Telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth is a good goal, but it is not always wise to reveal everything that you know within any relationship. There is a time to be quiet and a time to speak, and you must know the dangers of withholding truth and speaking the truth. I will address some of these dangers while offering a few biblical solutions. Let me start with two typical illustrations.
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Two Honest, Non-transparent Couples
A counseling office is a place where people, at times, lie. Yes, it’s true. Can you believe it? Take Biff and Mable. They were driving to their counseling session, strategizing on what they were going to say and not say. Their drive was more like a bartering session.
Biff was appealing to Mable not to tell about the night of December 14. Mable was threatening to spill the beans if he did not commit to at least five sessions with her. Biff wasn’t about to talk about that night but to make sure it never came out, he committed to the five sessions.
Bert and Marge were barterers too. This time it was Marge who was doing the negotiating. She’s super insecure and didn’t want me to know they had sex before marriage. Bert didn’t want me to know either, but his thoughts were not as measured as Marge’s. He promised not to tell.
Biff, Mable, Bert, and Marge pre-determined what they would say and not say before they came to my office. Ironically, the reason they wanted to meet with me was that they had marriage problems. Reread this paragraph. Do you see anything wrong with their wisdom or strategizing?
Let’s suppose you went to the emergency room, but you pre-determined to withhold certain pieces of information about what was wrong with you before entering the ER. Would that be weird? What about dumb? If you wanted to find a cure for what was ailing you, it would be unwise to withhold the vital facts.
The two scenarios with Biff, Mable, Bert, and Marge, have happened regularly in my counseling office. I have to dig, pull, plead, and appeal for truth-telling. It should not be that way but has been. People come to counseling afraid to tell the truth, which defeats the purpose of seeking help.
What about you? Are you an honest person? I am not talking about telling the truth as much as I am talking about being transparent with another person? Will you be transparent with someone, which is more than being honest? Honesty is about telling the truth or truthful facts.
Transparency is about being open and honest with all of the facts, especially those facts that relate to the person who is telling them. The honest person will say that they have marriage problems. The transparent person will say that he not only has marriage problems, but he will reveal how he is contributing to those problems.
Have you ever had a person tell you about the problems they were going through, but as you were listening to them, you were thinking they were not telling the whole truth? They may have been honest, but they were not transparent about themselves.
Biff is honest at telling the truth about his marriage problems, but he is horrible about opening up and being transparent about how he is repeatedly sabotaging his marriage. He says, “I’m telling the truth,” as though he is pleading a case. The truth is that he is telling the truth. The truth is also that he is not honest with all of the facts because he’s not transparent about himself.
If he were transparent, he would acknowledge that many of his problems do not have anything to do with Mable. Biff is not as interested in reconciling his marriage as he is in winning an argument, a case, or even worse, doling out verbal punishment on his wife by highlighting her sins.
Mable is guilty of what she did, but Biff is also guilty. His unwillingness to “tip the scales” toward his culpability while focusing mostly on Mable’s sins hinders the reconciliation process. Biff does this because he is harboring bitterness in his heart because he is hurt.
He is also angry and unforgiving, and that is the “transparent truth” that he masks behind his truth-telling. If he decides to repent of his sin rather than punishing Mable for her wrongdoing, the whole truth will be out, and they will be able to reconcile.
It is easy to get caught up in the drama of life, which sometimes drowns out the real issues that are happening. Sometimes this is a tactic. Keeping the tension stirred up or putting the weight of the problems on the other person becomes a distraction that disallows for personal confrontation. Quietness can be deafening to the guilty conscience because the truth operates on the quiet soul (Hebrews 4:12-13).
In those quiet moments of life, when there is no anger, confrontation, or confusion, the “quietness of the soul” highlights the hidden truth in our lives. It brings light to the “internal unrest” that gnaws at us.
It is tempting to divert the conversation to side-track what needs to happen inside of you. Some people will do this to keep from “taking their souls to task” or to keep others from engaging them about the real problems. When you confront them, they may be quick at telling the truth about “what they did” but negligent about being transparent entirely.
Marge was like this. She disliked Bert. Yes, Bert was annoying and a general pain to be around, but Marge was a pain too. In the depths of her soul, she knew that something was wrong. But Marge would mute her inward gnawing by blaming Bert for what was wrong with their marriage. Just like Biff, in the other illustration, she was not a transparent person.
At other times she would fill her day with anything to ignore the unresolved guilt and shame issues in her life. All I wanted her to do was be honest and transparent about what was happening. I was asking her to acknowledge what was apparent to both of us. She was masking her inward struggle by manipulating the conversation.
The real truth about her marriage was not about what Bert was doing primarily. The first issue that she needed to deal with was in her heart. It was about her. I pleaded with her, “Will you confront yourself and maybe, for the first time in a very long time, be honest with yourself?” I told her that if she was willing to be transparent with herself, there were a few things that would aid her in practicing honesty and transparency.
