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Self-Disclosure and Relationships

Rev. Robert M. Timchak

Self-disclosure, or how much of your inner person you decide to share with another, is a risky, yet necessary, part of building and maintaining healthy relationships. We wonder how much to disclose to others and the appropriate time to share our deeper selves with others. If we share too much of ourselves too soon, the other person may be unable to accept what we offer of ourselves. If we wait too long or keep too much of our inner life hidden from others, they may be unable to wait for us to decide what and when to disclose.

Maintaining a balanced approach to relationships can be the most effective way to assure healthy and happy relationships. Many people have entered into relationships where their expectations of the other person have not been met. It is often a painful realization when what I wanted in the relationship was not what the other person was looking for.

Usually, in these relationships, we desire to share with another the depths of our being. W may come on too strong however, sharing the depest levels of our lives when the other person isnít ready. Relationships take time to develop and in our enthusiasm to build friendships, feelings can be hurt or we may kill the very thing we seek to build.

There are many examples of relationships gone awry, for a variety of reasons. Still, there is little comfort, when your heart is wounded, in the fact that other people are just as mixed up as you are concerning relationships. Itís the story in Lukeís Gospel of Jesusí disclosing his inner being to people in a synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4: 16-30).

For Christians, Jesus is the ultimate model for living. He is our inspiration and guide through life. Christians describe Jesus as fully human and fully divine. In his humanity, Jesus came to an awareness of his identity over time. He struggled with the Fatherís will for him in his life and his understanding of his mission. Once he realized his giftedness and his mission, Jesus wanted to share his insights with others. He understood his purpose in life and desired to share this insight with people who would benefit from it.

It seems logical that Jesus would share his knowledge with people he knew; people he was close to since he was a child. I imagine Jesus very excitedly standing up to do the reading from Scripture that day, eager to share his joy with his friends. His proclamation of Isaiahís prophecy concerning the forthcoming messiah was well known to the people of Nazareth. They, like the other Jewish people, had waited many genertions for the prophecy to come true. What was unfamiliar to them was the idea that this poor carpenterís son from their own town could possibly be that messiah.

Jesusí humanity pressed him to share this exciting news with others. There was little time for the thought that they might not be ready to understand him. Think of when you have something exciting to share with others. Your heart is full of joy and you just want to share your secret with those you feel you have a relationship with. But, at times, their reaction to your self-disclosure doesnít match your enthusiasm.

In those situations, everyone has felt disappointment and even frustration. The reaction to Jesusí proclamation that he was the messiah was understandable, even predictable. He disclosed this information at the wrong time to the wrong people. He really wasnít in a close relationship with those people. They didnít respect his knowledge or his understanding of himself. Jesus trusted them with the biggest insight he had gained to that point and they scoffed at him. They werenít ready for his self-disclosure and they werenít the right people for Jesus to share himself with.

No doubt, in his humanity, Jesus was devastated. He opened his heart to these people and they stomped on it. He tried to explain, but they would hear none of it. Nothing he could say could make them see differently. So Jesus, dejected and weary, went on his way and left his hometown walking through their midst. Inside of himself, he carried the greatest secret of humankind.

I find it interesting that the very next story in Lukeís Gospel has Jesus arriving at the Sea of Galilee. It makes so much sense. When your spirit is troubled, you head to the refreshmen of the water. A day at the beach can uplift even the most distraught human heart, and itís no different for our Lord.

Once at Galilee, Jesus meets a variety of people that he will begin a relationship with. They soon become his boon companions and he will be able to share his self-understanding with them. All in due time. First, they get to know him through what they see: his teaching style, his actions and miracles, what he says and how he says it. He gains their trust through his message of Godís love for all people and tells them stories which whet their appetites for a deeper relationship with him and the Father.

Jesus took his time in disclosing information to these new friends, who would become his disciples. At first, it didnít make sense to me. For example, why would Jesus wait to teach his disciples how to pray? In his Gospel, Luke has Jesus waiting until the eleventh chapter to teach his disciples how to pray, and he only does so after they question him on it.

If his relationship with the Father is the most important thing he has in his life, and he knows how meaningful it will be in the lives of his followers, why doesnít he tell them how to pray from the very beginning? Then they could have the same relationship with God from the outset. Jesus seems to be withholding the most beautiful treasure from the people he cared for very much.

Perhaps the answer lies in the first example from the fourth chapter of Luke. In the first place, they werenít ready for such a revelation yet, much like the people of the synagogue in Nazareth. Part of building a relationship with God requires desire on the past of the disciple. Godís desire for our relationship with him is constant. He wants us to feel close to him, however, the disciple has to desire this closeness as well. The desire for God must burn in the heart of the disciple until they have no other choice but to seek and experience God more.

Through Jesusí life and teaching, the disciples had gotten to the point in their relationship with God where they wanted to know more. They neded, in the depths of their beings, to know more about God, and Jesus had known all the answers up to this point. At that moment they trusted him and were prepared for his revelation.

Jesus, too, was ready to disclose more of himself. He had tested his relationship with the disciples and found that he could trust them enough to share more of himself. He could open his heart to them and know that they would not stomp on it and walk away in disbelief. So when he tells them that God is their Father and that God loves them like a daddy, they listen. When he tlls them that they should speak to God by calling God, Father, they trust him.

I donít know if they understood exactly what Jesus was trying to get across to them at that moment; the Gospel doesnít say. But they do stay around to ask more questions and their relationship with Jesus, and ultimately with God the Father, grows deeper and closer. This relationship between Jesus and his disciples took time to develop into what it would become, the beginnings of the Church.

In our lives, we desire intimacy with others. We need to share the deepest parts of ourselves with other human beings, people who will accept us and treasure our self-disclosures. Sometimes our need for intimacy gets in the way of our better jedgement and we open our heart only to be rejected. It happens to everyone; it even happened in the life of Jesus.

Only by trial and error do we find the balance between how much of ourselves and how little of ourselves to disclose. Living in relationship with others we also discover when to disclose parts of ourselves. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula to making a relationship work out right every time. People have different needs and expectations. We can only hope that the attempts we make at relationships and the risks we take in fostering relationships will be respected, for there are few things better than the intimacy shared between two people who love and care for each other.

Rev. Robert M. Timchak has been active in parish ministry and education. He writes from Annunciation Parish, Williamsport, PA.

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