“Before we begin, I really want you to get to know me.
I am a wise and self-sufficient woman.
In other words… I don’t want you to know me at all. Not the real me. I only want you to get to know a carefully crafted version of me.”
Catherine Parks opens her book Real: The Surprising Secret to Deeper Relationships with this remarkable introduction and I knew instantly that I could trust her. Vulnerability has become a fashionable word lately because of the important work of researcher and author Brené Brown. I’ve appreciated Brown’s honesty and insight into the power of vulnerability, but Parks combines Brown’s insights with the powerful truth of the gospel. Real is not just about admitting our imperfections, it is about the way we can “struggle in community against sin” to help one another grow in grace.
A few years ago, I was asked to speak on a similar topic for a women’s conference and did a deep-dive into the research on shame and vulnerability. Through that research process I realized that I was particularly tempted to cover my struggles and present a perfect image. Social media tools weren’t to blame for this temptation, either; I learned that the temptation to cover my sin and shame was as old as the fig leaf coverings in the garden of Eden. Parks’ book would have been a boon to me during that research process because she clearly explains how we can be either “a coverer or a confessor” and that our ability to confess is “actually a way to build up my sisters and brothers in Christ” because “when I cover my sin, I cause others to feel alone” but “when I’m open and honest, I help create a safe space for others to do likewise.”
Parks understands that learning to be real with one another is not a one-time decision but a process best undertaken in community. We must have people willing to call us out on our cover-up strategies (Parks has several examples of gentle friends who called out her “I’m fine” strategy) and we must be people willing to call out sin in other’s lives as well. Using the example of Nathan helping David to see his sin against Bathsheba and Uriah, Parks describes the sometimes uncomfortable process of getting real with yourself and your own sin, repenting, and moving towards deeper relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ. She celebrates repentance as “process that starts with grief and guilt, and ends with forgiveness and deep joy.” I loved that the book moved from early chapters on personal honesty about our own sin and moved towards the final chapter on the kinds of friendships that can help us resist temptations. She is honest about the vulnerability and awkwardness of getting real but consistently points to the beauty of honest community and humble dependence on Jesus that replaces our need to clean up our image. “When we think it’s up to us to be perfect, or at least closer to it than the next church member, we will refuse to open up about sin” but when we are “honest with one another” we can “confess rather than compete” and “persevere rather than quit.”
This book summed up many lessons I’ve been learning slowly over the past few years. I’ve always thought I’d win friends by being impressive and well put-together; instead, I’ve found my deepest friendships form when I admit my struggles and reveal my vulnerabilities. Real is a short, practical read inviting us to first repent for trying to conceal our sin so we can truly rejoice with those who can admit they needed to be redeemed.