I Have Heard So Many Secrets

Through the years, as a minister, I have sat with person after person and listened to sad, difficult stories.closingtime.jpg

I have heard so many secrets.

  • The alcoholic father who told me of his affair with his high school daughter’s friend.
  • The foster children who told me of a cruel woman who isolated them in a basement each evening, while the rest of the family ate dinner together. Later, they were brought the family’s leftovers.
  • The mother who grew up constantly hearing critical, demeaning words from her mother.
  • The man, who as a child, had lived with a brutal, bullying father. Yet at church, his father was perceived to be very godly.
  • The young woman who told me of the abortion she had while in college and how she had lived with this secret for several decades.

I am reading Joe Queenan’s memoir, Closing Time .

It is the story of a boy who grew up in a Philadelphia housing project. He and his three sisters are forced to make do. They live with their father and mother in an atmosphere that does not feel emotionally or physically safe. Their mother repeatedly said to her children that she wished she had never had children. Their mother seemed emotionally disconnected from the family. Meanwhile, their father was a violent man — especially when he drank:

My father got broke when he was young, and he never got fixed. He may have wanted to be a good father, a good husband, a good man, but he was not cut out for that job. He liked to drink, and unlike some men who like to drink, it was the only thing he liked to do. Among our relatives, he had a reputation as a happy-go-lucky fellow who, once he got a few beers in him, would turn into the life of the party. He was not the life of our party. Most of the time he was already dead drunk when he came home from work, spoiling for a fight with whoever crossed him first. (p. 7)

What memories.

His father, when he was drunk, beat his children, quite often. The rest of the family, instead of condemning such behavior, seemed more interested in providing excuses for such behavior. Queenan says that, “Manufacturing excuses for my father’s behavior was a family industry.” (p. 9)

Does this kind of excuse-making sound familiar to you?

Do you know what it is to have been hurt, abused, cheated, betrayed by family or friends and then have loved ones make excuses for such behaviors?

  • “Your daddy is under a lot of stress and he sometimes explodes when he is home.”
  • “Now I’m not saying I agree with what he did. But you haven’t been the best wife either.”
  • “You should not have upset your mother. If you kids would straighten up, she wouldn’t act that way.”
  • “Well, he probably didn’t really mean to say those things. He just looses his temper when you don’t do what he wants.”
  • “Your husband is a good man. I’m sure the situation is not as bad as you describe it.”

What complicates this even further is when a husband/wife or father/mother is perceived to be a Christian by those in their church, and yet family members live with this person’s ruthless, manipulative behavior during the week.

Perhaps none of this is a part of your experience. You may, however, have witnessed this kind of behavior in other families.

Meanwhile, many people spend years working through the impact of these secrets on their thinking, their emotions, and their faith.


Question:

How do such secrets impact an adult in later years? How does excuse-making complicate life?



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14 thoughts on “I Have Heard So Many Secrets

  1. Do you really want to know how such secrets impact an adult in later years????? I could write a book too! I didn’t but wrote poetry instead. I felt that all my poems were given to me by the Lord to work all my feelings through. I’ll share this one with you.

    ALONE

    While I have not yet cursed the day of my birth,
    I have tasted despair and depression.
    Some days dark moods from deep mental trauma
    Had my soul in the throes of oppression.

    I fervently prayed, feeling so scared and alone.
    I’m not afraid to tell God how I feel,
    But I shocked my friend with my deep revelations.
    And yet such uncommon openness is ‘being real.’

    Many are scared to reveal what they’re feeling,
    They live life pretending all is perfect and right.
    There will be no more secrets, freely sharing my struggles
    Thus dispelling the darkness, I will live in His Light!

    So I’ll journey on, being just who I am!
    If some friends don’t like that, they are free to leave.
    I will keep bringing all my fears and my fretting
    To my heavenly Father, to Him I will cleave.

    There will be friends who will stay the whole distance,
    Listening and loving, and praying me though.
    Others will leave, fearing defilement,
    While God is still doing the work He must do.

    And as I watch, waiting, in wide-eyed wonder,
    He works out His purpose within my heart.
    He changes, yes, transforms my very being
    Into His image! We’re each doing our part.

    My grieving and struggling drives me closer to Him!
    Sorrow and mourning will soon disappear!
    I’ll be overpowered by His joy and gladness!
    In my heart I’ll keep only what is precious and dear!

    Karin Ristau – copyright

    • Karin, I am grateful that you shared this poem. This is such a thoughtful, reflective window into who you are. I appreciate your words. In sharing this piece with all of us here, you have allowed put into words the experiences and feelings of many. Thank you Karin.

  2. Wild. I just started and am almost done with a “secrets” series on my blog. Maybe the larger question with all of this is why we hide stuff instead of bring it out into the open. It tracks back to Adam and Eve hiding out in the bushes, ashamed of their… well, shame.

    • Hi Tony, I will be sure to read your series. Thanks for letting me and readers here know. I think you are right regarding Adam/Eve and shame.

  3. Yes, those are the heart wounds that are internalized as shame – a feeling of being wrong. They are the stories that led me on a life-changing journey of exploring healing heart wounds.

