I used to have a secret and by all accounts it was a juicy one. It was the kind of secret that - if it got out – would be BIG news to a large number of people, literally all over the globe. It was a secret so salacious that it would – without doubt - forever impact the lives of thousands of people – beginning with mine. It was a secret so potent, so dark, so unbelievable that at first, no one would believe it. Eventually, when reality set in, most everyone would turn on me for having it and keeping it so long. Because of the damning nature of this secret and the irreversible damage it would cause, I thought it best to keep it hidden, covered under the proverbial lock & key. And I did. For many, many years. I covered my tracks. I erased my fingerprints. I rehearsed and remembered my story. In the process, not only did I become good at hiding the secret, but I became good at becoming something I never intended on becoming – deceitful. As I discovered, secrets and deceit always go hand in hand.
And then it happened.
One night, while on vacation in Hilton Head, SC with my family, I broke down. Emotionally broke down. As they slept in the next room, I was on the condo floor with my Bible and a bucket of tears – realizing it was time for the secret to be shared. My guilt, suppressed for years, had taken its toll on my soul. My secret was beginning to crack. The safe it was in was no longer safe. Figuratively speaking, the bodies I had buried were apparently not buried at all. My skeletons were coming out of the closet and there was nothing I could do – but confess.
And so I did.
In the beginning stages of brokenness, the only ones who knew the secret were the ones that were in a position to help. That is, until the secret jumped out a window, ran into the front yard, got into a nearby taxi and made its way down the street. Very quickly, it travelled beyond the walls of help. Apparently, the town gossip (a ministry leader in town) made it her mission to share it with others and, as a result, my secret was leaking faster than Wiki. Life, as I knew it, would never be comfortable again. My darkest sins felt like they were on the city billboard. The scarlet letter was now permanently branded on my chest.
In the early days, I resented this woman and those who were sharing my secret with others. Not only did I hate the sin, hate getting caught and hate the consequences they brought – but I hated the exposure that came with it. My once good name was no longer good. I had fallen off the pedestal. All the good deeds I had done were simply erased from the ledger. It is hard enough to go through a personal crisis or moral failure privately. It is excruciating to wade through the moral muck publicly. I can’t even imagine the celebrities (actors, politicians, musicians, etc.) that have to publicly climb out of their immoral fishbowl after national or international exposure. The pain, at any level, is virtually unbearable.
For me, several years have gone by since the initial exposure. I have had time to work on my “stuff” and begin to heal from the pain caused by the sin, broken relationships and public fall from grace. And I have come to a surprising revelation – after the dust has settled. Simply put,
There is a blessing in the billboard.
Billboards are the highway’s advertisements. Located off of major roads, they are designed to get the message out to as many people as possible. Yes, it’s hard to have your sins listed publicly. It’s really tough to have your long-held secrets shared in open forum. It’s deflating to discover your darkest stain is mentioned under the guise of a prayer request, the church’s justification of gossip. And when living in the age of Google and Bing – the search engines used by the planet – a traditional billboard would be a welcomed alternative.
As time has gone on, I have discovered some blessings in the billboard. There are 4 distinct advantages in having your darkness exposed publicly by the light:
1) For starters, the secret is no longer a secret. Bad things grow in the dark. Good things grow in the light. The cockroach of your secret scurries away from the brightness of the light. Like hydrogen peroxide on a fresh wound, light has a purifying effect. Though painful at first, the light will soon become the preferred environment to dwell in. A secret-free life is a free life indeed.
2) As painful as it is, your past mistakes (publicly mentioned) can help others avoid the pothole you fell in. Though most of us have to learn the hard way, there are a precious few who learn by the mistakes of others. Your sins on a billboard help them see the “bridge is out” sign long before they get there.
3) Everyone can fall. You are in a unique position to show others how to rise again. If your secret was revealed privately, very few people would know what you are overcoming. But when your name is in lights – everyone can see that restoration is possible and what it can look like. Public disgrace can turn into a trophy of grace.
4) Pride is the root of all sin. We often get into the trouble we do because of pride and pride keeps us from getting help or getting out. When your world does finally crash on you, a humbling of sorts takes place. When your private moments are broadcast on a public billboard – it creates a humility that can scarcely be found anywhere else. And that humbling experience, as hard as it is, can keep you from moving back to the land of secrets.
The truth is, secrets live where God wants to dwell – in the heart. And God doesn’t share His space well. When He finds darkness where there should be light, He does what He does best – heart surgery. And unfortunately for us, His kind of surgery is often without anesthesia.
And it’s motivated by love because He likes His children in the Light – away from the bondage of secrets.
“I am not what I ought to be, not what I want to be, not what I hope to be. But still, I am not what I used to be. And by the grace of God, I am what I am.” – John Newton, former slave trader & writer of the popular hymn, Amazing Grace.
“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.” (Ephesians 5:8-13)