Addiction & Recovery, Hurt & Faith


It’s so strange. How we keep secrets.

And so human.

It comes so naturally to us, that we are often uncomfortable around people who are open and honest about themselves.

We’ve had some interesting responses — Dave and I — to his candid sharing and to this blog.

But there is a place where we put these problems decent people don’t have that will eventually cause them to grow — secrecy, privacy, darkness . . . 

* * * * *

When all the darkness had come to light in our house, and he had gone through rehab, I wanted Dave to tell openly to our church what had been going on in his life.

He had been a deacon and a Sunday School teacher and a seminary student. Seems like by virtue of his position, the sin should be considered public. After all, there were doctors and pharmacists in three counties of Washington who knew his secret.

But we were advised not to. No, private confession was enough.

And though I disagreed, I understood. Because we were a part of a denomination and a culture that would, in all likelihood, write us off. Dave forever labeled an addict. Disbarred from leadership.

And there was pride . . . it takes a truckload of humility to confess to one person. A mountain of it to confess to a church.

* * * * *

I read portions of a book on forgiveness by a popular conservative, evangelical pastor and writer recently. And I was deeply disturbed by his take on dealing with what he called “private sins.”

In the F.A.Q. section, in the back of the book, the question is who do we confess to? His answer:

“Confession of guilt must always be made to God. Confession is also owed to whomever our sin has injured. The arena of confession should be as large as the audience of the original offense. Public transgressions call for public confession; private sins should be confessed to God alone.”

Private sins . . . confessed to God alone . . .

. . . the tricky thing about the heart — the so deceitful who can know it part of us — is that we are capable of twisting any sin into a private sin . . . this is just between me and God.

Rationalized. Compartmentalized. Kept secret. Covered up.

Reading this in the context of this awful year of discoveries of hidden sins of Christian leaders I grew up with, this idea makes me ill. The ramifications of such a belief are frightening.

Because where is the line?

When does “private sin” become more than just between you and God? More than just between you and a small group of men in a conference room who decide the Kingdom of God cannot afford such a scandal? More than a secret among colleagues who let you go back to a mission field full of young children whose lives you will mar forever with your “private sins.”

It is an ache in my heart that has deepened. This covering of sins. This convincing of ourselves that it is love to do so, when that can’t possibly be what the Apostle Peter meant. (I Peter 4:8)

I’m not saying tell the whole world every flaw. But struggling alone is folly. Because keeping it just between you and God isn’t biblical at all.

It’s not how God made us.

Confess your sins to one another. Pray for each other. That you may be healed. James 5:16

I don’t believe James was talking about that time you thought about ditching church. Or that you forgot to pray for someone you said you’d pray for. Or that you didn’t return your shopping cart to the front of the store.

No. I believe he meant the sins that eat away like a cancer at our souls. The hardcore stuff that we would rather hide. The stuff people don’t talk about.

* * * * *

If there is any regret, anywhere in our story, it is that we believed this human idea of private sins.

Private sins eventually become public. And the end of keeping our secret was disaster.

The pain and the sorrow and the loneliness and the judgement and the rejection — all of these were a result of prolonged struggling and failing — alone.

Keeping it a secret meant not dealing with it — after all, where would we go for help? Admitting struggle meant Dave losing his job. Admitting failure meant we’d be cast aside forever by the church as useless, wasted lives. Admitting that there wasn’t “victory” meant disappointing family who had helped us get back on our feet.

So we kept it to ourselves.

Seasons and years of confessing only to God.

But it was slowly destroying us. Our marriage. Our relationships. Our ministry.

* * * * *

I love that the writers of Scripture were brutally honest about themselves, their sins, their struggles.

Moses, David, Paul — they wrote some seriously harsh things about themselves that, as loving friends, we probably would have advised them to keep to themselves . . .

But see, God isn’t into secrets.

Secrecy is a like a bandage put on a festering wound, hoping it will heal itself.

And eventually, because God loves us and doesn’t want us to die from infection, he takes off the bandaid. Sometimes by ripping. Sometimes by a slow, painful peel . . .

One of our favorite stories, Dave’s and mine, is in John 11.

Lazarus. Dead. Sealed in a tomb for days. And Jesus tells the bystanders to open the grave.

Lord, he stinketh.

Objections. To Jesus exposing the stench in order to heal . . .

Loudly, Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb. Shouts, so that everyone around can hear.

And then, of all things, he asks the crowd to take off the bandages.

* * * * *

Sometimes, in order for people to understand the possibility and power of healing, they need experience the grief of the death.

Sometimes the stinky bandage removal is so that the bystanders will learn something about God.

. . . for me and for Dave, going back to the secrecy and privacy and “putting away quietly” would be as insane as Lazarus wrapping his healed body back up in the stinky grave clothes and retreating into the tomb to slowly rot to death…

And it would be a waste of an incredible resurrection.