As a counselor I have talked to many people who live with secrets. Some were sin-secrets like addiction, adultery, or theft. Others were suffering-secrets like being sexually abused, shamed by a parent, or being embarrassed about living in poverty.
There is something most of these people had in common – the inability to receive love in healthy ways. Their secret (regardless of whether it was rooted in sin or suffering) gave them a filter for every relationship they were in – “You don’t know the real me.”
“You say you love me, but you don’t really know the real me.”
“You say I’m a nice, caring person, but you don’t know the real me.”
“You say I have a heart to follow God, but you don’t know the real me.”
“You say [insert any compliment or affirmation], but you don’t know the real me.”
Life becomes divided: the parts I let people see (good or neutral) and the parts I don’t let people see (bad). Even when the visible parts are real, we feel fake. People comment on and respond to what they can see. We rehearse and respond to what they can’t see.
This disproportionately affects our sense of identity. You can hear it in the phrase the “real” me. It is as if nothing that people can see is “real” because of what we’ve failed to tell them. We begin to believe that a skeleton in our closet means the roses in our living room are a façade. Even if one needs to be removed, it does not cancel out the reality of the other.
Pretending to be a pirate when you’re a boy doesn’t make you a fake boy. Someone who says, “You’re such a good little boy,” isn’t so deceived that their compliment is impotent. But the boy has to accept that he’s not a pirate and return to being a boy before he will feel known and affirmed.
A person with secrets begins to believe that they are so good at hiding no one knows them or would love them if they did. In the minority cases of living a double life this is true. But most often our “cover” is not that good. Few people are surprised to learn that the person who feigned confidence is insecure. Even fewer associate the identity of someone who has been abused by what happened to them as a child. It is by hiding abused comes to mean “damaged” and “unlovable.”
In this mindset any presence of suffering or the flesh cancels out any fruit of the Spirit. Scripture does not seem to speak of life this way (Rom. 7:23; 2 Cor. 10:3; James 4:1; 1 Pet. 2:11). Scripture would seem to imply that for Christians there is a “real me” who is in a war with sin and suffering, and that this war is evidence of God’ grace.
So what do we do? Do we just feel good about ourselves in spite of our secrets? No, that would just add another layer of self-deception under a thin veneer of self-help. It’s just another version of the lie we were trying to believe when we withhold the truth from those around us. Doubling down on that approach is foolish.
So what do we do? We risk being known. We accept the truth that until we take the risk of being known we will never know the joy of being loved. This risk comes with several implications:
We have to quit viewing confession or disclosure as punishment and see it as liberty.
We have to stop resenting others for not doing what we haven’t allowed – knowing the real me.
We have to accept that love is an act of grace that forgives our sin and comforts our suffering.
We have to release control of our secret to embrace something more powerful – love.
The closing thought is this – you will never feel more loved than you are honest. The gospel gives you the power and community in which to be honest. Until you are honest you will think “the real you” is “the secret you.” Once you are honest you can see that “the real you” is “a dearly loved child of God” who may have experienced suffering or struggle with sin.