I’ve been reading news stories about people dealing with addiction and depression, people who have committed secret transgressions that finally broke out of their control and caused public ruin and shame for the sufferers and their families.
There is so much pain and heartbreak, both for those innocents who must bear the consequences and for the troubled secret-keeper. Which is worse? To learn that the one you love has kept their struggle and pain secret from you, or to be the one striving, but failing, to make it right so you don’t hurt those you love?
One of the most fundamental of human needs is to be known, recognized, accepted, loved.
But this runs up against our need to hold part of ourselves secret and the ultimate unknowability of others. Occasionally my spouse of fourteen years and I still surprise each other with revelations, some pleasant (my husband is good at karoke, really?!?) and some more uncomfortable (my blogging has sparked some interesting conversations on the home front).
We keep secrets from even the people we know and love best, and they keep secrets from us. Maybe it is through neglect, or perhaps we dismiss some things as unimportant, or we feel shame. And don’t we need to cultivate some privacy? But every once in awhile, one of these secrets will rise to the surface; the truth will out, often as a shock and sometimes with pain that ripples uncontrollably out of our grasp.
We want to be known and loved, but we also want to keep our secrets, our private shames to ourselves. Sometimes we want to keep it from ourselves, to ignore or forget our faults and weaknesses. If we don’t dwell on them, we hope, those undesirable aspects of ourselves will atrophy and disappear. But we can’t always ignore them. They nag at us, like a dog at a bone. Do we keep them hidden to protect others or to protect ourselves?
In some way, we are like the pharaoh who faced off against Moses. In the KJV text, we read that God hardened pharaoh’s heart. The JST amends that to say that pharaoh hardened his own heart. Either way, after a certain point in the narrative, pharaoh couldn’t have chosen to act any differently than he did because his course was already set by his prior choices. The die was cast, and he had cast himself in that role.
And then there is God. The One who does know us completely, intimately. In some ways, this idea is terribly appealing; He already knows us perfectly; we don’t have to say anything, to go through the painful process of revelation. On the other hand, it is terrible; there is no place to hide, no refuge from the clear light that reveals us as we are. And caught, as we are, in our shame and sorrow, it is hard to believe that examining light would be cleansing, not excruciating.
Even when we want to get out of our hole, we can’t seem to help but dig ourselves deeper. So it is a relief when someone finally shines in a floodlight and takes the shovel away from us. Much as we fear discovery, and take pains to avoid it, once it comes upon us, there is a kind of catharsis in having our secrets laid bare. We then have the time of reckoning; we no longer compound our debt upon ourselves. Thank God we believe in some kind of atonement that gives us hope that our feeble efforts at restitution are not in vain. May God forgive us as we forgive others, may we forgive ourselves.