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Are you willing to be honest about yourself with others? Are you willing to be transparent about yourself with others?
A counseling office is a place where people are tempted to tell lies. I have said that counseling is a lying profession. If you don’t struggle with folks lying to you, become a counselor. I am telling you the truth. Let me illustrate with two fictional but common stories I have heard from counselees.
Biff and Mable were driving to their counseling session strategizing on what they were going to say to me. The drive was more like a bartering session. Biff was appealing to Mable to not tell about the night of December 14. Mable was threatening to tell me if he did not commit to at least five counseling sessions. Biff committed to five meetings.
Bud and Marge were barterers, too. This time it was Marge who was doing the bartering. She is hyper-insecure and did not want me to know that they had sex before marriage. Bud did not want me to know either, so he promised not to tell.
Biff, Mable, Bud, and Marge predetermined what they would and would not say before they came to my office to ask me if I would help them through their marriage problems. Read that last sentence again. Do you see anything wrong with it? They wanted my help, but they predetermined to hide some of the facts.
Let’s suppose you went to an emergency room, but you decided before entering the hospital to withhold certain pieces of information about what was wrong with you. Do you see a problem with that strategy?
The two fictional scenarios regularly happen in my office. I have to dig, pull, plead, and appeal for people to tell the truth. It should not be this way. Too often people come to counseling afraid to tell the truth. It’s a self-defeating approach that hinders the opportunity for change to happen.
Will you be honest with me? I mean, will you be really, really honest with me? I am not talking about telling the truth as much as I am talking about being transparent? Will you be transparent with me? Honesty is about telling the truth and telling truthful facts. Transparency is about being open and honest with all the facts, especially the facts that relate to why the person is not changing.
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 were not transparent about themselves. In most cases, they were telling the truth about the other person while not being transparent about themselves.
Biff is great about telling the truth regarding 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 is not transparent about himself.
If he were transparent about himself, he would be self-disclosing, a truth that could potentially reconcile his marriage. Biff is not as much interested in reconciling his marriage as he is in winning an argument, protecting his reputation, and satisfying his long overdue desire to punish his wife by highlighting her sins to me.
Mable, his wife, is guilty of what she did, but Biff is guilty, too. His unwillingness to tip the scales toward his culpability while focusing mostly on her sins does not help the reconciliation process. He is harboring bitterness in his heart because he is hurt. He is also angry and unforgiving, which is the transparent truth that he hides behind all his truth-telling. If he decides to repent of his lack of transparency rather than punishing his wife for her sins, the whole truth will be out, and they may be able to reconcile.
It is easy to get caught up in the drama of life, which sometimes mutes the real issues that are happening. Sometimes getting caught up in the drama of life is intentional so that some of the facts stay hidden. Keeping the drama stirred up and putting the weight of the problems on the other person, like what Biff was doing, becomes a distraction that keeps him from being confronted by the things he needs to change.
Secret keeping has a deteriorating effect on the guilty conscience because the hidden truth gnaws at the soul. It is like pretending the cancer that is eating away your body does not exist. Unwillingness to acknowledge sinfulness does not stop it from damaging you or your relationships. It is tempting to divert the conversation to side-track redemptive efforts.
Marge was like this. She was frustrated with Bud because he was annoying and a general pain to be around. The whole truth is that Marge was a pain, too. In the depths of her soul, she knew something inside of her was wrong, but she did not want to own it. She muted the inward gnawing by keeping the blame on Ben. Like Biff, she was not an honest person because of her lack of transparency.
At other times, she would fill her days with enough activities to ignore the unresolved guilt and shame she felt. The real truth about her marriage was not so much about what Bud was doing. The issue she needed to deal with first was in her heart. I pleaded with her, “Will you confront yourself and, maybe for the first time in a long time, be honest with yourself?”
I gave her a list of things she could do to practice truth-telling, which meant being honest and transparent. This practice would be good for anyone who struggles with being transparent.
Recently, someone asked me if it was wise for a person to tell his spouse everything he was thinking. My answer to the question was “no” and “yes.” I could not answer the question in the black-and-white way in which it was asked. For example, in the beginning of my relationship with my wife, there were many things I did not tell her. I did not tell her that I thought she was hot. I do tell her now.
Relationships begin with discretion and ignorance. You do not say everything you’re thinking about another person. That’s discretion. You do not know all that can be known about the other person. That’s ignorance. Strong relationships cross both of those barriers. As you move closer to each other, you learn more about each other. You’re also less discreet. A good marriage should always be moving toward oneness, which cannot happen without honesty and transparency.
No relationship is static. We are either moving toward unity or away from it. Either we are moving toward deeper community (koinonia) or we are not. The implication of the word community expects communication that is growing progressively deeper and more transparent.
My wife knows I can be tempted to lust after other women, which is why she becomes an additional set of eyes for me. For example, when we are at the beach, she is kind and humble enough to serve me by thinking through where we should put our blankets and other paraphernalia.
This is a kindness from the Lord to have such a humble complementer (Genesis 2:18). It would be sad and lonely to have a helper that I could not talk to about the sinful inner workings of my soul. Being open and honest with each other are core components to strong relationships. These relationships do not just happen. It takes work that is always founded on the gospel.
The closer you draw to the Lord, the greater the desire will be to become closer to others. If you choose to drift from the Lord like what Adam did, it will create a proportional distance in your other relationships. Sin divides, causes disunity, and keeps you hiding in the bushes, wrapped in fig leaves (Genesis 3:7–8).
To pursue sanctification is to seek God in the context of community. The more you walk in His light, the more open and honest you will be with others (1 John 1:7–10). You can discern a person’s relationship with God by how they are sharing Him in a community.
Perhaps you’re helping someone who is not responding to your care. Sometimes the relationship is not secure enough to where you can dig a little deeper with the individual. Here is a truth that has served me over the years when I am in similar situations: You build relational bridges to carry truth over to people.
If there is no relational bridge, it will be hard to be honest with someone because of the imminent danger of offending them, pressing them too soon, or scaring them away. But if you have favor with them and there is a carefully constructed relational bridge, you may be able to carry even difficult truth to them. It will require you to weigh and measure the truth you want to communicate. As you know, it takes time to build a sufficient bridge that will allow you to speak the whole truth to a person.
We typically know more than we say because there is not a complete bridge to communicate everything you’re thinking about a person. What you do not want to do is communicate truth prematurely. Jesus even withheld the whole truth because His disciples were not able to receive all that He knew about His mission.
Slow down, be patient, and build trust in the relationship. If you do have favor with a friend, be honest with them while continuing to seek to be more frank with them. Tell them the truth, as much as you can and when you can. You will have to be the judge of how much truth you share and when you share it.
Here are two things to consider when speaking the truth in love to another person, especially when the communication bridge is not fortified (Ephesians 4:15).
First – If someone is wrong, they need to know what they are doing wrong, as well as the repercussions of their actions. The first repercussion is that they are defaming God’s name because it’s His name on the line, not ours (Psalm 23:3). If our actions are not making God’s name great, we need friends who love us enough to let us know (Galatians 6:1–2).
Second – There will be times a person is unwilling to change because the Lord has not granted repentance to them (2 Timothy 2:24–25). Even so, this should not deter you from speaking the truth in love. Perhaps they will change in the future. You may want to give them the truth before they are ready to receive it, and when the time comes to apply it, they will appreciate your previous kindness to them.