I often think of myself as the secret-keeper. This was especially true when I was a pastor in a rural town. I was usually the first place people would look for financial, spiritual and therapeutic help because it wasn’t readily available in their small town (I say first step because I often did—and still do—refer people on to more qualified mental health or other professionals). I was also free, and they knew right where to find me—they just needed to find my car.
It took me a while to figure out my role in the town. I knew I couldn’t be friends—in the regular sense—with the people in the congregation I served. This became apparent as I learned more and more about them. I knew too much. I knew what mothers thought about daughters-in-law, I knew about the abuse, the hidden addictions, and the memory loss. When I looked out into the congregation on Sundays, I saw the underbelly. I imagine it is similar to being a doctor in some ways—the doctor in town sees and knows people at a different level than they know each other.
In order to protect them and myself, I couldn’t get too close. I didn’t want to put myself in a situation where I could let some information slip. In order to keep their trust, I needed to be air-tight in my confidentiality. I still work very hard to keep professional boundaries and to maintain a safe space in my office at church. I regard my trustworthiness as essential in my calling. In some ways it’s a burden.
But the joy of this responsibility is the privilege of being present when a secret is let loose. I’ll always remember the time when a congregation member came into my office to share a very old secret. This person was in the process of sharing it with others and I was fortunate to hear it too. I witnessed the unburdening of years of shame and guilt and saw the transformative and blatant joy of release. What an honor it was to be present in that moment and to declare God’s forgiveness and love. I was overjoyed to see God’s grace spilling into the recesses of sadness and regret, filling them up with new life and a new future. It was a holy, holy, holy moment.
This moment was even more poignant because this is a friend. I now see I play a different role than a doctor or counselor. I am able to walk with people through their everyday lives, to visit them in their homes, to coach them as they raise their children faithfully, to bury their loved ones. They show me what it means to find faith in the joys and struggles of daily life. So I closed the door after the secret came to light and wept for the joy of God’s transforming grace in the lives of those I love.
Sometimes we need to keep our secrets. Yet Scripture tells us that God brings light into the darkness—even the darkness of our deepest secrets and our most shameful memories. I see it happen.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5