John 8:32, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
In grade school you’d hear it when you and a friend were caught whispering and giggling to each other— “secrets don’t make friends!” It was a chastising idiom that reminded you to not exclude others. Because when you lifted your hand to hide your mouth as you whispered into someone’s ear, while throwing glances around to see who was watching, you automatically gave the impression that you were hiding something at best, or at worst, stirring up trouble.
It’s one thing to keep someone’s confidence and trust. Those kinds of secrets can build relationships and lend silent support when someone who trusts you is going through a challenging time. But, what I’ve noticed recently about American culture is that we tend to hide too easily. We are very good, especially in American Christian spheres, about putting on our makeup, our best smiles, and pretending that our lives are perfect while we struggle privately.
And I know why we do it. We don’t want to look weak. Sometimes our struggles are too painful and personal to discuss. Perhaps they are too embarrassing and reveal parts of us that we’d rather not show. Maybe we know that our problems are not easily fixed or could last a while. In some cases, we may even secretly enjoy something that we know we shouldn’t enjoy, and speaking of it would require us to acknowledge a sin that the Lord needs to remove from our lives.
The snow has been falling steadily today as I’ve written this. It collects little by little—just tiny flakes that settle on the ground, lawn chairs and children’s garden toys until they are a nebulous conglomerate of snow that turn recognizable objects into unidentifiable lumps. It’s hard to know or remember exactly what’s covered up by all the snow. When the blanket of white is that thick, it can be dangerous to walk around my own backyard because I might stumble over a rock or root that I can’t see anymore.
Secrets can be just like this—they disguise the truth of what’s under the surface. They cover up our flaws with a pleasant, soft layer which is far more fragile than we want to acknowledge. They can turn familiar ground into dangerous, sensitive territory. Sooner or later, they must melt away, and we must acknowledge the raw and real materials left behind.
In the last couple of years, many of my friends have experienced great trials in their marriages and families. I have grieved with many over the shock and loss of peace in their home, and have rejoiced with others as they’ve experienced restoration that only Jesus can bring to their lives. But in the moments when they revealed their secrets, two things happened: 1) They talked about loss—loss of peace, safety, security and belief in someone or something. 2) I felt compassion for them—a need to pray for them and a desire to help in any way that I could.
This is what honesty and openness does—it brings people closer. It breaks down façades and walls and reminds us that we all struggle. It provides opportunities for us to show compassion and love. Being vulnerable is risky, but it also gives us the ability to admire people without idolizing them and assuming they “have it all together.”
And it’s also this openness that shows us how much we need a Savior. Jesus said in Mark 2:17, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” I am grateful for those people who have allowed me to enter their mess, because it strengthens the bond of community that we have as people who need the healing, restorative work of Jesus. I’m glad that I don’t believe that lie that anyone is perfect, because then Jesus would be inconsequential and unimportant. And once we allow Him to shine His light onto our darkest secrets they stop looking so scary and destructive. They lose their power and we begin to take steps in freedom. What was once a secret that enslaved us becomes a testimony of hope and deliverance.
This happened for me lately too. I was keeping something to myself for about a year and a half. I wrestled with something, prayed about it, tried to pretend it wasn’t a big deal, until I was faced with it again and realized that keeping it private was making the problem bigger than it really was. I was afraid to confess to my husband, fearing his anger and rejection. But a beautiful thing happened when my silence began costing my peace—I sincerely asked God for a way out and He gave it to me. I told my husband about it, in tears, and he showed me compassion and grace. He prayed for me and comforted me and expressed understanding, not condemnation. His reaction did two things: 1) it made me more grateful to the Lord and more aware of the power of confession, and 2) it reminded me of why I love my husband so much—he freely offers me the forgiveness of Christ and loves me just as I am.
So, let’s say that your life suddenly changed yesterday, or three months ago, or last week. Or maybe it will tomorrow, or five months from now because of someone’s poor choices, disregard, sin, negligence, distraction. Maybe it’s your own problems that got you into a mess. If you’re tempted to hide and stew over your anger and sadness and shame—don’t. Let God shine His holy spotlight onto your secret. I know from experience—it won’t seem as daunting once it’s exposed. Watch your secrets melt away under the warmth of His love. You’ll be amazed by the beauty they uncover.