She told me in no uncertain words, "You share too much. It makes people uncomfortable. It's just too much. You need to change that, then people would like you."
Surprisingly, her words brought me to tears.
I have never been one to care about what others think of me. I'm comfortable with who God made me to be and I don't need the approval of others. But her words… they cut me. The tears came quickly, and I could not disguise them. Even over the phone line, she could not escape the sound of my tears.
Our friendship had felt one-sided at best, but it would now never be the same. It was startlingly apparent to me how she saw me, how she had felt about me all these years. I'm not into forcing someone to be my friend, and I certainly did not want to keep offering her the treasures of my heart. More than a year later, we are still friends, but she feels much more like an acquaintance to me now.
I wasn't always like this. I had a very pure-hearted pastor in college who taught me much. He strove to teach his leadership team how to really love people and how to lead from transparency. He taught us that it was more kind to lead our small groups into deep relationships with one another not by asking a hard question and expecting them to open their hearts, but by asking the hard question and opening our own hearts before them. When we are transparent in front of others, they feel safe to respond in kind and true intimacy is born.
He also taught us that being transparent with our lives does not mean giving up every tiny detail of our lives. He taught us not to throw our treasures to the swine. We need to be wise in sharing, but willing to give more than just surface details. If it's not received, don't keep giving your heart to that particular person.
This teaching from my wise pastor has never left me. I served on his leadership team in college, went on to serve as an adult leader in the college ministry after graduation, and then sat under his leadership as a small group leader once he moved on to serving as the pastor who trained adult small group leaders. We were also a part of his small group for a few years when our children were little. During the course of the twelve years that I sat under his leadership and was also his friend, I watched him model this behavior time and time again. And I saw people respond and come closer to Jesus.
And now my friend's words were echoing in my head. To make the struggle even worse, this friend was also a part of the same college group and sat under this same teaching of leading by transparency.
How could I reconcile these thoughts?
Is this really how people saw me? Should I be less forthcoming with my life?
Then I got sick. We found the adrenal tumor. I almost lost my life. We found the Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia and then the medullary thyroid cancer. We needed much prayer. We shared many details of our struggle on Facebook with our friends and asked for prayer. These friends who are spread all across the country responded with an outpouring of love and prayers. It was incredibly beautiful.
During the early days of my journey, I felt God impressing me to write a book- a telling of His story and all He did to save me and my family. I began to dream of this book and how to tell the story. People began telling me that I should write the story down in a book. I began to write and plan.
I began wondering how the changing face of healthcare may impact me as I laid many details out for the public in written form. Would I eventually be denied healthcare or life insurance? Is it foolish for me to put my name on this book, or should I use a pen name?
I didn't sense any clear answer to my questions.
Sometime during the course of my diagnosis and treatment for medullary thyroid cancer, a friend introduced me to Kara Tippett's blog. Kara was living life with terminal, metastatic breast cancer. By the time I met her, she had just been diagnosed as terminal and was just preparing for her second round of treatments. Kara walked through her struggle in a very transparent way. She laid much of her life, thoughts, and inner struggles out for her blog readers to share and pray for her. She also put it all down in her book, The Hardest Peace (affiliate link). Kara regularly turned that transparency back to her readers and ended each post with a hard question related to what she was learning.
It was hard, deep stuff. She challenged people to reach out in love to others despite the struggles and hard things in their own lives. She constantly asking how we were responding to Jesus and how we were loving those around us. And people responded. There was such an outpouring of love toward Kara and her family. There was also a huge amount of people who shared their hard stories in response to hers. People were inspired by her longing to follow Jesus in the hard stuff and responded in kind.
Now in the wake of Kara's homegoing, I am struck by the answer to my question in Kara's story.
If Kara had been "careful" in what she shared, her story would not have had the impact that it had on others. If she had been careful in what she shared, many would not have seen the heart of God the Father and his sweet, unfaltering love.
In all of the blog comments and Facebook comments that I have read, I have never seen anyone say to Kara, "I wish you hadn't shared so much. I didn't really want to know all of your struggles and how God met you." I never saw anyone say they felt uncomfortable. What I did witness was transparency changing hearts and lives. I have heard many women say they would never be the same after watching her journey.
And now today I see that God is still using the words of my pastor.
He wants to use our hearts and our stories and how He meets us in those moments to reach others around us.
God has always used the story of His works to reveal Himself. We know lots of those stories. The Old Testament is full of those stories, and we hear about the neighboring nations hearing the stories of God's wonders and asking questions about who this God is. It's no different today.
I cannot be any different than God made me to be. One of the things He has taught me time and time again is to be open and transparent with others. It builds relationship. It lets others see who God truly is and how He loves us.
If He asks me to share of myself, then how can I refuse? I trust that He will take care of me in the details of my sharing.
I am happy to let Him use my life as He chooses, and so I will continue being transparent with my life. I hope it shows lots of Him and only a little of me.