Living transparently sounds like a good idea, until I actually practice it (usually accidentally). A few months ago, on a dreary, rainy Sunday afternoon, I dragged myself from my self-interest and headed down to our local teaching hospital to visit a very sick kid. I don’t do “sick” well. We have countless stories in our family, some bordering on parental abuse, about all the things I, as a mom, cannot handle. I faint at the sight of blood, I can’t clean open wounds, I completely freak out when I accidentally squish a family pet in the garage door. I lost my peripheral vision while carrying my grandmother down a flight of stairs after she falls in our upstairs hallway, much more attenuated to how I felt than what she needed.
This overall lack of sturdiness is particularly apparent on Sunday afternoons. By Sunday lunch, I’m often filled with shame and regret berating myself over my inadequate message during the morning worship and harangued by my inner critic who continues to ask questions like, “How dare you try to preach God’s word?” Sunday afternoons are best reserved for a good nap, maybe a leisurely walk or reading a novel that was written for a sixth grader.
But on this Sunday, I embraced my weakness and soon found myself sitting in a pediatric ICU room with a precious young woman who was fighting for her life, and also, by the way, pregnant. Afterwards, I headed home. I was as tired as tired I could be but still found the energy to pick up the phone when my best friend buzzed in on my cell.
Did I tell you this is my very best friend in the whole wide world? And did I mention that she never ever calls me on Sunday afternoons because she is the one who is often lecturing me about the value of a good nap, a leisurely walk, and a children’s book to cure my common (and not particularly pastoral) bouts of performance anxiety?
I answered her call because I would never not. When she speaks, I love to listen. And I really do want to be there for my friend. Sure enough, she had a serious need. Her mom had fallen, broken bones, and was in bad shape. The situation was much more complicated than throwing on a cast and dispensing extra strength Tylenol, as my friend’s mom is in an advanced state of Alzheimer’s. In this addled condition, it is almost impossible to adequately care and treat the injuries of one who doesn’t even know they are broken, fragile and in need of medical attention.
My friend lamented, and I listened. I sincerely, with all my heart, want to care compassionately for my friend. And if she didn’t know me so well, she’d probably think I had done just that while she moaned, and I muttered sympathetic words of concern.
Once she pulled into her driveway, she ran off to take a restorative nap of her own. Conveniently, my husband was calling me at the exact moment that she was ready to say goodbye. I answered my husband’s call, without knowing that I had accidentally and by some technological miracle I can never replicate managed to put the three of us: husband, boon companion, and myself into a conference call. Here’s where the transparency comes in.
“Honey, where are you? You still at MCV?” asked my husband, who just woke from his own siesta to realize it was late and I wasn’t home in my jammies as would be my Sunday norm.
“Nope, on my way. Just got off the phone with Jean. And you know I love her with all my heart but…” and I began to, yes, I did this…complain. I lamented about her interpretation of her mother’s condition (time has proven her assessment was grim AND spot on). I know I sounded tired and cranky and completely without compassion. And she heard every word.
Horrible? Embarrassing? Absolutely. If I had known what I actually did! But I did not, so I went blithely along with my daily life, believing that my friend could still trust me, and that I would always have her back.
One Monday morning, super early, Jean showed up at church and took a seat in my office. She went on to tell me to the last detail the nature of my offense against her. She did so with grace, compassion, and patience. Every illusion of myself was stripped away, and the true nature of my petty, judging, small and hard-hearted self was laid open for Jean and I to stare at in horrified communion.
I felt a kinship with Eustace, the boy in The Chronicles of Narnia “whose pride and greed caused him to inconveniently become a dragon.” Like Eustace, I ache with the consequences of my ways. Despite his best efforts, Eustace cannot extricate himself from his false Dragon self. In the end, the Lion tells Eustace, “You will have to let me undress you.” If you are so inclined and care to read (or reread) The Voyage of the Dawn Treader(New York: Macmillan, 1952), pp. 88-91, C. S. Lewis describes in gruesome allegorical fashion the work of the Lion in freeing Eustace from a bondage of his own making.
That early morning encounter with myself left me feeling as vulnerable and naked as little Eustace, after his extrication from the dragon’s coat. I felt raw and tender. I fell apart in abject misery into my friend’s lap, to ask for absolution for my sin. Her tears of compassion and mine of shame mingled in love.
I could go on and on about the gift of her love, and the healing power of forgiveness and relationship restoration. But what I need to say, I think, is that living transparently sometimes is less a choice and more an encounter. At the moment when Jean served as a modern day Nathan, I wasn’t capable of living transparently how could I? I was spiritually asleep. But, by the grace of God, when presented with the opportunity to accept the reality of my own nakedness, it was my friend’s honesty, and her long history of faithful loving friendship that allowed me to stay in the moment of truth. It hurt. It still hurts as I write this account today, but this is what living transparently looks like for me. And I appreciate the opportunity to share how awesome and privileged I am to have Jean for a friend.