As most of you know by now I grew up in a conservative Mennonite home. Church was an integral part of our life. And guilt. It seemed that everything was driven by guilt. Even manipulation by guilt. It would appear that I succumbed to this more than most others. It is interesting how I always thought that nobody utilized guilt more than Mennonites. In later years I had some interesting discussions with a Catholic friend and a Jewish friend. They tried to convince me that they knew all about guilt long before there were Mennonites.
My mother, God rest her soul, knew better than anyone on how to use guilt for confession purposes. Whether we were on the field combining, sitting in our living room on a quiet Friday night, or going to another church event, she could cajole almost anything out of me. Okay, actually, everything. There were things I confessed to that I would just as soon never hear from my kids. Would probably make me blush. Nothing abnormal, just things that most kids experience. I actually chuckle when I think of one particular day. She asked me whether there were any particular problems I was experiencing. I knew there had to be something. I suspect I had a guilty look on my face that had got me in trouble before. So I started fessing up. Halfway through my story my mother interjected and informed me there was nothing wrong with what I had done. Seriously, I had no secret life.
In a recent conversation with a fellow experiencing heart wrenching worries over his business, I was struck with his constant concern that nobody should find out, including his family. He is quite literally living a secret life. At least he thinks he is. I recall those days where I thought I was doing a good job of hiding the reality of my life. I have found out since that I was really not hiding anything. My wife, my kids, and neighbors knew full well that there were issues.
In some of my readings this week I came across the following quote. “There is no agony like having an untold story inside you.” - Zora Neale Hurston. That is so true. Often times we find ourselves dealing with issues we can’t just admit to anyone. It becomes a burden. Just like the gentleman I just mentioned. He had found someone he could open his soul too. Verbalize the anguish from within. Although it did not fix his problems it helped in putting the proper perspective on the issue. But he needs to ensure that no one knows. It is his secret life. I suspect we will be having more conversations.
There is another part to this narrative. Yes, we keep secrets. At times some of us live secret lives. Why? Because we are filled with guilt, because we feel shame, because our self-esteem cannot take another blow. So we keep it a secret. We hope to wake up tomorrow and have the issue resolved.
We are also convinced that no one will believe us. I come from a generation where people with mental health issues, didn’t. Where people with financial struggles, didn’t. Where people with relational issues, didn’t. It was because we did not work hard enough, we did not go to church often enough, we did not pray often enough, we did not have faith.
There is a new reality. That reality is that one out of three people suffer from mental illness. That reality is that as strong as we think we are there are issues that will knee cap the best of us. That reality is we need to find someone that we can talk to. That reality is we need help. That reality is that we live a secret life and want release. And we are looking to you for help. Make it a good one.