Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Stepping Out of the Darkness and Into the Light!

(Read John 3:14-21 and Ephesians 5: 3-14)

We all have secrets: fears, regrets, hopes, beliefs, fantasies, betrayals, humiliations. We may not always recognize them but they are part of us – like the dreams we can’t always recall in the morning light” (3). These are the introductory words of Frank Warren in his book, PostSecret, published in 2005. Let me tell you how this book came to be.

Warren began collecting postcards as part of a community art project, and each postcard was an original drawn and lettered by an anonymous individual who revealed a secret, and then sent that secret to him. Warren left blank postcards in galleries and libraries and all over town. He developed a website to display them on. These were the instructions: “You are invited to anonymously contribute a secret to a group art project. Your secret can be a regret, fear, betrayal, desire, confession, or childhood humiliation. Reveal anything – as long as it is true and you have never shared it with anyone before. Be brief. Be legible. Be creative.”[1]

It was a brilliant idea with a humble beginning, and the world caught on.

Why? Because Warren is right. We all have secrets. Or at least, we all hide in some way. We hide our actions; we hide our memories and betrayals; we hide our feelings, our desires, our regrets. Sometimes, this is appropriate and healthy. “It’s none of your business,” we say. But sometimes, we hide because we are afraid to be vulnerable or rejected. Sometimes, we hide because we are ashamed of what we think, do, feel, remember. Sometimes, we hide because we know we are being unhealthy or destructive. We keep a part of ourselves or our lives a secret because we fear that if people found out, they would judge us. We fear that if they really knew what was going on, they wouldn’t accept us. We fear that they won’t love us anymore.

In Biblical terms, when we hide or keep secrets because we are sinning or doing what is evil in God’s sight, we are dwelling in darkness. When we are keeping other people’s secrets or trying to protect them because they are sinning or doing what is evil in God’s sight, we are also in the darkness. Sometimes, we are in darkness because our thinking is so backward and contrary to the God of love. We are so confused or lost. Other times, we are in darkness because we are in denial of the truth.

Dwelling in darkness or hiding is not as simple as keeping big secrets from the people you love or know, although, that is a part of it. Dwelling in darkness can simply, and also crucially be, not telling the people you know, work with, serve with, love how you really feel or what you really think, what you hope for and what you feel regret about.

Many of us justify keeping secrets, telling little white lies, hiding certain thoughts and feeling because we don’t want to upset people or we don’t want them to be upset with us. But the bottom line is, when we do these things, we are refusing to be true, to be real and authentic. And God wants us to be true, to be real and to be authentic.

John 3:19-20 says that we are judged by God for this: “that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.” We don’t even have to be that evil to hide from the light. For most of us, all it takes is being human, which is to be flawed, vulnerable, sinful. And because we are afraid and ashamed of being human, we hide from the light that can set us free and heal us.

Feeling like we have to keep our actions, thoughts, beliefs, memories, etc a secret is a universal feeling. So what is so amazing about Frank Warren’s postcard project is that thousands upon thousands of people responded to it. The project took on a life of its own way beyond Warren’s expectations. It’s success must have had something to do with the fact that people could be anonymous, and also, that so many people had something they really wanted to get off their chests, so many people wanted out of the darkness and into the light.

Some of the secrets on the postcards are positive:

“I believe I will accomplish something truly great in this lifetime. I am going to be 53 tomorrow” (40).
“I am so grateful to the psychiatrist I saw when I was nineteen, who told me I would be fine again. He saved my life” (41).
“I still pray for you every night, and I probably always will” (204).
“I kicked cocaine for her” (?).

But most are about people’s pain:

“I don’t know what I want but I don’t want this…” (16).
“All of my life people have told me I’m not special…I’m very easy to replace. After 43 years it has finally sunk in. I finally get it” (86).
“I wish my parents said I love you…I can’t remember hearing them say it ever” (105).
“Three years ago, I tried to kill myself…Now I’m 18 and people say that I’m happy…But I still want to die…” (40).
“I can’t tell my mom about the rape…She wouldn’t want to know. And it kills me” (37).
“Honestly, I’m glad your uncle died, because he molested me that time in the 7th grade that I spent the night at your house… He told me that I liked it. I hope he likes it in his grave” (117).

