The burden of a secret

I wrote this 4 days before I made an announcement to my parish and posted it the day before announcement day.

I have never been good with secrets. Confidences…yes. Secrets…no. What’s the difference? A confidence is kept to protect something or someone vulnerable, like a child or someone who is ill or in distress to give them space to grow and to heal. I carry the confidences of many of my parishioners, because what they share with me is not for general conversation. If not for my keeping that confidence, they would have nowhere to turn. I can carry these confidences and do, despite the attempts of many to use me as their news source.

A secret is generally kept to protect someone from the truth they really should face, usually the person sharing the secret, like keeping a friend’s infidelity a secret from her/his partner. The partner needs to know. The philanderer needs to be honest. To me, secrets are rooted in dishonesty.

But this isn’t a thesis. Back to my point which is, I hate keeping secrets, and I am holding one now and it is getting heavier by the day. I have taken to cocooning in my office so I can stop answering questions about plans being made that will be altered greatly once my secret is revealed. I panic every time the phone rings because it could very well mean I will have to lie. I hate being lied to, and I am a terrible liar.

There are several people involved in this secret, let’s just say more than ten. And I am counting on all of them to keep it quiet. Some are better than others. We all have a trusted friend or relative to whom we tell everything. The thing is, then those friends also have a friend they tell everything to, too, and all of a sudden too many people know my secret, most of whom are not the people who deserve to know by now but circumstances prevent me from telling. My secret is growing a life of its own.

Tomorrow I start sharing this secret with some who are closer to the circle that need to know. So, really, today is the last day when things remain the same for them. It all changes for them, starting from tomorrow. And then I have to ask them to conspire with me, to keep a secret for three more days.

A good friend reminded me that my last day of “normal” was actually months ago, when all this began, but things still feel relatively normal today, except for the hiding away and the complete inertia to engage anything new, feeling at the mercy of others who only have to invest about 15 minutes before changing my life forever. Have I been overrating “normal”?

So, why am I keeping this secret? Why am I forcing myself to live this lie? Well, that will come clearer when the announcement is made, but mostly its about controlling the message and making sure I and others have had the space to do what we need to do. As one mentor said, “It is living a lie, but it is the only way it works. There really is no other way.” Since he has lived the ordained life longer than me, I trust his wisdom.

I have been called to live openly in community. I took a vow to model my life after Christ, and to serve as a model to those whom I serve. Dishonesty is not something I wish to model. If I am lying to them, then it gives license for them to lie to me and to one another, doesn’t it?

Except none of us really has license to do wrong. Two wrongs don’t make a right, as they say. I don’t know if this is wrong. Others who know better than me tell me it is right, but it feels wrong to me. But don’t ask me what I would do instead. My answer would probably be to hide until announcement day. Which is kind of what I am doing right now. So I guess I am being true to myself, today anyways. But I can’t hide for four more days. I can barely hide for one more day.

If what I wrote above is true, that I am keeping this secret in order to give myself and others time and space to do what we need to do, then I guess it is a confidence. What feels different is that this confidence affects so many people, and it is about me; me being selfish and sneaking around and lying, so it feels dishonest.

Tonight I will actually spend some time with friends, some who know my news to varying degrees. When I thought about “who to tell”, I realized early on that I needed a group of people who did know, so I could call on them when the pressure got too great. I was reading today about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the burden he carried, and how much he needed his friends. The gospels tell the story differently, but even Jesus chose a few trusted friends to share his burden with. Clearly, they could not go to the cross with him, they couldn’t even stay awake. He knew they wouldn’t, but in that garden, on that night, they were there for him. Even though they slept, even though they did not fully understand, they were there for him and, maybe, like me, he couldn’t have done what he had to do without them.


I need a…

I have had a dark learning.

A few weeks ago, a pastoral situation I have been part of for several months escalated. It was a hard day. It was a day of questioning my assumptions and my discernment. At a family reunion last year I won a plaque that says, “Conviction: Be certain your feet are planted in the right place before you decide to stand firm”. It is so much easier to be certain when you are flying under the wire. My wire was cut and I was exposed, left to question if my convictions were as solid as I originally thought.

After the encounter, I went to my husband’s workplace to say hello and have a mini-meltdown before facing the world again. On my way out, I met a friend coming up the stairs.  We were all scheduled to go out later that evening. “Are you coming tonight?” He called as he went up the steps.

“Absolutely!” I exclaimed. “I need a DRINK!”

My friend, appropriately, laughed and continued up the stairs. I stood, stunned at my outburst. When I said it I said it in that loud proclamation voice we use when we don’t care who hears us. When I said it, I didn’t. But in the split second afterward, I stood there, shaking, reliving that brief moment in my mind. Did I just say that? Here?

If this had happened a week later, that lobby would have been full of young people. And they would have had their first encounter with Rev. Dawn, the Anglican chaplain, declaring in the lobby of the science building that she needs a drink.

In that moment, I realized why so many of my sisters and brothers in caring professions live with addictions.

I wasn’t longing for a good drunk or liquid courage to do something risky. I was longing, just for a few hours, for an escape.

An escape from my confusion.

An escape from my stress.

An escape from my insecurity.

To forget, just for a couple of hours, the pain of those around me.

We all talk about our vices, which, let’s face it, are addictions in a less harmful form. We all have something we do to escape for a few hours, or take out that anxiety on something else so it is not sending us into tailspins.

Sometimes, when someone asks me, “What are you doing today?”, my honest answer is, “I don’t know”. But by suppertime, my day will have been planned out for me with crises to walk through, complaints to field, panic to subdue. It is very easy to feel out of control, like your choices are being made for you. It is stressful and intense.

Escape is so critical, and finding healthy escape is the greatest challenge. Sometimes, we have to run away, cancel everything and just go. Sometimes we need to skulk out in the dark of night, not tell anyone where we are going because they will either disapprove or track us down. Sometimes we have to just hide out, moving the car somewhere other than the rectory so we can stay home and have a day to ourselves without being disturbed. And then, there are those blessed moments when someone recognizes you need to escape long before you do, and becomes your accomplice.

I want to stop doubting how difficult my job is. I want to stop making excuses for my own exhaustion. May I defend always my health and well-being, for everyone’s sake.