I've gone most of my life with a secret. I used to be terrified of people finding out. It isn't much fun. I had to become a skilled master at answering - or dodging - questions like "why aren't you dating?" "Why aren't you married?" "Isn't it about time you settled down with a nice girl?" I was scared to death of how people would react if they found out.
Then somewhere along the line, I ceased to care. I have gone most of my life without many close friends, and came to the realization that people who are true friends are going to love me and accept me no matter what my secret is. So I stopped trying to hide it. I stopped fearing people's reactions. If people press, I tell them. The overall reaction has been positive. No one from church gathers around and wants to talk about "it", but neither does anyone seem to avoid me.... though one lady from church blocked me, my mom, and my sister on Facebook because I posted too much about "it".
I have become more open about it even on this blog. I have yet to come out and say "I struggle with.....", but anyone who reads my blog very often should be able to figure out what "it" is without a Master's degree. Nor have I bought the t-shirt.
It is freeing. When you keep something in the dark, the devil will use it against you. Bringing something into the light frees you and helps loosen the hold your secret has on you. The truth really does set you free.
We are surrounded by people with secrets. Some may have told a close friend or two, but some are afraid to tell anyone.
I think my spouse is having an affair
I'm addicted to pornography
Someone is molesting me
I want to kill myself
I am severely depressed
And the list goes on. Our churches are full of people dealing with some of these issues and many others, but they are afraid to tell anyone. I have been there. People fear judgement from their brothers and sisters in Christ. They fear being ostracized or even being asked to leave the church. And those things have happened.
Because just as our churches are full of hurting people with secrets, they also have their share of judgmental people who would be quick to judge and ostracize.
"You're gay?! Must be a child molester"
"Marriage problems? You must not be a good enough wife/husband"
"Depressed? You just need to go to the altar and pray about it"
"Porn? You disgusting pervert"
Back when I first moved back to Ohio from Indiana, we had a Sunday School class on "it". Two men were especially vocal about their feelings. Both threw the word "pervert" around a few times. Both said they wouldn't want their children around "those perverts". The one said he'd rather have his kids around a murderer than one of "those perverts."
That was about eight years ago. I was still guarding my secret pretty well. There may have been a couple of people present who knew, but most of them did not. I sat there feeling raw and hurt. I fought tears. I wanted to get up, walk out, and never come back. But I stayed.
A lot has changed since then. Neither of those two men come to my class anymore. One of them was caught doing something he shouldn't have been doing and the whole church knew about it. Instead of that day shutting me up and pushing me more into my closet of secrets and shame, I opened the doors and slowly started emerging. I told more people. I stopped being afraid to post things on Facebook about it for fear someone would connect the dots. I lost the fear of my church knowing and decided I didn't care. (The issue of "it" has been discussed several times since then in class, and there were no hateful comments...... just thoughtful and compassionate comments and input.)
And I came to the realization that God knows and understands it all. Even if my entire church turned their backs on me, He never would. Even if the church kicked me out, God wouldn't. Even if I had no friends left, He would still be there.
It would be awesome if church was a safe place. It would be awesome if you could stand up among your Christian brothers and sisters and tell your secret, rip off the mask that you have been wearing so long, step out of the shadows and say "this is me.....this is my secret, my struggle.... I need prayer, I need help, I need loved".
That day will never come in many churches. And many church members are in denial, which doesn't help:
"Someone in my church attracted to the same sex? No way". (Well, my church has at least three.)
"Someone in my church addicted to pornography? Nah. Not my kid, not my husband, no one I know."
"Someone in my church cheating on their spouse? Nope"
And those in the shadows with their secrets back further into the shadows, and suffer in silence in the pews in the very place they should be able to get help, support, and love.
I am not saying everything should be shouted from the housetop.... or the pew. Prayer request time in front of the whole church isn't the time or setting to announce you're addicted to pornography, or that your kid is on drugs, or your kid got his girlfriend pregnant, or that your kid is gay..... or that you're gay.
But if we did church right, if we were truly like Jesus, if we truly were the family of God where "one one has a heartache, we all share the tears".....there would be no need to fear. There would be no need to hide in the shadows, to suffer in silence in the pew, to put up with the jokes and mean remarks made in your presence about your secret.
Some day all who serve God faithfully here, will arrive in a place where there are no shadows, no secrets, no one who will judge or push them away. All will be known, and it won't matter anymore. There will be no pornography, no drugs, no same-sex attraction, no pain, no shame, no closets to hide ourselves or our "stuff" in.
In the meantime, the church has work to do. We need to throw out our judging, throw out our denial, stop using busyness as an excuse, love more, be Jesus more to those who are hurting, take off our own masks and admit we are not perfect, and make God's house a place of safety....... make it a place where people don't have to keep secrets - at least from the whole church. We need to make church a place where people can remove their masks, come out of the shadows, and not have to sit in the pew and suffer in silence as they look at everyone else who seems to have to all together.