Our family finally bit the bullet and purchased a high definition, big-screen television, and ordered the HDTV packet from the satellite company. We gathered around our family room for the ultimate viewing experience. We gasped in shock. Not because of the dimensional image jumping off the screen, although that was sweet, no, it was the raw humanity that surprised us. Those actors had wrinkles!
Just as high definition television illuminates the blemishes and imperfections of those appearing on screen, living a high definition life can expose both our strengths and weaknesses. We all know how to put on various masks depending on the company we keep. After all, we know what certain people expect. As a student I’d never admit to others my feelings of apprehension regarding my future career. As a mom, I avoided topics that pointed out my failures and frustrations as a parent. Hey remember I’m super mom. And at church, I was the “good Christian,” never admitting to the sins I struggled with on a daily basis. But it’s what I look like when I’m alone, without the masquerade, that my true self is revealed. Real transparency occurs when I am comfortable being me, flaws and all, no matter what environment I find myself in.
Living a transparent life can sound quite scary. We never know how people are going to respond to the real us. What if reality disappoints? Yet, hiding is not an option for the believer, says Dr. Gary Thomas, author of Authentic Faith: The Power of a Fire-Tested Life. Eventually the jig is up. Our God loves us too much to allow the charade to continue.
“As we read Scripture, we see that God is in the business of revelation; secrets become known. That’s ultimately for our own good,” says Thomas. “This isn’t always a supernatural process however, as in a moment of exposure, but sometimes it’s a slow, ‘natural’ revealing. If, for instance, a guy secretly indulgences in lustful patterns of behavior, it will ‘leak out’ in the way he looks at women, and talks to and about women. It may not happen overnight, but what we do in private eventually shapes our public character and pronouncements.
“Likewise, a woman who thinks critically of her husband will eventually speak critically of her husband, even though she’s appalled, in theory, by gossiping. Jesus couldn’t be clearer: out of the heart flows our deepest sins. If we persist in these sins, out of His mercy God will often reveal our secrets so that we can be healed.”
But oftentimes most of us would rather remain sick than face the exposure of a transparent life. We feel trapped, desiring a confidante, yet terrified that honesty will cause those we value to permanently lock us out of their life. Still, Thomas believes that being true to self holds greater benefits than we could ever imagine.
“There is tremendous freedom, more freedom than most people could fathom, when somebody truly knows you and all your ‘stuff’ and still loves you and respects you. There is incredible peace. When I live transparently, there is no fear of exposure or shame, there is a ‘lightness of being’ that results from not having to juggle a lie or keep bases covered.”
Thomas goes on to explain that even though people may disappoint and friendships fail, refusing to live an authentic life separates us from the one relationship we can always trust.
“I think the biggest pitfall is distance from God; when we lie to people, we offend the God of truth, and that will create distance in our relationship with him. We lose many teaching opportunities. Instead of learning from our sin and developing lessons that can be taught to and applied by others, we spend our energy and thoughts trying to cover up the truth. How can we speak the truth when we live in constant denial of the truth? We are kept in sinful patterns of living.”
So what does God say about living a transparent lifestyle? In Proverbs 28:13 we read, “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy (NIV).” And in James 5:16 we are exhorted to “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective (NIV).”
But it’s the example of the early church in the book of Acts that conveys the impact of believers who are willing to live in transparency. “Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds. A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power(NIV).”
It appears that living a transparent life does more than heal the sinner, it creates a revolution; proclaiming that our God is able to reconcile men to Himself through the death of His Son; and by the power of His resurrection set free the captives to live an authentic and fulfilling life.
Thomas believes it’s time for believers to wipe off the grease make-up and allow others to see that there’s a real human being underneath, with God-given gifts and fleshly struggles. Besides he says, “I have enough energy to be transformed or to cover up, but not both. It makes far more sense to work at changing than to work at covering something up.”
