Secrets

It’s so strange. How we keep secrets.

And so human.

It comes so naturally to us, that we are often uncomfortable around people who are open and honest about themselves.

We’ve had some interesting responses — Dave and I — to his candid sharing and to this blog.

But there is a place where we put these problems decent people don’t have that will eventually cause them to grow — secrecy, privacy, darkness . . . 

* * * * *

When all the darkness had come to light in our house, and he had gone through rehab, I wanted Dave to tell openly to our church what had been going on in his life.

He had been a deacon and a Sunday School teacher and a seminary student. Seems like by virtue of his position, the sin should be considered public. After all, there were doctors and pharmacists in three counties of Washington who knew his secret.

But we were advised not to. No, private confession was enough.

And though I disagreed, I understood. Because we were a part of a denomination and a culture that would, in all likelihood, write us off. Dave forever labeled an addict. Disbarred from leadership.

And there was pride . . . it takes a truckload of humility to confess to one person. A mountain of it to confess to a church.

* * * * *

I read portions of a book on forgiveness by a popular conservative, evangelical pastor and writer recently. And I was deeply disturbed by his take on dealing with what he called “private sins.”

In the F.A.Q. section, in the back of the book, the question is who do we confess to? His answer:

“Confession of guilt must always be made to God. Confession is also owed to whomever our sin has injured. The arena of confession should be as large as the audience of the original offense. Public transgressions call for public confession; private sins should be confessed to God alone.”

Private sins . . . confessed to God alone . . .

. . . the tricky thing about the heart — the so deceitful who can know it part of us — is that we are capable of twisting any sin into a private sin . . . this is just between me and God.

Rationalized. Compartmentalized. Kept secret. Covered up.

Reading this in the context of this awful year of discoveries of hidden sins of Christian leaders I grew up with, this idea makes me ill. The ramifications of such a belief are frightening.

Because where is the line?

When does “private sin” become more than just between you and God? More than just between you and a small group of men in a conference room who decide the Kingdom of God cannot afford such a scandal? More than a secret among colleagues who let you go back to a mission field full of young children whose lives you will mar forever with your “private sins.”

It is an ache in my heart that has deepened. This covering of sins. This convincing of ourselves that it is love to do so, when that can’t possibly be what the Apostle Peter meant. (I Peter 4:8)

I’m not saying tell the whole world every flaw. But struggling alone is folly. Because keeping it just between you and God isn’t biblical at all.

It’s not how God made us.

Confess your sins to one another. Pray for each other. That you may be healed. James 5:16

I don’t believe James was talking about that time you thought about ditching church. Or that you forgot to pray for someone you said you’d pray for. Or that you didn’t return your shopping cart to the front of the store.

No. I believe he meant the sins that eat away like a cancer at our souls. The hardcore stuff that we would rather hide. The stuff people don’t talk about.

* * * * *

If there is any regret, anywhere in our story, it is that we believed this human idea of private sins.

Private sins eventually become public. And the end of keeping our secret was disaster.

The pain and the sorrow and the loneliness and the judgement and the rejection — all of these were a result of prolonged struggling and failing — alone.

Keeping it a secret meant not dealing with it — after all, where would we go for help? Admitting struggle meant Dave losing his job. Admitting failure meant we’d be cast aside forever by the church as useless, wasted lives. Admitting that there wasn’t “victory” meant disappointing family who had helped us get back on our feet.

So we kept it to ourselves.

Seasons and years of confessing only to God.

But it was slowly destroying us. Our marriage. Our relationships. Our ministry.

* * * * *

I love that the writers of Scripture were brutally honest about themselves, their sins, their struggles.

Moses, David, Paul — they wrote some seriously harsh things about themselves that, as loving friends, we probably would have advised them to keep to themselves . . .

But see, God isn’t into secrets.

Secrecy is a like a bandage put on a festering wound, hoping it will heal itself.

And eventually, because God loves us and doesn’t want us to die from infection, he takes off the bandaid. Sometimes by ripping. Sometimes by a slow, painful peel . . .

One of our favorite stories, Dave’s and mine, is in John 11.

