Transparency vs. Vulnerability

Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.
– James 5:16 (NAS)

Nathan then said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD God of Israel, ‘It is I who anointed you king over Israel and it is I who delivered you from the hand of Saul…Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has taken away your sin; you shall not die.

– 2 Samuel 12:7, 13 (NAS)

One of the healthy marks of a family, community or group is the ability to be transparent and vulnerable. The level of trust that exhibits in relationship is unparalleled in its strength and power in relationships. Yet, being transparent is a challenging issue. Bill Thrall, Bruce NcNicol and John Lynch in their book, “True Faced” talk extensively about the masks that we wear and list the following “masks” that often fill our relational wardrobe with others:

  • “I’m happy” mask
  • “I’m better than most” mask
  • “I’m very together” mask
  • “I’m a victim of others” mask
  • “I don’t care” mask
  • “I am self-sufficient” mask
  • “I’m very important” mask
  • “I’m competent enough to not need love” mask
  • “I am the theologically trained profession” mask
  • “I’m not hurt” mask
  • “I have all the answers” mask
  • “I am completely independent” mask
  • “I am cool” mask
  • “I don’t need anyone” mask

The problem here is not being honest or credible about the reality of our own journey. We put on masks to give the appearance that we are better than we are really are. It is very easy to do because we worry about what people think of us and we don’t want to look…weak or incompetent. I heard a distinction between transparency and vulnerability a long time ago from a friend and it really resonated with me:

Transparency, by definition is being free from pretense or deceit. But transparency understood in relationship is when I share with you something about myself that you would not know unless I disclose it to you. The idea in James 5 about “confessing your sins to one another” matches this idea of sharing with others something about my life they cannot know unless I share it. Certainly the idea of confession hits this concept of transparency very well even though it does not always need to be related to sin. It could relate to how I feel about something, what I am thinking, disclosing my fears or anxieties or anything along that line.

Vulnerability, by definition is capable of being physically or emotionally wounded. But vulnerability in relationship is when someone becomes aware of and speaks into my life about something they see in me that I am not seeing. When Nathan the prophet challenged David he told a story about a powerful land owner who steals from a poorer neighbor and exploits his resources for his own gain. David had suppressed his sin and was trying to “get away with it” when Nathan gets David to render a verdict from the story. When David condemns that rich person in the story, Nathan confronts David that he is that person in the story for what he did to Bathsheba and her husband Uriah. David was vulnerable because he was unaware that Nathan knew of his sin. He was exposed to someone else and if Nathan was a different kind of man could have destroyed David because he knew something about David that David was unwilling (or unaware of) to deal with.

The first key to life is finding freedom in our relationship with Christ. The reason we keep on using masks is because we have not fully embraced our identity in Christ. To understand how God sees us is far more important than how we see ourselves or how others might think about us. The second key is having people that love us when we are transparent and vulnerable – it is an amazing safety net in life.

Brad Little