How many Christians work in your office? Not sure? Maybe they’ve chosen to hide their true identity. Maybe your office is teaming with undercover Christians. Are you one of them?
In Matthew, chapter five, Jesus commands us to make our faith evident to everyone around us. “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven (NIV).”
But did Jesus really mean at work? Living a high definition, transparent life in the secular workplace can get kind of tricky. It’s not like you can begin each day leading the office in prayer, or reciting weekly Bible memory verses.
“Many of the tools we use at church just don’t work in a secular environment,” says C. Peter Wagner, author of, The Church in the Workplace: How God’s People Can Transform Society (Regal). “Influence in the church is achieved through spirituality, in the workplace influence is achieved through success.”
Wagner warns that although there are several opportunities for Christians to stand out in the workplace, it’s important that it’s not done in weird ways. “Learn how to draw the line. There are times to cut some slack and allow the system to operate. But you have to adapt before you have a chance to change them. Otherwise you isolate, and hide in a cubical with Bible verses pinned to your wall.”
Sometimes Christians unknowingly make themselves unapproachable by refusing to be transparent and thereby projecting a false, almost plastic, image. It leaves their co-workers believing that Christians live a perfect life. Perhaps believers fear that sharing their struggles with other people at work reveal a lack of faith. On the contrary says Wagner, “It’s okay to talk about your struggles and then others will talk about their struggles with you. That’s when you gain influence.”
Wagner says it’s best when Christians take a missionary’s perspective when entering the workplace. “We live in two different cultures. Christians need to be like missionaries, taking their faith into a culture that is different than the church. Sometimes believers try to transfer the piety of the church into the workplace, and that doesn’t work. We have to adapt to the workplace culture.”
Adapting doesn’t mean compromising faith. After all there’s the story of Daniel, a biblical example of a man rising in power, while maintaining spiritual integrity. “Daniel had to become part of a whole group of soothsayers and seers, but eventually became their leader,” explains Wagner. “The spiritual principles Daniel was working with were a lot different than the principles the soothsayers were working with, and when it came to prayer, he drew the line. He couldn’t compromise on that one.”
Daniel isn’t the only one who openly lived out his faith in the workplace. It was Paul who befriended Aquila and Pricilla, co-workers in the tent-making business. And in Genesis 39 we read that Joseph, under Potiphar, rose to the top due to his excellent abilities. “The Lord was with Joseph and he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned.”
What is obvious in this passage is that Potiphar had no doubt as to where Joseph’s ability originated; it came from God. According to Wagner, giving credit to God is paramount to living a transparent life that can greatly impact the work environment. “The one thing you should not do is hide the fact that you follow Christ. When you succeed, they wonder if there’s a connection. People respect that.”
Living a transparent and authentic life means allowing your relationship with God to illuminate every environment you enter, even the workplace. Besides, says Wagner, “The place to workout your faith isn’t just at church. What people do in the workplace is their ministry, just as much as singing in the choir is at church.”
C. Peter Wagner says, “Christians need to have a vision. What they do in the workplace is paramount to bringing the kingdom of God here on earth as it is in heaven.”
Your son is failing high school, your daughter just got a tattoo and your husband has received a pink slip at work due to cutbacks. But your main concern is, "What will the neighbors think?!"
Far too many times we are more concerned with what outsiders think about us instead of making sure we are transparent and authentic to those who matter the most, those who live among us in the place we call home.
But why cover up? Why not allow our family to see us for who we truly are? According to Kevin Leman, author of A New Kid by Friday, it all started in the garden. "Our natural tendency is to cover up. After all, Adam and Eve covered up," says Leman. "We all specialize in 'arms-length relationships.' To be vulnerable and transparent you’ve got to be pretty grown up and most of us aren’t. Have you been to a little league game? Have you seen people drive? Are we really grown up? It takes a lot of maturity to be transparent."
Leman says many times we let our fears get in the way of "keeping it real."
"We fear so much. We care more about what others think we are, then who we are. How do we pray? For our real self or the one we let others see? When the real self wins, we have transparency."
