Secrets, Secrets, Secrets
A few weeks ago, we played a unique game at the Family Game Night. I laminated a phrase, taped it to a surface, and then painted over it with washable paint. Our teams had to throw water balloons to knock the paint off; the first team who could tell me the message behind the paint was the winner. The hidden phrase was a verse from Luke 8:17: “All that is secret will eventually be brought into the open.”
After the game was over, one of our children asked what that verse meant. I explained it by saying, “Jesus was trying to tell us that secrets aren’t safe.” That’s a good lesson for children; typically if someone is asking a child to keep a secret it is not for a good purpose, so it’s helpful to teach children to be cautious about “keeping a secret.”
But as Jesus says, this is actually true for all of us. Really, there are no secrets. There are just surprises—information that we don’t currently know, but will come to light one day. People have a very hard time keeping secrets, because they are so emotionally volatile; therefore, secrets tend to be revealed over time. Marital affairs tend to be exposed eventually, government conspiracies will sooner or later be uncovered, and wrongdoing is usually revealed. Even if the rare person does manage to carry a secret to the grave, I believe what Jesus said is still true—there will come a day when that truth is revealed, even if that day is in the next life.
Secrets tend toward revealing themselves. Secrets are inherently unstable. The truth, by contrast, is always safe and stable. It’s for this reason that Jesus prays that we will be made holy by living in the truth (John 17:17); if we live truthfully and honestly, we’ll always be living in holiness with integrity.
The next time you find yourself in a situation that feels secretive, consider these strategies to live more according to the truth:
When you find yourself tempted to keep a secret of your own, stop and think about why you want to do so. Ask yourself a few questions. Is someone likely to know this information eventually? Will holding this secret longer make it more painful when the truth is revealed? Does keeping this information private hurt you, or someone else? In the short term it may be painful to be honest—avoiding that pain is likely what’s motivating you to keep the secret in the first place. But it may well be that the pain will be greater in the end, so living truthfully now will be healthier in the long run. It’s very common for people with hidden addictions to express some relief when their behavior comes to light; people with addictions often say that they wanted others to know, but they had lived untruthfully for so long that they were afraid to be truthful now. Living truthfully may be painful, but it’s typically healthier in the end.
When someone else wants to include you in their secret, consider whether that is really appropriate. Because secrets are so unstable and so emotionally loaded, we often feel the need to disclose them to others; we draw others into our secret keeping, to relieve the emotional burden of carrying a secret. For example, imagine that your sibling comes to you and says, “Can you believe what mom said to me yesterday? It really hurt my feelings. Please don’t tell mom, but that really upset me.” Notice what’s happening there—your sibling is asking you to hold a secret. Your sibling is avoiding the pain of telling the parent how they really feel, yet they also cannot bear to hold the unstable secret alone, so they want to make you share the emotional burden with them. That’s unhealthy for everyone, yet we often find ourselves in situations like this in our work, our families, and our friendships. It’s so much better to notice when these situations are developing, and to be able to say to someone who wants to share a secret with you: “Thank you so much for wanting to share with me, and I want to to support you. But I can’t do anything to solve the issue that you are having. You need to talk to the other person yourself, because that’s how this will be resolved.”
Live with candor, even with you cannot live with complete disclosure. Hugh Halverstadt makes a helpful distinction between “truthfulness as candor” and “truthfulness as disclosure.” Halverstadt says, “A metaphor may help us recognize this distinction. People wear clothes because no one can tolerate being naked in public. Wearing clothes, however, is not a denial of the body that is clothed. It is simply a way of honestly acknowledging one’s body without disclosing it.” At times, we may know information that cannot be safely disclosed right now, whether for legal, professional, or personal reasons. Yet it is very often possible to be candid with others that you do hold this information. Being candid helps to defuse the emotional power of secrets, and live as truthfully as you are able.