Why We Hide, What’s At Stake, & How We Can Be More Open

Imagine with me, for just a moment, that you’re really sick. You go in for an appointment, and, after waiting for a few minutes, your doctor calls you back to the exam room.

‘So what’s going on?’, she says.

‘Oh, nothing. I’m fine’, you say with a forced smile.

An awkward silence descends upon the room as your doctor stares back at you blankly.

This would never happen in real life, right? Except that it does. Not in medical contexts, perhaps, but many of us spend our lives hiding, pretending that nothing’s wrong.

And it’s killing us.

A mask sits on a table Susanna A. via Compfight

 Why We Hide

Hiding comes so naturally, doesn’t it?  After all, we’ve been doing it ever since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and then tried to hide from the Lord (Genesis 3:1-10).

This is no myth.  When our first parents ate the fruit that God commanded them not to, the entire universe unraveled.  Once the perfect, high point of creation, Adam and Eve had become broken rebels who had to leave the Garden and the intimacy with God they had known.

It helps to know where hiding comes from in general, but our own reasons for hiding often take a unique shape.  In my experience, here are some of the usual suspects:

  • Everyone else around us is hiding, too.  At one ministry leaders’ meeting I had been part of, each person offered a short report on his/her area of responsibility.  But no one ever shared a struggle or failure, so it just seemed normal to report only our successes.
  • We’re afraid of being revealed for who we really are.  We may not admit it – even to ourselves – but we all know we’re flawed and we’re afraid of what will happen when others figure it out.
  • We find our identity in our performance.  We feel great about ourselves when we work out, ace the exam, keep the kids in line and get the promotion.  But when we fail, we don’t want others to know.  Have you ever seen this Facebook status (with selfie)?  ‘Another awesome day on my couch eating ice cream and watching TV!’  Yeah, me neither.

What’s At Stake (Or, Why We Need To Be More Honest)

 So, there are lots of reasons to hide.  But the reasons to be more transparent are even greater:

  • It’s honest.  All of us have both strengths and flaws.  When we hide our failures, we’re essentially lying.  It’s exhausting.
  • It opens us up to help.  The first step in receiving help is to admit you’re sick.  The good news is that other people are often strong in those areas where we’re weak.  They’d love to help us, but we need to let them in first.
  • It opens the door to helping others.  When we share our vulnerabilities and let others help us, they’ll start allowing us to see their struggles and lend a hand.
  • It multiplies your influence.  People will learn just as much from your mistakes as they will from your strengths.  And they’ll get closer to you, where you can really help them.

How We Can Be More Open

So you’re with me.  You want to be more open, but how do you move forward?

Here are some ways to move toward a life of wise vulnerability, where real relationship becomes possible:

  • Go first.  It’s scary when you’re not sure how someone else will respond, but someone’s got to take the risk and go first. Jesus set the example for us: ‘while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son’.  (Romans 5:10)  And, on a much more basic level, he became one of us in his incarnation.
  • Take it slow.  You don’t have to begin by sharing the worst thing you ever did.  Reveal something small and see how it goes.
  • Consider the nature of the relationship.  If you’re relating to a peer or someone under your authority, there’s usually very little real risk in opening up.  If you’re relating to a person in authority over you, it’s a little more complex.  One friend of mine in academics, for example, would probably lose her job if she opened up about her faith. We should never lie, but we need to have a feel for what people can handle.
  • Keep it moving.  No one will respond to your openness perfectly every time, but if you sense (or confirm that) someone is unsafe, it’s OK to keep your guard up.  But don’t give up: keep trying until you find at least a few trusted others where you can let your hair down.

How would your life be different if you opened up more?  What one step could you take to start making it happen?