My secret life

We need to see that universal sickness, that innumerable throng of men and women laden down with their secrets, laden down with their fears, their sufferings, their sorrows, their disappointments, and their guilt. We need to understand how tragically alone they find themselves. They may take part in social life, may even play a leading role there, chairing club meetings, winning sports championships, going to the movies with their spouses. Yet what eats away at them from within is that they may live years without finding anyone in whom they have enough confidence to unburden themselves. —Paul Tournier, To Understand Each Other

Robert Hanssen led two lives. In one, he was a respected member of his church and community, a loving father and husband, and a top-ranking agent for the FBI. In the other, he was a paid informant to the Russian government, a spy with intimate knowledge of US security operations, a salesman for some of the most sensitive secrets held by US intelligence.

The arrest of a spy always makes headlines, but the Hanssen case is all the more interesting because of the Jekyl and Hyde nature of his life. How is it possible for a man to lie so convincingly, to hide his secret life so effectively that even his wife is deceived?

In truth, it happens every day. And if we’re honest with ourselves, many of us will admit that our lives bear some resemblance to Robert Hanssen’s. Most of us have secrets. Some of us lead double lives. We may not hide an illegal relationship with a foreign power, but we’re every bit as careful to keep certain facts, experiences, or attitudes hidden from the light of day. I’m talking about things we’ve buried deep in our hearts: prejudices, phobias, shameful memories, moral failings, lies.

Keeping such things hidden does not remove their power. Secrets are corrosive, like sulfuric acid—they burn gaping holes in our soul. Secrets are explosive, like nitroglycerin—they can utterly destroy relationships and reputations. Paul Tournier has it right when he calls us tragically alone, without finding anyone in whom [we] have enough confidence to unburden [ourselves].

Secular postmodernism has left us with no priest from whom we can obtain forgiveness and relief. Psychiatry has failed to take away the guilt that dogs us. We’re afraid of honesty, worrying that it might bring scorn instead of understanding, disaster instead of healing. Instead of unburdening ourselves, we hunker down and add another padlock to the basement door.

My father had a secret, and it filled him with such dread that he drowned himself in booze, but still the secret hounded him. There came a day when he knew he was going to be exposed, and the fear of judgment and ridicule was too great to bear. To avoid public humiliation, he took his life. Secrets can have awesome power.

The word “secret” comes from a French phrase meaning “to sift apart”—an apt description. We divide ourselves in two, one part of us public, the other private. We set about scrubbing and cleansing our public persona, lifting and botoxing it to perfection, perhaps hoping that with enough plastic surgery, the world will see us as we wish to be seen, not as we are.

To speak plainly, most of us are accomplished fakes. But it’s also true that most of us are tired of faking it—we’d love to be transparent, if only we could be certain to find love and acceptance.

Isn’t it ironic that we find it so much easier to have sexual relationships with near- strangers than to strip our hearts bare and speak honestly about the doubts and dreams and hurts and hopes that are at the very core of our spiritual beings? Sex is our substitute for true intimacy, but it’s no good—in the end, sex is merely sex.

Jesus already knows your secrets. Jesus knows every grubby detail, and he loves you anyway.

There were two women. One, a married woman, had secretly taken a lover. She was caught and hauled into the public square by the authorities. The crowds of the curious laughed and jeered. She was humiliated and terrified, because the penalty for adultery was death.

The authorities challenged Jesus to carry out her execution by stoning her to death. He quietly considered the situation, and then he offered this famous challenge, “All right, stone her. But let those who have never sinned throw the first stones.”

When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to her, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” —John 8:9-11, NLT

The other woman was a prostitute, someone much sought after in the dark but shunned in the daylight. She had been listening to Jesus and had found a new understanding of God. She had discovered unconditional love, mercy, forgiveness and the hope of a fresh start in life.

In gratitude, she crashed a dinner party, weeping with joy, and began bathing Jesus’ feet with a jar of expensive perfume. The dinner guests were scandalized that he would allow such an earthy woman anywhere near him. Jesus answered them.

“Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn’t give me a kiss of greeting, but she has kissed my feet again and again from the time I first came in. You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume. I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven… Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” —Luke 7:44-50, NLT

Isn’t it time to unburden yourself? Isn’t it time to pour those secrets, those shameful thoughts and deeds, on the cross of Christ? Jesus is ready to hear your confession. Jesus offers unconditional forgiveness and a way to start fresh again—the way of the Good News, the way of faith.

Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help. —Hebrews 4:14-16, The Message

Imagine how good it will feel to let the fresh air of God’s grace and mercy into that musty old basement. What are you waiting for?

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