Guest Post by Ed Underwood
[This post is Part 3 of a 5 Part series, Sustaining Friendships]
I don’t trust transparency. There, I admit it.
I’m done with transparency because I learned a long time ago how to use it to get my way or to impress people with my openness. Whether in relationships or communication, my flesh loves to manipulate the other person or the audience with juicy and intriguing stories about how I’ve failed. But I only give them enough to get what I want–attention, sympathy, esteem. You name it, I can come up with a transparent illustration to get it out of you.
Don’t look at me that way. So can you!
That’s why I don’t trust transparency–it’s selective and filtered by the flesh. Transparent relationships aren’t the sustaining kind because they give us permission to hide the really, really bad stuff.
If I want a sustaining relationship I have to go beyond transparency to vulnerability. And just like the first quality of a sustaining relationship, commitment, the best thing we can do to find the friend our heart longs for is to be that friend. Vulnerability trumps my self-seeking flesh with other-centered community. It knocks down my defensive barriers and demands that I admit the truth … about me. Then, and only then will the Holy Spirit begin the healing process of my wounded soul. Jesus didn’t say, “You’re spin on your life will set you free.” He was clear. “The truth will set you free.”
However, transparency is such a buzzword among Christians, that you may be having difficulty distinguishing between transparency and vulnerability.
Here are some contrasts:
- Transparency is what I tell you about me; vulnerability is what you tell me about me. Faithful are the wounds of a friend,” the Proverb says, “but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful (27:6). If I surround myself with those who “kiss” me with words that agree with everything I say about my life, I’m living in a dangerous place. A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet (Proverbs 29:5).
- Transparency is scrubbed; vulnerability is soiled. The only risk in telling you what I want to tell you about me is that it may miss the mark, meaning that it may not have the impact I intended. The risks of vulnerability are huge. I’m letting you into my messy life and giving you permission to open every closet, every drawer. You could easily walk down a hall no one’s ever walked down and find something I thought no one would ever find out. I’m telling you something that I feel you have to know about yourself to protect you from yourself. You could slam the door on the relationship and tell others what a nosey Christian I am. Yet, if we risk it, there’s mutual blessing. Ointment and perfume delight the heart, and the sweetness of a man’s friend gives delight by hearty counsel (27:9).
- Transparency is a message; vulnerability is an invitation. Once I’ve carefully crafted the content of my transparency all I have to do is report it. When I submit to the love of someone I’m vulnerable to I have to listen, and usually I don’t like what I’m hearing. And that’s only the beginning, because transparency is about reports; vulnerability is about relationship.
A vulnerable friendship is what I call the “I-love-you-too-much-to-lie-to-you” type of friendship. The most significant changes in my life didn’t come from a Scriptural insight I’ve found or a sermon I’ve preached. Those changes happened because someone loved me enough to tell me the truth … about me.
That’s the second characteristic you want to look for in a sustaining relationship–vulnerability. But before you go looking, be that type of friend.
Questions: What am I missing? Does the difference between transparency and vulnerability in friendship make sense to you?