Many contain a confession:

“I give decaf to customers who are rude to me” (116).
“There was no deer. I was just driving too fast” (36).
“People think I’ve stopped lying…but I’ve just gotten better at it” (?).
“I started shooting heroin again” (65).
“I wished on a dandelion for my husband to die” (68).
“I feel guilty about sometimes wishing that I didn’t have children. I don’t dare say it out loud for fear I might trigger something bad happening to them” (126).
“He’s been in prison for two years because of what I did. Nine more to go” (20).

A few even have to do with God or church:

“Finding God is proving difficult” (54).
“I miss feeling close to God” (141).
“As a child I would sit in church and pray that the lights would fall on people, so I wouldn’t have to be there” (drawing of people running out of a church yelling, “Help!”) (130).
“I tell people I’m an atheist, but I believe I’m going to hell” (143).
“I had gay sex at church camp three times” (141).
“I tell people that I don’t believe in God, when really, I just refuse to worship a god that would let my grandfather hurt me like he did” (68).

A couple are very wise:

“Dear Frank, How I wish I could hug everyone and tell them that it’s ok. It’s ok to be scared and angry and hurt and selfish. It’s part of being human” (108-9).

And this next one hits the nail on the head. You know why so many people responded to Frank Warren and sent in their secrets? Because it is pain and hurt and torture to live in the darkness. One wise person wrote:

“Sometimes just the act of sharing a painful secret can relieve some of the pain” (70-1).

Whatever can relieve some of the pain of this life is worth doing.

Scripture tells us and Jesus calls us to come out of the darkness and to expose ourselves to the light. There is nothing that God will not forgive us for. And when we open ourselves up and allow the light to shine upon us, we find that healing and liberation come into our lives. Warren spoke to this affect when he wrote, “After seeing thousands of secrets, I understand that sometimes when we believe we are keeping a secret, that secret is actually keeping us” (2). To hide and keep secrets is imprisonment; it’s captivity; it’s death. To speak your truth is liberation and life.

Perhaps you know, or maybe you don’t know, how freeing it is to confess your ‘secrets’ to someone that you trust. When you do and that person tells you, “It’s ok. I love you,” grace washes over you. I can remember instances when I’ve done it, and the feeling of acceptance, the feeling that I can totally be myself and I am still loved, is amazing. I felt very alive and not afraid or ashamed at all. It’s when we are really willing to open up and offer our deepest truths, no matter what they are, that we enter into truly intimate and meaningful relationships.

On the last page of PostSecret, Warren wrote, “I like to believe that whenever a painful secret ends its trip to my mailbox, a much longer personal journey of healing is beginning—for all of us” (276).

If you are looking for healing and freedom, and who isn’t? Then it’s time to step out of the darkness and into the light.

One way of doing this is to reveal ourselves to the people that we love and trust. A second way to do this is to live transparent lives, lives that we will let anyone see. To live a transparent life means that you act and speak in ways that if anyone found out, you wouldn’t feel ashamed or bad. It means making choices that you can stand behind. It means allowing yourself to feel what you feel.

Living a transparent life doesn’t mean everyone will always like you or agree with you, but as long as you can own your choices and be secure with how you feel, none of that really matters.

My friends, we don’t belong in the darkness. “For once [we] were in darkness, but now in the Lord, [we] are light. Live as children of light” (Ephesians 5: 8). There is not one part of you that needs to be hidden. And if there is, then maybe it’s time to change. Maybe it’s time to be a person you feel good about being.

Remember that Jesus forgives, loves and embraces every part of you, the good, the bad and the ugly. And true disciples forgive, love and embrace each other.

The last postcard in PostSecret says, “I’ve given away all my secrets…and I feel so free” (275). The words are printed atop a beautiful drawing of a bird taking flight against a sky blue backdrop. Freedom and healing await all of us. It’s time to step out of the darkness and into the light!

[1] Warren, Frank. PostSecret. William Morrow: New York. 2005. jacket cover.

1 comment:

Quig said...

This is a particularly poignant sermon with many insights.