Keep out. Come in.

Are privacy and authenticity mutually exclusive?

The call for authenticity has taken up residence in yet another forum. It’s no longer the mantra just of small groups and friendship; now blog posts and Facebook status updates are required to contain some degree of personal drama to qualify the writer as being ‘real.’ It appears there’s no venue in which privacy is deemed appropriate or even important. 

Does not sharing all aspects of one’s life implicitly make a person superficial or, worse, artificial?

If so, we will cultivate a culture not of genuine transparency, but one of forced – or even fabricated – vulnerability. We will feel pressed to produce struggles as proof of our authenticity, feeding a dysfunctional need to be regarded as holding the esteemed characteristic of being real. Essentially, then, we’ll be ‘sharing’ for the same reason which has indicted those who choose not to: pride.

Honesty and disclosure are not always synonymous.

The content of what we share must be truthful, but the degree to which we disclose must be honoring of God and others. We rightfully exercise discernment in choosing with whom to share and how the information will be handled. All disclosure should be honest; but honesty may not require full disclosure.

For instance, I can tell you that my past involved underage drinking (honest). But I needn’t share with you the sordid details of my behavior under its influence (full disclosure). To delineate the specifics would not honor the other people involved, doesn’t bring glory to God, and doesn’t enable the Body to minister to my needs (or me to theirs) more effectively than without the details.

Authenticity has purpose:

  • Openness and candor build community. Sharing our challenges liberates us from the bondage of always presenting a perfect public persona. Our freedom then liberates others from the same shackles.
  • Giving word to the victories God has enabled in our lives brings Him glory (2 Corinthians 12:9). Merely acknowledging our need for Him does the same, even if the battle still rages.
  • When our struggles are shared, we benefit from accountability, encouragement and supportive prayer.
  • We can minister to another with similar sufferings through shared comfort from God (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4). God’s redemption of our hardships through this shared comfort is one of His most wonderful blessings for the Saved (Romans 8:28).

Privacy has purpose:

  • In choosing wisely what to not share, we honor God who isn’t glorified by our sin, but our redemption from it.
  • Love demands that we protect others, guarding the reputation of anyone who might also be exposed in our disclosure (1 Peter 4:8).
  • Timing sometimes dictates the appropriateness of our sharing. Jesus was always honest about His identity, but answered questions with selective information according to the fulfillment of the Father’s plans.
  • When we search for a struggle to share in the name of ‘authenticity’ it’s not only contrived, but takes our eyes off of God’s goodness, as we will search for problems instead of seeking reasons for praise and gratitude. It’s okay to authentically have – and share – joy.

Perhaps the church culture pendulum has swung wildly from image- and fear-driven privacy (to the detriment of its people) to the other end of the spectrum, where exposing one’s self is not an act of confession or a plea for help, but an equally unhealthy pattern of proving authenticity through indiscriminate sharing.

Both privacy and authenticity are valued in Scripture.

We must seek to maintain a God-honoring balance. I aim to hold them both in tension so that He may (prayerfully) be glorified in and through all my speech, in keeping with Ephesians 4:29:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others upaccording to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (NIV)

How do you handle this tension?
I invite your input — please leave a comment!

Please share!
    • http://www.hesterchristensen.com Hester Christensen

      Kirsten,

      This is a good topic to. I know I’ve seen a lot through the years.

      For me, I think for years, I feared sharing my struggles b/c I wondered if I was the only one who dealt with _______, so I felt isolated. And then someone confronted me on it telling me “I never open up etc,” and that others perception of me is that I had it all together! (far cry from the truth)

      God has grown me to be able to openly share my struggles and victories to point credit to Christ b/c He does work in and through us. When others witness our testimony it offers the hope of Christ to them. I’m sure the enemy loves it when we keep these struggles and victories to ourselves b/c they do isolate. I’ve also heard comments from non-believers that Christians think they don’t have issues.

      Anyhow, we’ve all got issues — but the motives of our heart are measured differently.

      I think I’ve talked enough now. :)
      Love to you, Hester ;)

      • Kirsten

        Excellent thoughts, Hester. How good of Christ to have brought you thus far; you’re a wonderful example of appropriate vulnerability.

    • Jenni Read

      I have found it frustrating, at times, to be in relationship with friends whose only problems are solved ones, and at other times have felt uncomfortable hearing *too many* details in someone’s “testimony.” I love your reminder of Ephesians 4:29, as I am sure I have swayed towards both ends of the spectrum in my own life. Does what I share honor God? Does it benefit the listener? Good checks to keep in mind. Thanks, Kirsten, for this post.

      • Kirsten

        Right there with ya, Jenni. Thanks for taking the time to read – and comment! It’s a huge encouragement to me.

    • Melissa Strecker via Facebook

      I do not subscribe to the theory that the two MUST go hand in hand. I feel that the buzzword ‘authenticity’ has taken on a life of its own and has lost it’s true identity. If you are being real, authentic, genuine… TRULY REAL, and your motives are pure, then let the rest of the conjecture fall to the wayside. I also believe that the degrees of authenticity have their time & place, just like any other social interaction. How much you share and what you share, depends on who you are speaking with. Not everything we do or have done, is for Facebook, twitter and hash tags or for common knowledge. God can still be glorified without showing e-v-e-r-y-b-o-d-y the scabs & scars.

    • JJ in Idaho

      I too have struggled with this balance. In an attempt to bring God glory, I thought I needed to have it “all together” so shied away from airing dirty laundry for many years. The Holy Spirit gently brought me to a place where I recognized the need for transparency among friends so they could marvel at God’s work in and through me rather than shining a light on a seemingly charmed life while my own pride lurked in the shadows of other’s approval. As with all decisions of how to let our light shine before men, I’ve come to realize that we must spend time with the One we desire to exalt and ask for His constant guidance in keeping our motives in check as we let others into our current and past struggles. Our testimonies big and small should always make less of us and more of Him. Thanks for your post, Kirsten. Love to ponder your thoughts and God’s Word through your lens. Carry On!

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