- Sit and talk to God.
- Tell Him that you are struggling.
- Let Him know that you do not know what to do about it.
- Ask Him if He will help you.
If you have a hard time being vulnerable, honest, or transparent with others, the best place to start is with the Lord.
The Risk of Being Honest
Let’s say that you’re both honest and transparent. You don’t use diversionary tactics to throw folks off the scent of what is happening inside of you. Great! Do you know it’s not always wise to reveal your whole mind to others? Sometimes discretion is wisdom in action when it comes to what you are thinking.
Recently I was asked if it was wise for a person to tell his spouse everything he was thinking. My answer to that question was “No” and “Yes.” I could not answer in the black and white way in which he was asking me.
I shared with him about the beginning of my relationship with Lucia, the day we met, and how there were many things I did not tell her. I didn’t tell her that I thought she was “hot.” I communicate that to her regularly now. In fact, at middle-age, she is hotter than she was when we first met.
The marriage relationship should always be moving toward oneness, and how you communicate is a significant part of your one-flesh life together. No relationship is static; you are either moving toward unity or away from it. You are moving toward a more in-depth community, or you are not. The word community implies and expects communication (koinonia) that is growing progressively deeper and more transparent with each other.
What Is Your Motive?
The goal for your relationships is to move toward more aggressive honesty and transparency. If you’re married, that person should be your spouse, though I know that is not true for many one-flesh couples. The “secret” in growing in that kind of relationship is proportional to your understanding and application of the gospel. Milton Vincent talked about this kind of gospel application when he said,
The cross also exposes me before the eyes of other people, informing them of the depth of my depravity. If I wanted others to think highly of me, I would conceal the fact that a shameful slaughter of the perfect son of God was required that I might be saved. – A Gospel Primer
The closer you grow to God by understanding what He did for you on Adam’s tree, the more likely the desire will be for you to get closer to others and for them to know you honestly and transparently. It is when you run from God like Adam did that you will know less and less about Him. This distance from the Lord will create a proportional gap from others, which will motivate you to say less and less them.
Sinfulness divides, causes disunity, and keeps people hiding in the bushes, wrapped in fig leaves (Genesis 3:7-8). To pursue sanctification is to seek God in the context of a community, which means at least one other person. The more you walk in His light, the more open and honest you will be with each other (1 John 1:7-10).
Build a Bridge to Share the Truth
There there is the matter of when to say what you want to say to another person. Recently, a reader asked it this way:
Dear Rick: I have clients who are not responding to my counseling. We have met a few times now. There are so many things going on in their lives that need to change. But I don’t feel at liberty to share all that I am thinking. How would you respond to them? Thanks!
Here is a truth that has served me when I’m in similar situations: you must build a relational bridge to carry truth over to another person. If there is no relational bridge, it will be hard for you to be honest and transparent with them because of the imminent danger of offending them.
But if you have favor with them and there is a carefully constructed “relational bridge,” you will be able to “truck more difficult truths across that bridge.” You will need to measure and weigh the truth to be reasonably sure the bridge does not collapse. As you know, it takes a while to build a sufficient relational bridge that will allow you to speak the whole truth to others.
Unfortunately for me, there have been times when I communicated truth prematurely to my friends; there was no bridge. In some cases, it offended them because of my lack of discretion. I’ve tried to learn to slow it down, don’t be so aggressive, take my time, and patiently build trust in the relationship before I share more transparently. I still fail at this.
If you have favor with the other person, be honest with them and continue to seek more honesty as you progress. Tell them the truth, as much as you can. You will have to be the judge of how much you share and when you share it. There are two compelling reasons to speak the truth in love:
- If someone is doing wrong, they need to know that what they are doing and that there are repercussions for their behavior and attitudes. The primary effect is that they are defaming God’s name by dragging it through the mud. It is God who leads us in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake (Psalm 23:3). It is His name that we make high, not ours.
- If there are problems in their marriage, it won’t get better on its own. Truth must prevail.
Counseling Tip – They need to know as much about their situation as you can tell them so that if the counseling does cease, you have made sure that one of the last things they hear from you is the bottom line truth. When or if they repent, they will remember the last thing you told them.
If they are not changing, the counseling will eventually cease, and in such cases, you will need to make sure you give them the most essential, accurate, and honest assessment of their situation. You will have to discern how and when to speak that truth to them. And if you make a mistake, remember that God’s grace is more powerful than your error.
Call to Action
- Are you more honest than transparent? If so, why are you like this?
- Are you both honest and transparent with at least one other person? If not, why not?
- What can happen if you’re honest but not transparent with the whole truth?
- Do you use diversionary tactics to keep your secrets hidden? How will this strategy affect your soul over time?
- Are you and one other person pursuing incremental truth in your relationship? If you’re married, and that person is not your spouse, why are you both not seeking this kind of community together?
- Do you know how to build a relational bridge? Describe a situation where you are doing this?