Of course you can't hide anything from God. No biblical character knew that better than King David. After having Uriah killed in an attempt to hide his adulterous affair with the soldier's wife, Bathsheba, David soon learned that eventually your sins find you out. But even before his advisor, Nathan, pointed out his sin, David struggled internally. In Psalm 32:3-5 David laments:
"When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the LORD' —and you forgave the guilt of my sin (NIV)."
David was freed from his torment when he finally refrained from "covering up his iniquity" and gave into a life of transparency before God and man. God's favor toward David wasn't because he always made all the right choices, or how others perceived him; remember man might be impressed with outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.
As moms and dads we can spend a great deal of energy covering up the heart. Under the guise of "setting the bar high," we teach our children how to camouflage themselves as glorified superheroes. "I am Mom, able to clean house, pay bills and help children with homework, while simultaneously caring for aging parents and running a Sunday school program." Or "I am Dad, embracing my responsibility to bring in a large income, while remaining sensitive to all of the emotional needs of my family, and working on that tundra some call a yard." All good things. But if those acts of service turn out to be a façade, covering up our true motives and ambitions, the jig is up and hypocrisy is revealed.
"Even when the inevitable happens and our family learns who we really are, we play a different role outside the home," explains Leman. "We make fools of ourselves. Dad is the leader of the family but when he gets in the SUV on Sunday and one kid's missing, the anger switch goes off. He yells at his four year old, 'You're supposed to be in the car!' Then he comes to church and puts on a church face. You can fool all the people at church, but you can't fool your family."
Leman suggests a healthier approach is to admit the obvious to our family and others. "We love to say things like, 'As Christians we don't do that.' We sin like the rest of the heathens. The important thing is that we make sure there's no damage in the relationship. Each of us has sinned. Our family needs to hear us say, 'Sorry, forgive me, I jumped to conclusions.' That makes you bigger in your family's eyes," Leman says.
Committing to a high definition or transparent lifestyle is doing more for your family then you'd probably imagine says Leman. It's leaving a legacy. "You are packing your kids' bags right now. What are they going to take away from your home? It's all about relationships, honest ones."
Transparency words to use in your home
Meet Amy. She went way over the family budget when she purchased that new dress, her husband won’t be happy when she tells him.
Meet Ted. He’s starting to get some strange attraction vibes from Lisa at work; something he’ll definitely need to bring up with his wife at dinner.
Craziness? Why tell? Because both of these couples have agreed to engage in something quite rare these days, it’s called transparency; something absolutely essential for an intimate and successful marriage.
So what is living in a transparent marriage all about? According to Mona and Gary Shriver, co-founders of Hope and Healing (HopeandHealing.us), it simply means being honest…about everything. “Keeping everything out in the open is what takes away the power to create division,” says Mona. “Transparent honesty brings everything into the light, it takes power out of the Enemy's hand.”
In John 3:20 we read that those who do evil hate the light, and in fact refuse to come into the light, lest their deeds be exposed. But as believers we have received grace and forgiveness. We are free to live an authentic and transparent lifestyle, continuing to be molded into the likeness of Christ. This openness is available to every area of our life, including our marriage. In John 12:46 Jesus is recorded as saying, “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness (NIV).”
Oftentimes couples try to keep their spouses in the dark when it comes to their mistakes, justifying that it’s not that big of a deal. Not true says Mona. “A lot of women hide financial things from their husbands. They go shopping and try to quickly pay off the bills. What you’ve done is put a wedge in your relationship, a minor one, but a wedge nonetheless. Five years later it’s not just a wedge but an entire wall. It starts a pattern.”
Gary and Mona suggest another area that isn’t often addressed with couples is sexual temptations. “We are all wired to be attracted to each other, so to think that once you put a ring on your finger it’s going to go away, it’s not,” says Gary. “When you do meet someone who gives you the ‘tingles’ it’s best to admit it to your spouse.”
