Fighting for Transparency in an Era that Enables Secrecy

As you surf the Web, you might easily make the mistake of assuming that Americans, by and large, live out their increasingly-messy private lives in the public eye. Nothing, it seems, is considered “off-limits” now that everyone with even the most basic computing skills has the ability to create their own Facebook account, blog or Twitter feed. By scanning the headlines of “news” sources, you might even be tempted to think that all this new technology has given us the ability to look into all the dark recesses of someone else’s life; witness how often celebrity sex lives are “in the news.” And you might reasonably conclude that even the ability to be less-than-transparent belongs to a bygone era.

I would venture to say that the reverse is more often true; modern technology has instead given us more tools than ever to engage in secretive, clandestine behavior, and many of us have deliberately (or inadvertently) fallen into this snare. Cell phones and e-mail provide a great deal of convenience and, while I greatly appreciate both of these innovations, I also see their destructive potential regularly playing itself out in the lives and marriages of family and friends…tools designed for productivity and convenience are used instead for obfuscation and safeguarding our secrets.

I’m as guilty as the next person of wanting to live in the dark; a few weeks ago I wrote about my temptation to “untag” myself in old Facebook photos so as not to be visibly linked to my dubious past. So I’m a fairly-recent convert to total transparency…probably sometime early in 2003. My own first marriage crashed and burned in the Fall of 1996…too much in the way of secrecy clearly took its toll there. By the grace of God, I remarried in May of 2004…but not before a great deal of destructive, secretive and sinful behavior had run its course in the intervening years after my divorce. It got so bad at one point that I actually chose to stop attending church rather than live out my sinful choices “in the light;” such is the logical outworking of one who has chosen to live underground.

In an after-hours discussion with Nicodemus, very likely held at night precisely because Nicodemus didn’t want his standing in the Jewish community jeopardized by anyone blogging or tweeting about this encounter, Jesus yet again penetrates straight to the heart of the matter when it comes to the human propensity to duck, dodge, hide and cover:

John 3:19-20 (ESV)
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.

I think it’s worth noting right away that Jesus is speaking to an extremely-devout Pharisee and that these two strongly-worded, indicting sentences come almost immediately after The Bible’s Greatest Hit (John 3:16) in which Jesus declared in no uncertain terms the all-encompassing love of God for the world. My own reading of this entire passage, then, is something along the lines of “God’s love for you could not possibly be any greater…and yet you dopes still want to shrink back into a (more comfortable?!) life of darkness and deceit.”

Given my own history and personal experiences with deceit, I find it incredibly humbling when another person comes to me seeking after marital advice. If you think about it, it’s kind of like asking the guy who totaled his car to give your teenager driving lessons. However, since God has seen fit to redeem my history of divorce – and that of my wife’s – by placing us in the lives of others who are experiencing the same pain, I often start off with a simple question that strikes at the heart of where problems often present themselves in marriages.

“So…is there anything in your life that is outside the grasp of your spouse?” The answer to that question typically reveals much, assuming that the other person is prepared to be honest.

Here’s what I¹ve found so far. (Even though this may seem blazingly obvious, it bears repeating.) Within marriage, if there are things about you that your spouse doesn’t know, and you don’t want them to know, you’re living in the dark, plain and simple; sin and deceit now have an excellent foothold in creating any number of additional problems in your life.

Nowadays, I always want to be able to answer that difficult question with, “No, there is nothing in my life outside of my wife’s grasp.” Sure, there may be things in my life that my spouse may not care to know more about, but absolutely everything is “out on the counter” and available for her to examine should she want to (and vice versa).

This commitment to total transparency became a fairly serious matter in the early months of our marriage when old girlfriends and boyfriends were still calling and e-mailing. You know…mostly just “harmless inquiries” from someone who was “just a friend” wishing us well…or (perhaps) seeking to find out if either of us took our recent vows very seriously. Working together under this kind of pressure, we agreed to share with each other every time this kind of contact was made; we deleted old e-mail accounts and exchanged passwords with each other for all of our new accounts; we copied each other on a ridiculous amount of e-mail, most of it (probably) harmless; we moved all our banking to one location and put both our names on all accounts. Even today, we refuse to open separate Facebook accounts but instead share one profile.

And, fortunately, we steeled ourselves to take a fair amount of grief about it from others. We became accustomed to hearing helpful remarks such as “Your marriage might be pretty shaky if you can’t have anything at all that belongs just to you.” Well, I actually see the reverse as being true. Having nothing set aside “for my eyes only” is actually a tremendous area of strength and (I think) a testament to a willingness to expose flaws and deal with them. For whatever this is worth, what we’ve found by “living in the light” is that a tremendous amount of peace comes along with pursuing transparency.

It seems that we as a culture are rapidly losing the ability to communicate openly and honestly with one another. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that someone experiencing marital issues is communicating primarily via e-mail or text with their spouse. When we’re angry nowadays, it seems like talking “real-time” (either on the phone or in person) has steadily lost favor to carefully crafting a devastating, one-way written message: “No need to reply…I mostly just wanted to upset you.”

Within marriage and family relations, though, I think it’s absolutely vital to swim hard and furiously against this tide. Honestly, can you even imagine Jesus interrupting His conversation with Nicodemus to check his BlackBerry, smirk at the message received, and then say “Really, Nick, it’s nothing…forget about it.”

Look, I am a mess. So are you. We all are (Genesis 6:5, Psalm 14:1-3, Romans 3:9-18). But once we get to the point that we can accept the truthfulness of that assessment, it is in fact very liberating. And living in that (often harsh) light makes it so much more comforting to be in relationship with a Savior who already knows how messed up we are…and yet loves us anyway (Romans 5:6-8, 1 John 3:1, Ephesians 2:4-7). One tangible way to show our appreciation for His great love is to fight (and yes, it is a fight) to achieve transparency with those we claim to love.

I’m certainly not saying that transparency is easy. It isn’t. What I am saying is that perhaps we should think of it as “practice.” (Psalm 139:2-3 and 23-24, Matthew 9:3-4, John 4:16-19, John 6:60-61, Revelation 20:11-12)

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