Sarah laid her head on the back of the chair as she struggled to get out the words, “I have never told anyone this. I had an abortion when I was in college.” She continued, “I knew my boyfriend and I were too young to get married and we didn’t know what to do.” Now Sarah was sobbing as she explained, “I have kept this secret for years. The regret and shame of that decision have been my constant companions for over 28 years.” I reached over and touched her knee and prompted her to continue by saying, “How about we spend some time talking about it now.”
Research tells us that private people or those who harbor their shame and secrets tend to have increased health and psychological problems (Flora, 2017). Larson and Chastain (1990) found that secretive people are more depressed, shame-prone, anxious and sensitive to the perceived judgement of others. These traits make them both tight-lipped and vulnerable to potential physical illnesses. They tell us this type of person may be a hard worker, often lying and avoiding situations that would bring their secrets to light. Secretive people also regulate their emotions in a dysfunctional way by suppressing them (Flora, 2017). The constant tension can even alter their body’s stress response.
Everyone has hidden something at some point in their lives. Secrets often reflect our false beliefs about ourselves. A secret about an abortion could echo the thought that you are somehow no longer good enough or valuable. This type of shame is unhealthy and an attack on our whole identity. Basically, it is the difference between “I did something bad” and “I am bad.” Unhealthy shame urges us to stay isolated, determined to keep us from reaching our full potential and our God given identity and destiny.
We have all experienced self-doubt and known the uncomfortable feeling and risk of being vulnerable. Fear and shame can keep us from establishing healthy relationships with others. Our insecurities can trick us into not opening our hearts. In a place of hiddenness, we get stuck in the struggle and often become more and more hopeless. This, in turn, tempts us to doubt God’s word and his goodness. This is the same tactic satan tried to use on Jesus in the wilderness in Matthew 4:1–11. Jesus overcame these lies with the power of the truth of the Word and His deep intimate relationship with His Father. We can do the same!
When we are secure, we do not ride the waves of our situations or emotions. We are free, healthy, and safely attached to God and the community of believers. In this place, we are marked by trusting relationships, high self-esteem, and an ability to openly share our feelings with other people (Kirkpatrick, 1994). It seems our lack of trust towards God or others keeps us from total honesty and then we distance ourselves from the very thing that will set us free.
A healthy relationship with our Redeemer opens the door to complete freedom and wholeness. You never need to struggle with self-doubt or hiddenness again, when you are secure in Him. In addition to our relationship with the Lord, people who prove to be safe over time can also help to heal our insecurities (Clinton, 2006). In other words, our openness and vulnerability can create more safety and security in our own lives.
God does not want us to feel anything less than whole and secure. Why? Because we fulfill His call on our lives only out of a place of intimacy and safety in Him. In short, we become who he created us to be. Unfortunately, keeping a secret can discount others’ ability to understand you and reinforces the idea that you must go through life’s struggles alone. It exacerbates the original problem and compounds the feelings of isolation.
Sharing a deep secret in a safe environment is a good way to release the pressure that mounts from hiding and living with a lie. Look for people who are willing and able to patiently support you without judgement or criticism. Someone might regret their past choices, but if they explore them in an openhearted setting, their suffering tends to diminish. It is the pain of shame that keeps the secrets magnified. Most people report a sense of relief and gratitude, and a lifting of sadness or anxiety when they are open to someone they trust (Flora, 2017). Most importantly, these interactions also reach places deep inside us and tell us that God not only loves us…He likes us.
As a professional counselor, I know that allowing ourselves to experience feelings is an integral part of the healing process. In our place of despair and sadness, our heavenly Father is sad right along with us. The safety you experience in Father God opens a door to a whole new way of living. You will no longer be held captive by your past, but will instead courageously step into God’s plan for your life. You will be known by your joy and peace, and you will reproduce His healing touch in the lives of those around you. You may even become a “minister” of healing for others dealing with similar issues. This is the beauty for ashes trade God works on our behalf. Nothing is wasted in our experiences — all things are redeemed and turned into victory. These are his promises to us.
There is power in remembering what God has done for each one of us. If we want to see fruit in our lives and experience total freedom from guilt and shame, it means we must embrace honesty and full vulnerability with Him. If we are afraid to speak out, if we keep dark secrets hidden from those we love or from God, we may be living from a place of bondage and compromise. We are rejecting the precious gift of freedom Jesus died to give us.
The extent to which we settle for less than complete transparency with Christ is directly related to the extent we live in true inner peace and rest. The more we compromise, the less free we become. Our stories of overcoming drive out doubt in ourselves and others. In the same way the Book of Acts builds up our faith, so do our miraculous individual histories. Our testimonies bear endless fruit. What greater glory and worship can we give our Savior than to parade His triumphs before others in order that they may gain confidence in the victory themselves?
Trust the Lord to see you through, and don’t worry about what other people think. John 16:33 says, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (NIV). Even though you may not have experienced the abundant life yet, take heart, Jesus has overcome the world. He warned us that we would have trouble, but that in Him, there is peace and victory.