“This removes the secrecy,” agrees Mona. “What happens when you are transparently honest is that it makes both of you aware. If Gary came home and said, ‘I find this person attractive’ then we’re both going to be in a preventative form of mind.”
Gary emphasized however, that there has to be an environment for safe sharing. “You might be married to someone who wouldn’t be that friendly if you came home and admitted to having an attraction to someone else. Both people have to be open to this. As a couple you need to buy into a commitment that you are going to be open about every feeling you have. It makes you so much stronger. When I do this, I know that Mona and I will be dealing with this attraction from a couple’s standpoint. It won’t be just me.”
Mona agrees that maintaining a safe environment for sharing is huge. “I don’t have to hide anything. I don’t have to be afraid. It might not be a fun time. One or both of us might crawl into being a 12-year-old for a little while, but we will not allow those things to fester and grow into something bigger.”
But what if your spouse doesn’t know about your struggles, whatever they are? What if being transparent means you might disappoint? Gary says couples might be surprised to discover how much becoming vulnerable improves a relationship. “I would respect that person even more for being honest. It says that you care so much about our relationship that you’re willing to be that open. That proves how much you love them.”
Mona agrees that perfect people just don’t exist anyway. “Isn’t the point of marriage to bring two imperfect people together in God’s perfect union? You’re goal is to help your spouse to be the best person God created him or her to be. If couples continue to hide their weaknesses and fragile parts from each other, how can they come alongside and help their spouse? You are denying your spouse the opportunity to help you with your weaknesses, whatever they may be.”
Don’t like shopping? Could care less who wins the world cup? Some couples pretend to share their spouse’s interest, while others become discouraged when a spouse can’t enter their world. “One transparency factor in marriage is recognizing that your spouse cannot be everything for you,” says Mona. “In transparent honesty, you can acknowledge, ‘I can’t help you in that area.'” Mona suggests figuring out a healthy alternative.
“For example I have two girlfriends I walk with, they call us the Ya Ya’s, and it’s a relationship that Gary can’t touch. First, it’s female, and second, Gary hates walking. I could fight with him to be that person for me, or I can find a healthy outlet for it. Walking with my lady friends makes it better for us as a couple.”
Still the Shriver’s believe that the closest relationship has to be with your spouse. “Your spouse is the person you stood before the pastor or justice of peace with and told everyone that this is the person I will be most intimate with,” says Mona. “With transparency you are going to place the time and energy into the relationship you vowed to have.”
It’s Sunday, time to put on our ‘happy church face’, but the pastoral staff will be the first to admit there are plenty of tears during the week. What would happen if church were the one place you could share your struggles, fears and joys? What if church life could be lived out in high definition?
Studies show there is definitely a disconnect between what Christians say they do and what really goes on behind closed doors. According to a 2007 study of lifestyle choices among active Christian believers, just as many believers as nonbelievers were likely to: bet or gamble, visit a pornographic website, take something that did not belong to them, consult a medium or psychic, physically fight or abuse someone, consume enough alcohol to be considered legally drunk, have used an illegal or non-prescriptive drug, said something to someone that was not true, gotten back at someone for something he or she did and said mean things behind another person’s back. 1
Although one may question the moral dilemma of living out these types of behaviors, perhaps even more disconcerting is the pretence of ‘holy living,’ while propagating a facade. Shouldn’t church be the one place where we can ‘keep it real'?
Pastor Pete Scazzero, author of The Emotionally Healthy Church (Zondervan) and co-founder with his wife Geri of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality; a ministry dedicated to applying emotionally health to biblical spirituality in order to transform leaders, relationships, churches and organizations (<a href="http://www.emotionallyhealthy.org">www.emotionallyhealthy.org</a>) suggests that church attendance needs to be more than a extracurricular activity.
“The church is the place where we are living in community, where we are not enmeshed and smothered, where we can respect differences and be real. If you’re not interested in being honest and sharing your struggles you might as well go join a club. Why join a church at all?”