Lazarus. Dead. Sealed in a tomb for days. And Jesus tells the bystanders to open the grave.

Lord, he stinketh.

Objections. To Jesus exposing the stench in order to heal . . .

Loudly, Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb. Shouts, so that everyone around can hear.

And then, of all things, he asks the crowd to take off the bandages.

* * * * *

Sometimes, in order for people to understand the possibility and power of healing, they need experience the grief of the death.

Sometimes the stinky bandage removal is so that the bystanders will learn something about God.

. . . for me and for Dave, going back to the secrecy and privacy and “putting away quietly” would be as insane as Lazarus wrapping his healed body back up in the stinky grave clothes and retreating into the tomb to slowly rot to death…

And it would be a waste of an incredible resurrection.

Sun changes everything

Unemployed men sitting on the sunny side of the San Francisco Public Library. Dorthea Lange, 1937

I have an affinity for endless sunshine.

I’m a California girl and even after nine years of living in western Washington, I haven’t gotten used to the weather.

I have expectations that summer should at least mean sunshine, even if it’s only 68 degrees. I barely make it through the stretch of gloom we call spring here, reassuring myself summer is on it’s way.

And year after year, I’m horribly disappointed . . .

. . . but even the golden state of California isn’t always so sunny.

Once, in high school, weeks of unbroken, oppressive winter fog in the San Joaquin Valley made me so stir crazy that I begged my dad to drive up to the foothills of the Sierras to get above the suffocating whiteness.

When we got high enough to see the sun (which wasn’t very high as I remember), we stopped and stood in beautiful sunshine looking down on a sea of fog so dense it seemed as though I could walk across it.

I don’t know how my dad got me to get back into the car to drive down into the pit again.

*  *  *  *  *

The day we moved in to our house at camp, it rained. And I don’t think it stopped for four months.

I chose to home school the kids that year, trying to make up for years of my attention being diverted toward survival. And, not knowing how long the blessing of living in such a great place would last, I wanted to make the most of it.

We kept going to our church — an hour away.

The kids were still little and had the usual round illnesses that keep you from associating with the world during childhood.

And loneliness began to creep over my life like a fog.

* * * * *

There was a time when the deepest friendships started with transparency. Telling your new friend your entire life story, who you liked, what your hopes and dreams were. Things you never told anyone else.

But then life happens. And you struggle with the things you can barely speak about to God, let alone another person.

Trust takes on a new meaning.

If I am as open with her as I want to be, will she judge Dave? Will she talk about me behind my back? Will she reject me?

I found I could no longer form new friendships like I once did.

I couldn’t tell anyone that my deepest hurts involved my husband and his addiction. That even though I thought he was done with the pills, distrust and suspicion lingered.

I struggled with this new thing: fear.

Fear founded not on imaginings, but reality.

Fear that if he was using again, our life would be destroyed forever.

And fear that I would never be able to be truly open again with a single person without jeopardizing our livelihood.

Leading is lonely. Being the wife of a leader, in many ways, even  lonelier.

* * * * *

Summer in Washington this year (and frankly, most years since I’ve lived here) reminds me of that oppressive California winter.

But if you’ve ever been here when the sun is shining, you know that when the clouds part, it’s incredible. All the main roads in our town have striking views — the Olympic Mountains on one side, Mount Ranier on the other; water everywhere with tranquil sailboats and real-life fishing boats. It’s almost like the colors of the world are more vibrant by sudden exposure to sun.

We tolerate it — the months and months of the gray, the rain, the fog — because when the sun shines, the beauty shows . . .

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what a dysfunctional relationship I have with this place.

Disappointed by broken promises of beautiful days, lowering my expectations of warmth and sunshine only to find I have to lower them more, and then, when days of endless sun finally arrive, it’s time to go back to school. And the weather turns colder. And the sun, though it shines, isn’t shining warmth like it tried to do when it was closer to the earth.

And yet we stay. And endure. Not just for the days like Tuesday when I was delightfully awakened by rare morning sun filtering through the blinds. But also because there is more to life than weather, than scenery.

There are friends.

True friends I can talk to about real things, without fear of rejection or judgement of me or Dave — they’ve been there, too.

