Creating Safer Places for People to Share Their Stories

Shouldn't your ministry be a safe haven for everyone?
Shouldn't your ministry be a safe haven for everyone? (Flickr )

Secrets stink. Secrets ruin families and bring nations to the fields of war.

Consider the convoluted mess created around Edward Snowden, the carnage being witnessed by Josh Duggar's loved ones or the wreckage in the lives of little children victimized by Jared Fogle. Secrets are dangerous, sometimes-deadly things.

And the worst part of it is—we all have them. We hide them. We protect them because of one of our deepest, darkest fears—exposure. Nothing is more painful, more shame-inducing, more frightening to us than being fully, completely known.

Obviously, not everyone, and probably very few people (proportionally speaking) carry the kind of scandalous secrets held by these whose lives have been flayed open by the media. But all of us carry around in the most obscure nooks and crannies of our hearts the things we hope no one discovers. Ever.

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Secrets can be completely innocent while still causing extreme shame, such as having been abused or raped. Or they can be heinous and sinister, such as having been the abuser. Addictions to sex or pornography, gambling, drugs and alcohol thrive off the parasitic energy of secrecy. And for all of us who carry them, the exposure of our secrets is perhaps our worst fear of all.

And that's why secrets are catastrophically destructive. I'm convinced that this is why we keep tabloids in business, are obsessed with "reality" television, and love a good exposé, even when it ruins a family. Half of the trending topics on social media on any given day are simply the secrets of the famous exposed before a voyeuristic culture. It's always more comfortable when someone else's secrets are distracting everyone from prying for ours.

I think there are some things we generally fail to understand about our secrets. John Baker, founder of Celebrate Recovery, has famously said, "We're only as sick as our secrets." Here's the truth about secrets—when they are exposed—to the appropriate people in the appropriate manner, they begin to lose their power over us. The structures of our addictions begin to erode as we unwire their root causes. Our secrets make us sick, and exposure—our greatest fear—is often the only path to healing.

I've been a pastor for a couple of decades, and I have observed from within the ominous nature of a community of people who have bypassed grace for a more legalistic ethic. When we celebrate self-righteousness and praise performance, everyone hides. We perpetuate a culture of not telling what doesn't have to be told, because who would understand anyway? So out of our self-protective instinct, we lock our secrets away and live in fear of the world around us.

I think it's time we determine ways to create safer places, especially among Christians, for people to begin to share their stories. That doesn't mean everyone's story needs to be put on public display. It could be that our most hurtful memories are whispered into the ears of a single, compassionate counselor. Or it could be that our biggest struggles are shared with two or three faithful friends who will hold us accountable. It may be that we find powerful solace from the encouragement of a small group.

When secrets are exposed, repentance can have its fruit. Change becomes possible. Our souls can finally begin to be restored. Obviously, we ought to talk to God with raw honesty about all of the secrets he already knows anyway, but recovery is often stunted when prayers of confession become personal excuses not to deal with our pain or our sins with our fellow spiritual family members.


  • If you're having an affair, looking at porn, gambling or stealing in secret, it's time to confess. If you're doing something illegal or unethical, it's time to come clean. To you, Scripture says, "For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and revealed" (Luke 8:17).
  • If you've been abused, raped, taken advantage of or victimized, it's time to talk to a counselor and to those who will love you, reassure you that it's not your fault, and walk you down the long and difficult road of justice and forgiveness. To you, Scripture says, "For you are dead, and your life is hidden with Christ in God" (Col. 3:3). In Christ, you are covered.

I think you get the picture. We're only as sick as our secrets. God already knows, and He loves you in spite of whatever you're hiding. He has paved the way for your redemption, recovery and ultimate healing for eternity by sending His Son, Jesus, to die for our sins, to rise again and to offer himself in a vital relationship with us forever. Shame and fear begin to die when authenticity springs to life.

Brandon Cox has been a pastor since he was 19 and has served churches large and small, including serving as a pastor at Saddleback Church. He is now planting a purpose-driven church in northwest Arkansas. He also serves as editor of and Rick Warren's Pastors' Toolbox, and authors a top 100 blog for church leaders as well as a blog about men's issues, a blog about blogging, and a blog about social media, "Rewired: Using Technology to Share God's Love."

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