Have you ever had a secret? One that you had to keep from everyone? One that was surely worse than everyone else’s secrets?
I carried the weight of a secret, and it wore me down. It kept me turning in bed when I desperately needed sleep. It masked the bright flavors of my favorite foods. It dulled the colors of my world.
My secret made me ill. My head throbbed. My bones ached. I wanted–no, I needed to tell, but I couldn’t bring myself to say it aloud. I was too afraid of what people would say. What people would think...
I couldn’t bear the judgment, so I told myself I could handle it.
I’ve already processed through it.
I’ve made it right with God.
It wasn’t completely my fault anyway.
I’ve repented. I won’t be doing anything like that again.
Over time though, the longer I kept my secret, the heavier it became to carry.
The harder I worked to hide it, the more it festered within my heart.
Eventually, one secret lead to more secrets. A little lie as a cover-up. A piece of evidence buried inside the trash can. An excuse about the circles under my eyes.
I lived with my guard up, afraid that someone would learn what I had done, and that what I had done would make me unlovable, unworthy.
I recently went away to a spiritual retreat where a bold and honest pastor spoke to me about the virtue of grace – of unmerited favor.
Unmerited, and unconditional.
He told about his daughter in her troubled teenage years, of the heartache she caused for him and his wife. She ignored her father, scoffed at him for years, yet when she finally came back to him, his arms willingly received her as his spirit soared.
I thought of my own children, the mistakes they make, the dozens of times they goof up every day. And yet, I am willing – no, I am EAGER, to give them grace. To offer another chance. To whisper, I know you’ll do better this time. I forgive you. I believe in you.
Toward the end of the retreat, participants were given the opportunity to confess wrongs to a spiritual leader. This was a new thing to me. I was raised in a Protestant church, and to be honest, I’ve often thought the sacrament of penance, or “confession,” unnecessary. What I did was between God and me. Why did I need a middle man?
Yet when the opportunity came, I was first through the door. I deeply desired to excavate the crud that had accumulated in my soul over nearly two decades.
I looked that pastor in the eyes and whispered to him both the wrong things that had happened to me and the wrong things I, myself, had done.
With tear-brimmed eyes, he whispered back to me, Stacy, I am so sorry those painful things took place, and that you have made choices you now deeply regret. But by the grace of God and the blood of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.
Forgiven. Just like that. In a moment, a decade’s accumulation of shame disappeared.
I had expected to feel worse after telling another human being what I had done. Instead, I felt as though the Secret, the Worst-of-All-Things, had lost its power and hold on me as soon as I had named it.
I walked in the door of that room crippled with sadness, pain, and regret, and came out clean on the other side.
I’ve never experienced freedom like that before.
Now, my husband knows my secret. My best friend knows my secret. And yes, when I told them, they were disappointed. Hurt. But more importantly, they shared in my despair. They cried with me.
They know that my mistake is not a representation of who I am.
And they never, EVER stopped loving me. If anything, they love me more now, as they better understand my heart.
This morning, as I got into my van, I noticed that it was flat-out filthy. We’ve just had a serious thaw in Michigan– almost all the snow and ice melted in a few days, leaving sand, salt, and dust all over the roads and boulevards.
With my three sons in the back of the van, I headed for the automatic car wash.
They squealed with delight as the high-powered sprayer blasted a layer of salt and dirt from the car…
They stared, mesmerized, at the soapy lather that bubbled down their windows…
and watched streams of clean water rinse it all away…
We trembled in our seats as the dryer blasted away the last drops of water from the windshield.
On the ride home, we marveled at how clean the van was, how clear our view, how “Space Shuttle Harrison” glistened as we zoomed along the highway through our small town.
Sure, we’ll get dirty again. Dust will blow and accumulate on our surfaces. We’ll get all marked up with fingerprints. But it’s nice to know the car wash is there when we need it, ready to strip away the build-up and release us, clean– fresh, out the other side.
Perhaps you have a secret too. Something from long ago, or from yesterday. Something you’re sure would make you unlovable. Unworthy.
Believe me when I say this is a lie.
Unlovable is a lie. Unworthy is a lie.
Secrets are lies that cloud your view. They bury you with dirt from the inside out.
