Truth, Transparency, or TMI (Too Much Information)

by Beth Murschell

Traditional Southerners have a reputation for sweet insincerity—”Y’all come back, ya hear? Any time. By the way, I just love that dress.” In spite of a Southern upbringing, I grew up believing that honesty meant being authentic to the point of wearing the expression that best fit my mood (not always pleasant). I was “real” and “authentic” before it was cool. If murschell_truth.jpgsomeone asks how I am, being honest means I tell them, honestly. Or does it?

When I ask a certain man at my church, “How are you?”, he always replies, “Better than I deserve.” True, yes; however, what if I really want to know? What if I am desirous of being on target with my prayers for him? What if I want to participate in a community of believers who bear one another’s burdens? Or maybe I am just parroting a social phrase and in return getting what I deserve.

TMI is an online shorthand for “too much information,” as in “I really didn’t need to know that much personal information.” Some do not require urging to lay bare their mental processes. They present you with X-rays of their brains (or any other system) upon request. “Bless their hearts,” as we Southerners say (to make it right) immediately after criticizing someone.

In between these two extremes, I am in the muddle of when to speak my mind and when to hold back. I have to evaluate when to bear my own burdens and when, as James 5:16 says, to “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed” (KJV, emphasis added).

I recently watched a discussion about “transparency” on the ladies’ forum. Most agreed that for a Christian, transparency is for the purpose of being accountable to others and of getting assistance for a problem. And the consensus was that it should probably occur in a local church setting as opposed to an Internet forum.

I have to decide which doors of my life are open and closed. Is it a sin to tell less than the whole truth, or is it common courtesy to ponder some things in your heart? At what point am I stepping outside my own authenticity and impinging upon another person’s privacy because of what I am choosing to share? I certainly don’t want to harm a relationship because I have violated Proverbs 25:9—“Debate thy cause with thy neighbour himself; and discover not a secret to another.”

The first tentative steps in a genuine friendship can be difficult. I have to figure out which truths about myself to proffer. At what point is the other person going to reject me? How safe are my thoughts and feelings? If I don’t venture into unknown territory, how will I ever know if we can be good friends? Part of that risk-taking involves going beyond the kind of conversation I can have with a stranger in an elevator and delving into heart issues. Sometimes friendships go backwards after I have been transparent, and that rejection hurts. I want to withdraw into my ivory tower and to muse on my misfortune for a while before trying again (and putting it into perspective—I’ve probably done the same thing to others).

“The fear of man bringeth a snare.” Just because rejection hurts doesn’t mean I shouldn’t keep trying to connect, to be authentic, and to be honest. But having a bad day doesn’t mean I have to go around bleeding on people, either (except perhaps on my poor husband). At any rate, “Perfect love casteth out fear” (1 John 4:18).

The quest for truth is an ancient one. Francis Bacon referred to the problem in the opening line of an essay: “WHAT is truth? said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer.”

The answer is simple, according to John 17:17—“Thy word is truth”—and John 16:13: “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth” (emphasis added). I can navigate the murky realm between truth and kindness with the help of God’s Word and His Holy Spirit as well as with the kind involvement of true friends who confront (speaking the truth in love preferably but speaking nonetheless).

“Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Ps. 85:10).

My mother, who is merciful, pointed out that whenever “mercy and truth” are mentioned in God’s word, mercy is always listed first. Mercy and truth—which is harder? For me, the answer is mercy. And that’s the truth.

beth.jpgBeth Murschell is married to Mick, a computer programmer, and they live in Bradenton, Florida. Her master’s degree is in music education, but her past work experience includes industrial cleaning, childcare, bumper factory, fast food, camp work (three different camps), music team, telemarketer, media center, music educator, sixth-grade teacher, maid, retail, writer, and now mother of four. She has lived in Panama City, Louisville, Greenville, Miami, Brevard, Quakertown, and Bradenton.
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