Authentic or Transparent?

There’s much discussion in the ministry world about being authentic. None of us want to be fake in our dealings with people, but many of us have been burned when we’ve allowed people to see the real us. I was reading a blog on leadership one day and came across this point:

“You can be authentic without being transparent.”

I liked this quote, but I struggled to figure out the difference between being authentic and being transparent. Then I had an experience that made it clear:

Several months ago my husband, Jeff, and I were invited to participate in a church member’s wedding. The wedding was taking place out-of-town so the groom’s family provided a nice hotel room for us where their family was staying. We arrived at the hotel early and decided to take advantage of the hotel’s pool facilities. As usual I was nervous about being seen in my swimsuit. It was a size (or two) too small and I was not sporting even a hint of a tan. I was extremely self-conscious about my appearance, but I comforted myself with the fact that the pool area was completely isolated and empty. Since the hot tub was calling my name, I ventured out of the changing room covered in several layers of beach towels.

Checking the area one last time for prying eyes, I dared to drop my towels and step quickly into the water. Jeff pushed the button that turned on the jets and as the bubbles covered my less than perfect appearance all my worries began to melt away. Ahh… how relaxing… Then the door to the swimming area opened and in walked the groom, his mom, and his grandmother- all faithful (and fully dressed) members of our church. Panic ripped through my brain and all I could think about was how embarrassed I was for them to see me in my bathing suit! Jeff reassured me saying, “Don’t worry, the jets are on so the bubbles are covering up most of the embarrassing parts.” The family came over to the hot tub and struck up a conversation. We played it cool, answering their questions and discussing the upcoming wedding activities, but all the while I was hoping they couldn’t see my pale, flabby body just beneath the surface. They didn’t seem to notice my discomfort, so I began to relax just a little. Until…the jets turned off…the water stilled…and…everything became transparent. I. Was. Mortified.

I’m so thankful that this sweet family truly loves us and accepts us and was kind enough not to gawk at their pastor’s wife in her most vulnerable state. When we serve and lead it is important that we are authentic. Being authentic is refusing to pretend to be better than we are. It’s talking about our past, our doubts & struggles, and our mistakes. It’s admitting we don’t have it all together and that we’re a work in progress. Being authentic is wearing a swimsuit in the hot tub instead of keeping the towel wrapped around you.

Being transparent takes things a little farther. We cannot be transparent with everyone. Transparency means not only admitting that my marriage is not perfect but goes on to include the details of a personal argument I’m having with my husband. It’s not just allowing people to see my family as having normal issues and struggles but sharing the private issues my kids are dealing with. If being authentic is wearing a swimsuit in a hot tub, being transparent is when the bubbles stop.

I don’t know about you, but the only people I let see me in my swimsuit most days is my husband and maybe my mom or sisters…and even then it’s embarrassing. But because they love me and I trust them, I can be transparent with them. Our lives are better when we have people like that in our lives. Think about the people God has placed in your life and find a close few with whom you can be completely transparent. Then work on being authentic with everyone else. Be real, honest, humble, genuine. God is glorified when we stop pretending and start allowing His strength to be made perfect in our weakness.

When the bubbles stop and we are exposed, we can be thankful for a God who covers us with His grace, knowing that we don’t have to be swimsuit models to be useful to Him.

hot tub


5 thoughts on “Authentic or Transparent?

  1. Great analogy Stephanie! I always struggle with the difference between the two also. I feel like I’m not being real if they don’t know all the details, but that’s not the case.
    I love your heart, thanks for sharing it!


  2. Just wanted to let you know how much I love reading your blog. I am a pastors wife of a small church (large building, small # of members, lol) anyway’ it is good to hear that I am not the only one who goes through the things you write about. I found solace in knowing I am not alone in the battle, joy, or whatever each day holds, and it is always an interesting journey. Thank You, Melissa


  3. Thank you for sharing this! This is a struggle I have had. Being open has resulted in attack (how dare the PW NOT have it all together), being cautious has resulted in insult (you just aren’t real enough), and being tender has left wounds. It’s such a hard balance. I appreciate your analogy, it helps to think of it that way!


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