Friends whose company is so much sweeter because the fog that hung over my life, and sometimes theirs, has been lifted.

And there’s no fear of scandal, of being tossed out on the streets if our secrets are known. (It’s strange that we don’t give people the kind of grace we give the weather.)

Friends that sit in the sunshine with me, reveling in the warmth of honesty.

* * * * *

I try to drop everything when the sun’s out. To get outside and see the world how it really is.

And I thank God for an hour without a sweater and a life above the fog.

Weighing In

Weighing the peas. Calpatria, CA. Dorthea Lange, 1939

I’ve often been a swinging pendulum . . . an all or nothing kind of gal.

Throwing all my energy here and then way over there.  Terribly messy and then Mommy Dearest-clean. Totally opposed to something and then really excited about it . . . and then not, again. . .

But I’m fairly certain it’s better to live life more like a scale than a pendulum. Not the kind you step on. The kind that sat on the top of our piano in the 70’s “weighing out” bunches of plastic decorative grapes. The kind of scales “justice” holds while she covers her eyes.

But balance is hard. Truly. So, so much harder than swinging.

Balance means weighing my life, my time, my talents against my values. Balance means unloading things and saying no. Balance means loving people who are different from you and tackling hard conversations because they don’t share your standard of measure.

Balance is often misunderstood. Messy. Gray.

Pendulums swing through the muck of life and come out clean. Scales are in it. Measuring. Weighing. Thinking. Evaluating. Knowing there is a time to tip the scale, but carefully choosing to do it when it really matters.

* * * * *

I think a lot of us  seem to prefer the pendulum swing.

He’s totally wrong. He’s totally right. What I know is good. What I don’t know is bad. Agree. Disagree. Love it. Hate it. Black. White.

Shades of gray are uncomfortable. Shades of gray require messy conversations. Shades of gray mean sometimes appearing inconsistent. Shades of gray require balance.

And that is why we maintain a safe distance from people who struggle with problems decent people don’t have. We read about them in the news. We judge. We label.

The pendulum swings, side to side, in a rhythm of self-righteousness:

They are not like us.

We would never be like them.

They get what they deserve.

. . . but when you find that problem a decent person would never have in your house, in your friend, in your church, in yourself, you find that you have created a  simple machine — a culture, a church, a soul — that cannot process the paradox . . . so,  the pendulum keeps swinging, ignoring.

Hoping it will go away.

* * * * *

In the fall of 2004, when Dave was interviewing for the position at the camp, it was important to me that he tell his future employers about his struggle with addiction. So he did.

Do you have victory? They asked.

In Dave’s mind, he could control his addiction. He didn’t want to admit it was still a problem. And I didn’t know it was still a problem. I believed there was only failure or victory.

Well . . . yes. 

The response: Then we don’t need to hear about it.

Afterward, I would wonder about this response. Wonder what would have happened if the response had been more probing. More questioning. What are you doing about it? Who is keeping you accountable? What is your plan for when this job sucks the lifeblood out of you? Or if Dave had said, I still struggle. I need support.

But now, I marvel. At all sides. At the one who thought he could control a consuming addiction for the sake of his family. And at the one who seemed to think an addiction could be so quickly and easily swept away. And at myself, for swinging from the depths of despair into a dream.

* * * * *

As I was looking for a picture of balancing scales, it dawned on me that at some point in the advances of machinery, measuring value and worth became a rather quick job.

Once upon a time, back in the balancing days, people set the items onto one side of the scale and then, they carefully added and removed weights or coins onto the opposite side.

Somewhere, we lost the art of balanced measure.

Step onto the scale and in one glance we judge: Accepted. Rejected. Victor. Failure. Winner.  Loser.

Decent people don’t have these kinds of problems and therefore, as decent people, when they suddenly have this problem decent people don’t have, they will deal with it themselves swiftly and privately we won’t have to deal with the mess. With the gray. With the struggle.

The pendulum swings.

And we hide from it behind competence. Or piety. Or humor. Or goodness. Or badness.

Balance is hard.

Balance means sitting on the scale and letting the farmer point out my flaws while he measures my value.

And I hold my breath.

Because I’d rather swing.