    Most of us (clergy) have been trained to understand and frame the “good news” as forgiveness for our guilt of doing wrong. As important as it is to experience God’s forgiveness for doing wrong, that still leaves many “forgiven” carrying significant shame that is not automatically addressed. It can significantly impact the believer’s internalization of grace. In a few words “to the extent people internalize disgrace they will find it difficult to internalize grace.” That’s not about it’s presence in their life but about living in it from inside-out. A host of “symptoms” (difficulty making close friends, perfectionism, social isolation, avoiding taking risks, self-neglect and abuse, accepting abuse from others, rage, gossip, cynicism, etc) are all driven by unhealed shame.

    If the question is “How do we offer grace for guilt?” we clergy have several answers at our finger tips. If the question is “How do we offer grace for shame?” then there are few answers or even recognition that it is a significant issue.

    I see you spent some time in Gladstone. Kansas City has been our home and center of ministry for a long time. We recently moved to Florida (warmer climate 🙂 ) but the ministry is still centered in Kansas City Our website is http://www.heartconnexion.org and my blog is http://www.graceconnexion.org.

    Blessings

    • Paul, I really appreciate your comment. In particular, I appreciate the way you have spelled out for us the powerful negative impact of shame upon the heart. Your list of “symptoms” are very helpful in helping us to see the very real life behaviors that are a result of this. Thanks. (I look forward to visiting your blog and website, Paul.)

  4. Oh, man. I lived with an alcholic mother for many years, and like Joel, “excuse-making was a family industry”. I lived in denial for many years about it, and about the way it affected me, until my best frien told me that a lot of my coping skills were like those of an alcoholic. She told me point blank that I was “an alcoholic without the alcohol”. Hello reality.

    That’s what shame does, though. However, I think our role as Christ-followers is to be people with whom shame is not welcome. We need to be the hand gently lifting up the hanging head and the voice speaking words of forgiveness, that no secret is ever so dark that it can’t come into the light, no sin ever so bad that it can’t be forgiven. If we become those people, shame will have no place among us, since we will really feel free to “confess our sins to one another, and (we) will be healed” (James 5:16). It’s the goal of my favorite Matthew West song: ‘There’s only grace,/there’s only love/there’s only mercy/and believe me, it’s enough/your sins are gone/without a trace/and there’s nothing left now,/there’s only grace”. Shame blocks that-it is a parasite in the Christian community, and it can only be rooted out by love.

    • Hello Alison. Thanks for these words that come out of your own life. I really like what you say regarding our role as Christ-followers — to be a people with whom shame is not welcome. What a great point! Grace and the forgiveness of God roots out shame and dis-empowers it.

      Finally, I like your last line, Alison. Shame really is a parasite. It takes and destroys and gives nothing in return.

    • Alison, very well said and great song. Shame is a parasite that sucks the life out of people. Unfortunately, it can become systemically rooted in some spiritual communities and used for control and manipulation. To some extent, almost all social groups use some levels of shame to enforce boundary markers that make the group distinct. Gangs do it; social groups in schools do it (everyone wants to dress different, alike); break some unspoken dress codes at work and see what happens. In my church past it was mostly imposed on women – long hair, long-sleeves, as a kid I heard stories about the women were anxious about wearing open-toed shoes to church because everyone knew what kind of women did that. I even recall stories about women looking for hose with seams because seamless ones might give people the wrong impression. Was that crazy or what. I can laugh about them now but every group has their own version. Recognizing the subtle-ways shame is unconsciously used is critical to keep grace a priority.

  5. I’m a hospice chaplain. You asked, “How do such secrets impact an adult in later years?” I listen to the stories of those facing death in the near future. Some newly grasp that nothing they’ve ever done is truly a secret when they face death and believe in God. I heard one man say, over and over, that he was God’s child and that God loved him, even though he’d done abominable things in his life. He wished he’d had this perspective many years earlier, when so much of his energy was put into maintaining a mask.

    Another man fought his way to death, trying to commit suicide although he was too weak to finalize the act. It was only through pressing into what he was withholding from the light that he was able to perceive God as acting differently than he himself (and his own father) had done.

    My anecdotal experiences tell the story that secrets create chasms between ourselves and God, not just within ourselves, and between our neighbors and us. Our continuing denial of the truth of how we’ve lived – our actions, choices, mistakes, judgments, condemnation and/or willful harming of others – festers into tremendous doubt, anxiety, fear and anger at the end of life. “Terminal agitation” is a diagnosis in hospice. It’s often treated as simply a medical condition, a function of disease process, or a side-effect of medication.

    As a spiritual person, it seems to me that in many patients, the body reveals what the mind suppresses. A person may be medicated into seeming tranquility, but perhaps the secrets churn on and on, until the body is too weak to live.

    • Ann, thank you for your insights and experience as a hospice chaplain. You give a powerful witness as to the impact of these secrets in later years and particularly when a person is near death. You share a powerful story regarding the man who wished he had known of God’s love earlier.

  6. Last night, for the first time in my 52 years, I walked into Freedom Session hoping and praying to go beyond just recovery into healing and wholeness, based on the 12 steps and the power of God. Not an addict or alcoholic, but I’ve put on appearances my whole life because “a good Christian” doesn’t admit to so many things. I’m done with that. Jesus came to save sinners. Including me, AND the people who caused the wounds that drive my very messy issues. No more cover up. No more blame. No more self pity. Transformation. Only the life of Christ in me can do that.

    • Joyce, how wonderful! Sounds like you are at such a good place in your life. I like these lines in particular, “No more cover up. No more blame. No more self pity. Transformation. Only the life of Christ in me can do that.”