When I decided to invite my friends to confess something anonymously on my blog, I didn't know what I was going to get.
I knew what each of them had said to me on previous occasions, in confidence, and I knew what I was hoping for, but writing out your once secret words for the masses was a daring ask. Some friends declined, too worried someone would read it and just know it was them. Other friends wrote and submitted their piece only to decline after the fact; waiting for the series to begin created too much stress and anxiety and they weren't prepared to expose themselves, even anonymously, as they initially thought.
Each person I treated with care, hand-holding and cheerleading, because the things they whispered to me as they looked over their shoulders in restaurants to make sure no one could hear them were things I believed needed to be shared.
"I've never told anyone this before," a string of words all too familiar. Because we all have something. We've all been there.
As a pastor's wife, this was my life.
I have been pulled into corners of the church I didn't know existed, led into the farthest reaches of parking lots and invited into the darkest coffee shops in towns far enough outside of our usual parameters. In those places, I have been told things through tears and I have had to force eye contact; I have learned how to be empathetic, doling out grace and sympathy, while reassuring, "It's okay for you to feel this way. Nothing is wrong with you."
As I began carrying the weight of these confessions, I thought back farther and my role as a pastor's wife had nothing to do with the over-sharing: this has always been my life. I am a secret keeper and it's no secret. It's instinctive for people to know when they meet someone they can bare their soul to without fear of judgment. I've often referred to it as my curse, but now I understand it is my gift. A gift not to take lightly.
This series has impacted me greatly and I have never been more thankful to be who I am; to be a safety net for so many. There is nothing I love more than encouraging others to be who they are without apology.
This has been my month with 31 Confessions:
Each confession was mistaken for my own, except for the obvious ones written by men. Never mind the disclaimer at the beginning of each confession in the same size font, bolded no less, or the landing page with the explanation of what this series would be about. I cannot tell you how many people thought I was writing as a fictional character, or from an alter ego. Friends and family have never been more vocal, expressing their worry about the status of my faith and concern for the state of my marriage. When I took to Facebook to announce the disclaimer more specifically, one of the confessors texted my husband and joked, "Dude. Your wife has lots of issues. She's gonna need a bigger month."
Every confession was met with multiple comments via direct email to me or social media. And only one was negative. I forwarded the emails to each confessor so they could be blessed by a stranger's encouragement, receiving digital hugs and nods; I took screen shots of the interactions happening on Facebook and Twitter, and I hope each person who bared their soul saw their words being shared and championed.
This series even made some people - people I don't know and have never had a conversation with - write their own confession and share it with me because they needed to tell someone.
Aside from the one negative comment - that I promptly deleted and blocked the user from my Instagram profile, because haters gonna hate and no one needs to spend any energy caring about it - there were other responses I chose not to share. These responses ate at me the most. They were the Christians with the best of intentions, saying things they didn't even realize were condescending.
The, "I'm so sad for her! Here's a link to a blog post I wrote about why the bible is so great," or the, "It's so good to question your faith, but if you want, I can tell you about the truth because there is only one truth and I know what it is and oh, here's a blog post I wrote about it with all the scriptures I believe are telling the truth."
While I expected such responses, what I didn't expect was how upset I would get. Being in a state of unraveling my own faith and separating myself from corporate church, it made me sick to my stomach. And it made me understand why I have been chosen as secret keeper and collector.
- Not once when in conversation with these confessors did I quote scripture at them.
- Not once did I try and give them a biblical remedy.
- Not once did I try and "fix" them with "the truth".
When someone comes to you with something they've never shared, you do not do anything more than listen. You don't have to say you understand or you know where they're coming from. You just need to be there for them. And after they are finished, you need to continue to be there for them; because while you have offered them a space to be their whole self, they deserve to be cared for without judgment. They do not deserve to be told that what they have come to understand about their faith - or lack of - is wrong or misguided. We are all trying to figure things out and it is absurd to say to someone who is feeling exposed that what is right for you is right for them. You can share your own journey if they ask, but if they don't ask then keep it to yourself because in that moment it's not about you.
If you become a secret keeper - the emphasis on keeper - you should simply feel honored to be invited into their journey. The secret teller will express to you what they need, and if what they need is to get it out so they can never talk about it again, then leave it alone.
I read The Alchemist this summer after my husband and I quit our church ministry jobs and began a crazy adventure across America into unemployment. It's now become the book I'll never have a copy of because I'm constantly giving it away. The main character makes a comment early on that I kept coming back to during this series.
"When someone sees the same people every day ... they wind up becoming a part of that person's life. And then they want the person to change. If someone isn't what others want them to be, the others become angry. Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own."
To that, I say, ain't that the truth, and STOP IT.
- Stop thinking your journey is better than another's.
- Stop thinking you're "further along in your faith" or that you "know the truth". If you're honest with yourself, you doubt your truth just like anyone else. Stop acting like you don't.
- We may very well find out that we've had Christianity and religion and "truth" all wrong when we come face-to-face with God. Get off your high horse and be a decent person.
I think most commenters - especially those who are close to me personally (read: in real life) - are curious what exactly I agree or disagree with in each post. I'm not going to tell you because it's not the point and it doesn't matter.
Initially, the purpose of this series was to allow my friends an avenue for sharing their story that they've never been offered; a writing exercise releasing their words into the world as a way to heal, and as a reminder that who they are is exactly who they are supposed to be.
The purpose shifted for me in the middle of the month and I realized this series was more about the reader. It became more about allowing the reader to feel the tension of the confessions, to think through how they might respond if someone chooses them as their secret keeper.
During the last week of the series, multiple confessors told me they shared their confession with someone who was close to them who never knew their secret. Some even decided to reveal themselves on their own blog and link back to the content. I couldn't have been more ecstatic.
We are desperate for authenticity and yet we fight it constantly because we have learned we cannot be our whole selves to the whole world. And I agree with that. Not everyone can handle me, so I don't give them my whole self. In fact, most people get pieces because I believe I'm better in small doses. But in my quest to be authentic I have found others like me who cheerlead me and give me space not to have my shit together all the time. They let me use the swear words most people cringe at and question my beliefs out loud without pushing me into theirs; they let me drink too much and exercise too little and wonder aloud if I might've enjoyed being addicted to something dark, something dangerous when I was younger and less responsible.
Authenticity is the illumination of your truest self and the things you're not sharing because they are shrouded in darkness - either real or perceived - can actually reveal more about your light.
We forget that being authentic also means protecting yourself from those who will want you to change. Protecting yourself doesn't mean you're not being true to who you are; you're simply being smart about who you allow in. Like anything, authenticity requires boundaries.
So, if you'd be so brave as to share, how did you react to this series? If you're like me, you found pieces of yourself weaved throughout many of the confessions. Hell, I could've written 31 of my own confessions! Maybe your journey isn't a mirror image but maybe it's similar, and maybe it's time for it to be shared - if not in response below, or in an email to me, then with someone you trust.
What is your confession?