To name a secret is to take away its power over you. To say, I did something, but I don’t want to do it anymore, takes guts, but it puts us on the path to healing and opens the possibility of true freedom.
You don’t have to tell everyone, but tell someone. The same God, the same Mentor, the same Lover or Friend to whom you’ve extended GRACE will likely be eager to return that same GRACE to you.
Secrets are lies, my friends, but grace is real. Grace is truth. And truth is the only path to freedom.
37 thoughts on “Grace”
I struggle with my demons and secrets everyday; I’ve told few people of them; my wife and then once a Bishop and Elder in the church that I thought I might go back too. Rather then being ‘forgiven’ (as if man can do that) I was told that I would have to be excommunicated. Excommunicated for something I did in my teens? So for me telling something to others hasn’t really changed anything. I decided I didn’t need man’s forgiveness, I’ve already have that from GOD.
I wish my experience in letting out a secret was a positive as yours was and I’m glad that you found peace. 🙂
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Thanks so much for commenting, my friend. I appreciate the counter-perspective, and have been grappling all afternoon with the experience you’ve shared.
In situations like yours, I am left with many questions…
I wonder how many people have walked away from churches or religious institutions who have failed to show them true “agape” love…
I wonder why it is that some religious leaders are more concerned about rules than relationship? I acknowledge that rules can be helpful and necessary, but unfortunately, they sometimes fail to leave room for love.
My thoughts have been pointing back to Jesus all afternoon. When the Pharisees tried to stick it to Him for healing on the Sabbath, He replied that LOVE was more important than LAW. When the Samaritan woman at the well felt ashamed and unworthy, Jesus, who fully knew her history, was quick not only to accept her, but to minister to her.
Without knowing the history behind your story or the intentions of your spiritual leader, it seems to me that the true tragedy here was the missed opportunity by the one who could have acknowledged your repentant heart and extended to you the free and unconditional gift of grace in order to help you on your path to healing.
Regardless of how this leader (who is as human and broken as the rest of us) dealt with you, I am so glad you have experienced the true freedom that comes when you are open and honest with your God.
Over the course of my life, I have faced many consequences as a result of my actions, as you likely have too, but at the end of the day, we are both forgiven and free.
Thank you for reading and for sharing your truth.
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I did walk away from the church, the first time because I got divorced, the divorce was not something that I wanted it was because she need as she put it ‘to go find herself’ so I raised 4 kids on my own; when I get remarried some years later I was not allow to take the sacrament because I was living in sin. In Sin because according to the church I was still married to my first wife; the 2nd time I walked away was because of what I wrote earlier.
I attend a different church now, a Christian church. I’ve talked with the old pastor and new pastor about things but have yet to come fourth and talk to them about my past. I’m still tiring to figure out how things work in the church. I was baptized Catholic and when my parents converted to LDS I was baptized with there; I later while in the Military went back to the Catholic church. So I’ve not been ‘saved’ because I’ve not been baptized as an adult, sort of a new concept for me and I’m not sure if I want to be ‘saved’ is the funny part. GOD know my heart and what I believe so I’m not sure what it would prove.
Wow, you have not had an easy time. Raising children without a partner is unfathomable to me, and must have required a great deal of patience and strength.
You mention that you have not been saved because you haven’t been baptized as an adult. Denominations of Christian churches have dissenting views on this, but if we look to the Bible, it’s clear that baptism is intended for adults as an outward expression of an inward commitment to Christ. The act of baptism doesn’t save us — in fact it can’t save us. No works, rituals, or ceremonies can. (Check out Ephesians 2:8-9)
Grace is free. Salvation is free. And it’s between you and God. No holy leader can grant it. It can happen in a church, or out on one of your runs. It’s never too late – remember the thief beside Jesus on the cross? I think you know this, based on your comments that God knows the condition of your heart.
I do hope the church that nourishes you in your walk bases their doctrine on the Bible. Any person who dangles baptism over your head as the missing key to your salvation is not following God’s guidelines to repent, commit, and then be baptized as a pure symbol of freedom in Christ. Baptism is really a beautiful thing when it is done out of free will as a celebration of being cleansed and restored!
Thanks so much for this great dialogue. I really appreciate your willingness to share your self-examination.
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