“And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.”
I Chronicles 28:9
“When I came to this country for the first time, I was struck by the open-door life style. In schools, institutes and office buildings everyone worked with open doors. I could see the secretaries typing behind their machines, the teachers teaching behind their lecterns, the administrators administering behind their desks and the occasional readers reading behind their books. It seemed as if everyone was saying to me, ‘Do not hesitate to walk in and interrupt at any time,’ and most conversations had the same open quality—giving me the impression that people had no secrets and were ready for any question ranging from their financial status to their sex life.”
It didn’t take long for Henri Nouwen to discover that this perceived openness wasn’t really all that open even though he sensed that “the American way of life tends to be suspicious toward closedness.” I read that statement and it didn’t take me long to agree. I’ve run into that suspicion too often.
In America we desire transparency, especially from our leaders, but I wonder if there is such a thing as too much transparency. Transparency, as I understand it, means your life is open for all to see. Now, to an extent, this can be a good thing and is certainly encouraged in the Bible. We are meant to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another.
I’d like to think about that for a moment. The Church is meant to be a special group of people. People you can trust with your life as well as your secrets. Does this mean the Church should know everything about you? Of course not. Nouwen suggests the need for special boundaries to protect the mystery in our lives. Even in the Church, and especially in this day and age, that mystery is still needed. We are not meant to be completely open about everything in our lives. There are, however, a few relationships that should be cultivated where more openness is a necessity. Husband and wife, for example, should the most open human relationship we have – though Nouwen suggests the mystery should remain, to an extent, in that relationship as well. It’s that mystery that makes the relationship exciting over the years. Another example of more transparent relationships is in the idea of accountability partners. Often we find our Christian walk easier with someone to share more of that mystery with — someone who can give us sound advice and spiritual help. In cases of addiction it becomes even more necessary to open ourselves to up in order to receive the help and strength we need to overcome.
Still, there is no one who needs to know everything in our lives except the One who already does. Remember that the current discussion from the book is on the issue of loneliness moving to solitude as a goal. The problem we have is that this goal doesn’t make sense to us. Our culture suggests that the real answer to loneliness is togetherness, not solitude. And how can we have togetherness when we have boundaries and mystery? These things hinder the solution and, thus, we must remove the hindrances. And it’s here that I think I’ve caught on to what Nouwen is getting at with this whole idea of solitude. Complete transparency only works in a safe environment. An environment free from greed and jealousy and pride. Without that safe environment, we get hurt and, when we get hurt, we close down.
Let’s say I’m being particularly transparent and I confess some secret sin in my life. Then let’s say that 99% of the people hearing this confession only want what’s best for me. They want to help me to defeat that sin and be restored in fellowship with God. That’s great but what about the 1% who allow sin to drive what they are going to do with this new knowledge of me? What happens to me when this secret gets out there are those who can and will use it against me? You see, the environment isn’t safe.
But there are safer environments for such confessions. The closer the circle gets the more transparency you will find. But there is no circle closer than the one between you and God. There you will find complete transparency and the safest environment filled with unconditional love. What’s more, it is there that you will find solitude.
Hmmm. Nouwen just might have something here.