Telling Secrets, the book I just finished, is the third of a series of memoirs he's written which, true to form, are nakedly and, at times, almost brutally honest. Using the "secrets" of his own life––his father's suicide when he was a child, for example, and his daughter's battle with anorexia––he explores the importance of telling our most closely-kept secrets. As he explains in the introduction of his book:
"I have called this book Telling Secrets because I have come to believe that by and large the human family all has the same secrets, which are both very telling and very important to tell. They are telling in the sense that they tell what is perhaps the central paradox of our condition—that what we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else."
He goes on to explain that our secrets allow us to access who we really are––not the carefully-manufactured personas we like to present to the world (and sometimes even to ourselves), but the persons that we are when we're all alone, when no one's watching:
"It is important to tell, at least from time to time, the secret of who we truly and fully are—even if we tell it only to ourselves—because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are, and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing."
Once we're able to admit our own secrets––our own brokenness––we can then connect with others in a less superficial and far more meaningful way:
"[Telling our secrets] makes it easier for other people to tell us a secret or two of their own, and exchanges like that have a lot to do with what being a family is all about and what being human is all about."
And, he notes, our "secret selves" allow us to connect not only with each other, but also with God:
"[It] is by entering that deep place inside us where our secrets are kept that we come perhaps closer than we do anywhere else to the One who, whether we realize it or not, is of all our secrets the most telling and the most precious we have to tell."
I love Rev. Buechner's thesis––that we are, fundamentally, our secrets, and that telling them is the key to connecting not only with one another, but also with God and even ourselves. I am convinced that telling our secrets is the way we free ourselves from the power they have over us. A secret kept can make us feel ashamed and unimportant; a secret told, however, frees us from this shame, allowing us to truly and freely be ourselves. As the Apostle Paul reminds us in his letter to the Galatians:
"For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-induglence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"
I used to read that passage from Galatians and wonder how in the world Paul got from "freedom" to "loving our neighbor as ourself." I just couldn't figure out the connection.
I see now what he was getting at, though––Paul was simply encouraging us to be ourselves, as we truly are, without pretense, so that we can connect with––so that we can love––our neighbors as ourselves.
I know of no faster way to connect with others than in safely sharing secrets––in safely sharing ourselves. Paul knew this; Rev. Buechner knows this; and now, I know this. This is one of the reasons I started this blog––not to tell secrets, specifically, but rather to honestly share some of who I am in the hope that you might see some of your story in my words. Our stories will not be the same, of course––my story is unique to me, just as yours is unique to you––but I'm willing to bet that there are a lot more similarities among us––any of us––than there are differences. Our stories help us see the ways in which we connect.
What's your story? I'd love to hear it! E-mail me your story (confidentially, of course) at pastor.madison.nj@gmail. com.
I look forward to "connecting" with you.