I never thought that body builders and ministers really had a lot in common. Oh, I’ve heard of a body builder or two who also was a minister (the pastor who followed me at Garden City, KS fits that description). But to actually have something significant in common seemed improbable.
Until yesterday morning.
Yesterday, I read the latest installment of the continuing sad saga of former governor (and body builder) Arnold Schwarzenegger.
By now, unless you have been living under a rock on Mars you know that Ah-nold’s wife Maria Shriver-Schwartenegger has filed for divorce. While it appears the marriage has been strained for some time, the break came when it was revealed that Schwartenegger had birthed a son fifteen years ago by the family housekeeper. It had been kept secret all this time. (The family is pictured below at the christening of the housekeepers son, long before Arnolds paternity was known)
But that was not the only secret he kept from Maria. An AP report states that “Schwarzenegger says he did not want to tell Shriver about crucial life decisions such as major heart surgery and running for California governor because he feared she would overreact and tell her well-connected family and friends.” (He only told her he was going to run for governor two days before he announced and she found out he was running for reelection by reading it in the paper).
The Governator (it’s too long to type Schwartenegger every time I refer to him) blames this life of secrecy on his body building days. (I’m not a psychologist, but I suspect that blaming body building was just an excuse for other issues, but that isn’t really my point).
He states that during his body building days, emotions were seen as dangerous to competition. Emotions were a distraction. Emotion resulted in competition losses . It was critical to put his emotions on “deep freeze”. “So I became an expert in living in denial”, he stated. But that stuffing of emotion, also led him to keep secret anything that might raise his or others emotions. And one secret built on another, which built on another…
So, what does this have to do with ministry? Lots.
The ability for transparency and complete honesty is very difficult in ministry. Whether or not pastors want it (and, frankly, some do), there are pedestals. There are expectations of super-human moral strength. Pastors are not allowed the grace of many infractions stronger than speeding at 56 mph in a 55 zone or an occasional “shucks” or “darn”. In addition there are the inner self-expectations. As a pastor friend of mine said in our accountability group this morning, “It’s hard being OK with not being OK.”
Every pastor knows of a colleague who has been fired from a church or drummed out of ministry altogether because of some slip or moral stumble. (I’m not talking sleeping with the secretary or molesting little children here). And most pastors have had the negative experience of taking someone in the congregation into their confidence, only to have it broadcast over the church gossip chain within 24 hours.
And so the unspoken practice is, “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” Not about homosexuality, but about any moral struggle. And so, the impure thought life, the neglect of spiritual disciplines, the masturbation, the unguarded temper, the overeating, the unbridled ambition, the carelessness with money, on and on, goes unaddressed because we are not able/willing to change the behavior, but are unable/unwilling to share our hearts with anyone who can help and hold us accountable.
The problem with secrecy (as Schwartenegger found out) is that it grows. We keep one area secret, and then another and then another.
For those of us who are believers (which includes most pastors) we know that God will not allow secrets to remain hidden forever:
- Ecclesiastes 12:14: For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.
- Matthew 10:26: “So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.
- Mark 4:22: For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open.
A part of Nathan’s condemnation of David’s adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her husband was its secrecy: “This is what the LORD says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’ ” (2 Sam 12:11-12)
There are, of course, some things that are meant to be kept confidential or “secret”: Our giving, our prayers, our fasting, and confidences given to us by others (Prov 11:13; Matt 6:4,6,18)
But most of us know the difference between appropriate privacy and hiding sin. I think of the story of Achan who hid “a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels” that were to be devoted to God. He took them and hid them under his tent, until God, through Joshua, exposed the secret. (Let’s just say that the secrecy did not end well for Achan) (Josh. 7:1-26, esp. v. 21-22)
My take is that God loves us too much to allow the secrets to remain unexposed. They are a cancer that will continue to grow. And because of God’s love for us (and his commitment to holiness) he will eventually expose them.
So…where does that leave the average man or pastor? All of us know that there are unsafe people with whom to share our secrets would be disastrous. And all of us know that when some secrets are exposed we will be called upon to take action, including perhaps confessing certain sins to those whom we have (secretly) harmed.
Some (like me) have been hurt/betrayed by others in the past with whom I/they unwisely shared “the secret things.”
But because it is hard, does not mean that we are not called to “man up” and seek that safe place, that safe person with whom we can be totally transparent. I have that person and group in my life.
I believe that God will provide that safe person or group with whom you can share. The question is not “Will God provide that avenue for transparency?” but rather, “Will we ask him to show us who He has prepared to serve that role in our lives.” “Will we persevere until we find that person?”
Not to share for sharing sake alone, but to share so that the secret can be healed and cleansed.
If not, it will eventually be exposed, but in a much more disastrous way.
I feel sorry, in some regards, for ex-Gov. Schwartenegger (in other ways, I don’t). His secrecy has cost him his marriage, his family and the respect of millions of fans. But I feel sorry for him even more than that because of the inner damage that secrecy has done to his own life.
May those of us who read this message take it to heart. And act.
Thoughts or reactions?