
Step One: Be transparent, but don't stop there.
Transparency is part of a bigger process.
Let’s use this analogy: When Hurricane Harvey ravaged the coast of Texas, the storm ravaged literally millions of homes and businesses.
A week after the rain stopped, piles of rotting sheetrock, waterlogged furniture, and flood soaked clothing lined the curbs for hundreds of miles.
That’s authentic and real. That’s transparency.
That’s step one. Be real. Decide not to hide or pretend.
The flood waters devastated your home, keeping all the damage inside because it feels raw to drag it outside, as if that's only going to create a greater crisis.
Getting it to the curb isn’t the end of the process.
Now flooded home owners get to start the real work of restoration, not just airing out their stuff.
They get to begin to restore and live out–day by day–the redemption of their homes.
One day at a time, they begin to trade ruined clothes for good clothes, replace damaged walls with new ones, and choose new furniture to replace what had become useless instead of useful.
Transparency is popular but it's not enough.
Transparency–in contrast to vulnerability–is a historically new habit forming in our culture that seems to encourage us to define ourselves by our struggles and the drama that our struggle invites.
Blog writers gain instant fame when transparent posts go viral.
It seems better than hiding. People are so dang tired of hiding and pretending. We can get pretty excited to rip off our masks and boldly proclaim, “Here I am world. Deal with me!”
We forget we started wearing a mask because we wanted to hide.
We forget we wanted to hide because we hurt someone or because someone hurt us. We started hiding because we were struggling and ashamed of our struggle.
Something was very wrong–like a flood or a hurricane–and we grabbed a mask because we were ashamed of the damage.
The damage is never going to heal if we don’t take a look at the wound and give it some fresh air; transparency offers some fresh air.
But transparency just gets the hurting stuff out in the open.
Transparency reveals the hurt but doesn't heal the hurt.
To stop there is to believe a lie about ourselves.
“This is me–damaged and hurting… and world, you’re just going to have to accept me for what I am.”
“This is me–scared and ashamed... and world, you’re just going to have to deal with me just as I am.”
I hope you trust this response: “Yes, you’re welcome here for who you are with the damage you’ve done and the damage that’s been done to you.
Welcome home; thanks for trusting enough to take off your mask.
And, with your permission, can I give you the hope that comes when you don’t stop with the beautiful step of transparency?”
Step Two: Learn to be vulnerable
Vulnerability means you have some friends you really trust who will help you heal, and day by day, begin to restore what the damage has stolen from your life.
Mature and trusted people can help you recognize if the relationships you’ve developed with other people who are hurting, too. Are they influencing and impacting your life for good or not?
And will you trust others to be honest with you about your habits? With the ideas that are fueling your life? Are these helping you thrive–or just survive?
Healing doesn’t happen all at once.
A home flooded by a hurricane cannot be restored in a day. Step by step, and connection by connection, healing can be a reality.
Another problem with transparency is it too often happens in an echo-chamber. We rip off our masks in front of people who are about as wise and mature as we are because we feel pretty sure they won’t judge us.
We know they’re going through some of the same struggles and hurts we are, so we’re willing to connect with them based on our common struggles and hurts. Our wounds and weaknesses become a comfortable uniform. Everyone here looks like me.
The people in my echo-chamber talk like me, too. That’s why it’s called an echo chamber! Bitterness, blame, complaining, and hate have a prominent place in our conversations... if we have any. We’ve perfected the dialect of defensiveness.
Their habits are my habits. We control, get angry, and medicate the pain of our unhealed wounds with entertainment and comfort food. I fit in just fine; it’s good to belong.
Connecting only on wounds and weaknesses with no plans for healing is a recipe for survival at the basest level. It’s a recipe for dysfunction, with a new version of denial still in the list of ingredients.
We’re not denying our issues anymore; we’re just denying there’s any need to heal them.
We begin to claim our disabilities and our drama as our boundaries.
We begin to live from an invalid identity.
We’ve traded living with a mask in community for living wounded and unhidden in an echo chamber. We find plenty of people who agree with us, so we must be right.
Maturity speaks softly and with great strength in response to vulnerability. Wisdom says, “I’m not going anywhere. You’re welcome here. I’m not going to change the truth for you, but I’m not going to abandon you while you wrestle with it.”
We all need places to be vulnerable–instead of just transparent.
How do we find safe places–so we can really experience healing from our hurts?
As parents, how do create this kind of atmosphere in our homes?
How do our homes become safe places to be real and be vulnerable, enough to heal?
How do we hang up a “welcome home” sign for our family that’s more than a decoration and a dream?
The reality of a safe home begins with safe adults.
Safe adults aren’t perfect adults–and they offer more than transparency.
“We get to give our kids the best of us–earning permission to influence them, mature them, know them, give guidance to them, protect them, love them, free them, and show them a magnificent God and an authentic life that will hold up for their entire lifetime.
We get to authentically and vulnerably know them. They get to watch us trusting God. They watch us mature and heal and become freer. They experience us growing to trust them with our issues.They get to enjoy, instead of maneuvering around, the very ones who have loved them most.
We get to leave an indelible mark they won’t want to ever shake.” (p. iv)
“When your children are young, being the parent carries enough control to handle them. But if you don’t grow up as they grow older, your immaturity will stunt their maturity at the level of your own. And no measure of control can handle that.” (p. 4)
We can be the mature ones–who share our stories, and our healing.
We can be the mature ones–who ask for protection from our old ruts, even from our children.
We can admit our imperfections–not in a way that glorifies our struggle or blames or shames us or anyone else. We can tell the whole story–about admitting the problem, and finding help, too–and trusting the help enough to heal us.
Little by little.
We get to lead the way and extend the invitation. One conversation at a time.
Connecting in real ways–to build trust–and offer strength.
“If mom can do it, she can help me do it, too.”
“If dad can do it, he’ll know how to help me.”
Vulnerable connecting sets the stage for affirmation. Affirmation builds identity and confidence.
“If your mistake didn’t become your identity, my mistake doesn’t have to become mine, either.”
“I know you; I know you’re for me.”
“You know me; You know I’m for you.”
“It’s ok that everything’s not ok. We’ve got each other, and we’ll work on it together.”
The ideas in this post are a foundational part of our weekly LOVE IS FEARLESS podcast.
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There is great hope! People like us do things like this. Let’s risk this life together.