In my life I’ve experienced some holy moments. Someone called them “thin places” where the atmosphere between here and God seems so thin that you’re almost there. I’ve experienced “thin places” in the delivery room with all 3 of my children, on a hiking trail in the Black Hills of South Dakota, in the hospital room of dying believers, during a Roman Catholic funeral mass and every time I sit in a room to share someone’s 5th step.
We make a list. We take an inventory. And then for our next step we meet with a trustworthy individual and we share our list.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
There’s never been a moment more holy in all my life than when I’ve listened to someone make themselves vulnerable, speaking openly and honestly (often for the first time in their life) about what they’ve done and what has been done to them, their thoughts and feelings, fears and failures, the defects of character they recognize within themselves. I’ve had the privilege of going through this experience now more than I can count. Every time I am awed and inspired.
I’ve heard almost every confession you can imagine. It’s not a counselling session, it’s not about seeking forgiveness for things or beating ourselves up by reopening old wounds. A 5th step empties our secrets. It is amazing how our secrets, whatever they are, no matter how mundane or trivial they might seem, can choke the life out of us, can be excuses to return to poisonous and self-destructive means to make ourselves feel better. People leave the room looking and acting lighter than when they came in.
When we share our secrets and the person with whom we share them still accepts us, doesn’t run screaming from the room, sticks with us and genuinely seems to still care about us and talk to us as a human being of value after, comes as both a shock and a relief.
Most believers have been taught by the church system to put on their ‘holy’ mask, keep it on tight and never let someone in your “secrets” cupboard. It’s as if the Bible told us, “that the past is the past and needs to stay there”. But it doesn’t. Neither does it guide us to a professional confessor. It tells us to tell our secrets to each other, let each other in to our “secrets” cupboard – so that we can be healed. Deep down, like all true addicts, we fear that that path, letting someone on the inside, will only lead to rejection and pain. But that’s a lie to keep us sick and isolated in our secrets.
We tend to say we share our secrets with God. I doubt, though, if we really achieve that on a felt level. How can I say I have really trusted God with my secrets if I can’t tell one trustworthy son or daughter of God with my stuff? Taking this step moves me from adherent to follower – I don’t want theoretical freedom, I need practical experience. Some things require a God with some skin on. To borrow some New Testament language, how can I say I’ve told God if I can’t even tell my brother (or sister)?
One thing has been true of every 5th step I’ve been part of as a secret teller or secret listener – the exact amount of freedom you experience is directly proportional to the honesty and thoroughness that you put into it. The truth really can set you free.
Is there anyone in your life to whom you have ever told all of your secrets? Would you ever be willing to sit down with another human being who is just like you and share what’s on your list? What holds us back from coming clean with each other about our stuff?