(Read 1 John 1:1-10 from the Message and John 3:14-21)
“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, PostSecrets, published in 2005. Let me tell you how this book came to be.
Warren handed out blank postcards and left them in public places all around Germantown, Maryland with these 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.” Almost immediately and with great enthusiasm, people responded to Warren’s invitation, and in a short while, Warren was getting postcards from people all over the country and the world. He put the postcards up on a website, and eventually, they were collected into book format.
I have to admit that Warren had an interesting idea, but why was the response so great? Thousands upon thousands of postcards coming not just from people living in Maryland, but from California and France and Japan, people of all ages and races…?
Because we all have secrets, and somewhere deep down, we all want to bring them up from the darkness and expose them to the light. Secrets are heavy; they drag us down with their weight. And they separate us from one another.
Maybe to say that we all have secrets is a little too strong of a word, but 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 because it’s important to pick the right people to share with. But other times, our not sharing comes from an unhealthy, distorted place. We hide because we are afraid of being vulnerable or rejected. We hide because we are ashamed of what we think, feel, do, remember. We hide because we know we are being unhealthy or destructive. We keep a part of ourselves or how we live 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. Even worse, they might not love us anymore.
Oftentimes, we are even afraid to admit things to ourselves. Afraid to admit how we really feel or what we really want. Afraid to look at the choices we are making. We don’t want to face the pain. We don’t want to face the truth.
In a biblical sense, the word “darkness” has many connotations, usually related to evil and sin. Today, I would like to suggest that to dwell in darkness is to be in denial of the truth, or even to lie about the truth. To dwell in darkness is to be dishonest with one’s self and to be dishonest with others. To dwell in darkness is to hide from God, from Jesus, who is the light of the world. From a psychological perspective, denial is: an unconscious defense mechanism characterized by refusal to acknowledge painful realities, thoughts, or feelings.
Listen to the words from 1 John again: “If we claim that we experience a shared life with him and continue to stumble around in the dark, we're obviously lying through our teeth - we're not living what we claim” (1 John 1:6). In essence, if we say we are living as faithful disciples, but we are living in denial of the truth, our truth, whatever it may be, then that is keeping us separated from God. “But if we walk in the light,” which is to be honest and truthful, “God himself being the light,” the truth, then we can experienced a shared life, not only with God, but also with one another. It makes sense that a shared life together requires honesty and truthfulness. When we are being genuine and authentic, our relationships with one another develop depth and can really flourish.
The text continues, “If we claim that we're free of sin, we're only fooling ourselves” (1 John 1:8). We all sin; we all have weaknesses and failures. This scripture says stop pretending you don’t. Stop lying. Stop hiding. Stop denying the truth. Because “If we admit our sins - make a clean breast of them - he won't let us down; he'll be true to himself. He'll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. (1 John 1: 9). As John 3: 17 says, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Confessing our sins, and the forgiveness we receive, is part of how Christ saves us.
In Postsecrets, some people shared their sins, bad things that they have done. While others shared positive aspirations. Still, others shared their feelings of pain, or of regret, or of love. One of the points that I am trying to make today is that confession of sin is liberating and healing. And so is simply sharing what’s on your heart, or speaking what’s on your mind. It’s good for the soul. It’s good for our relationships with one another. Let me give you a sampling of what people chose to share on their postcards
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” (?).
Many of the secrets 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).
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).
• “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 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).
This person gets it! Admitting the truth, sharing a secret, confession heals the soul.
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 dwelling in darkness; it’s death.
This morning, I invite you to choose life by welcoming the Light into your life. Say prayers of confession in the church and in private. Open your hearts to God. To one another. Tell someone you love how you really feel. Tell someone you feel hurt by how you really feel. Tell someone you trust something that you have felt ashamed about for years. Because when that person looks you in the eye and says, “It’s ok. I still love you,” you will experience firsthand the liberation that comes with forgiveness, and how your heart will get so full because you have known mercy.
The last postcard in PostSecrets 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.) Brothers and sisters, freedom and healing await us all. It’s time to step out of the darkness and into the light.