Scazzero believes that a body of believers living in transparency is something that sets the church apart from the world. “The church is hopefully the place where people can come and it’s safe. We want to be in a place where we admit we are broken, we are vulnerable and we are authentic. If we really believe in grace, we can come out of hiding and hopefully be something that will make the world a little thirsty for Christ. Without transparency I’m not sure we have much to offer the world.”
So why is living an authentic life so difficult, even for those who call themselves Christians? Scazzero says it often starts at home. “I think most of us come from families where we couldn’t be ourselves and it wasn’t safe to be who we really were; we ended up putting masks on.” explains Scazzero, who suggests that even if home was a safe place, our culture isn’t. “The world is run by works and performance. We keep score, whether it’s wealth, academics, success or position in society; therefore the world’s not a safe place. We’ve grown unsafe as a church because we conformed to the culture around us. To be a church in transparency is a very radical concept, it requires a whole transformation.”
As a senior pastor at New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, a large multiracial, international church, Scazzero is the first to admit that every revolution must begin with its leaders.
“Do I lead out of a place of transparency and brokenness or lead by my successes? It’s much easier to lead out of success and not be vulnerable, because people might judge me. But, if I’m not looking for validation from you, and received it from God himself, I’m secure in God’s inexhaustible love for me. Then I can be myself and be vulnerable, even if others find that too weak.”
Some pastors are afraid all that transparency might land them on the outside of their churches looking in. Nevertheless, they still must lead by example says Scazzero. “Many leaders will tell me if I’m that open, the church will throw me out. Don’t worry about anybody else, lets start with us being honest and transparent, and then hopefully that will encourage others to follow.”
Worshiping in a transparent church may sound nice on paper, but in reality it can get pretty messy. Scazzero suggests discernment to control the bleeding. “Be wise. You don’t need to bring everything to the pulpit. If a man’s been unfaithful to his wife, I’m not sure he wants to bring that information to the small group that his wife is part of. You have to be careful.”
Sometimes finding a safe environment for sharing means gathering with others who have shared your struggles. In California a group of Christian men struggling with sexual addictions chose to meet weekly for prayer, Scripture reading and accountability. Christopher, who at one time battled with Internet pornography, found the group to be just what he needed.
“It was a chance to free ourselves from the trap we found ourselves in and expose our darkness in the light of God’s truth,” says Christopher.
While some churches might cringe, labeling this type of sin as ‘heinous’, Christopher was thankful he had a place to receive help. “When you tell another brother that you’re struggling, it takes away the shame that Satan uses. A large percentage of the men have found healing.”
In Acts we observe the early church trying to define what it meant to live transparently in community with other believers. It soon became apparent how important honesty and integrity were to those who claimed to be ‘followers of Jesus Christ’. Ananias and his wife Sapphira were first century believers that wanted to appear more generous than they actually were. After lying about a donation to the church, and then refusing to repent for their attempted deception, God struck both dead.
In contrast we read in the Old Testament about King David who also initially lied about his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba, but then repented when confronted by Nathan, his advisor. In fact, David later went on to record his mistake in his worship and history books. David must have learned the secret to pleasing God when he wrote in Psalm 51:17, God delights in a broken spirit and a broken and contrite heart.
Today we live in a media-saturated culture. There’s really no place to hide anyway. Scandals are leaking out of the church as fast as in the rest of society. Maybe it’s time to fire the spin-doctors and instead choose to live openly and honestly. Our message needs to be clear: we are people who struggle too. We need Jesus and believe He is our only hope for healing.
Is transparency in the church really mandatory for everyone? Scazzero believes we can’t continue on without it. “I’m not sure you can grow in Christ any other way. How else are you going to grow into an emotionally healthy, mature follower of Christ? By pretending and hiding? Just you and Jesus? It’s not biblical. We don’t have a choice but to press on and try to be this transparent community.”