Secrets. Everyone’s got at least one. Some secrets are fun, like a surprise party. Others exciting, like a pregnancy. Secrets can also be heavy as they weigh on our conscience, monopolize our thoughts and blur our focus.
This week one of my children told me a secret. It was a secret held close for quite some time. It wasn’t the fun, surprise party kind of secret. It was big. Burdening. Volatile. It was festering in a cloak of darkness. A secret that had secrets of its own, which it whispered into my child’s self talk. Lies, actually. Words from the pit. Poisonous arguments meant to bind my child in silence – a silence that sustained the secret and kept it safe.
But here’s a truth about secrets: a secret revealed has no power. That’s great encouragement, especially for those secrets we want hidden forever. Secrets that we fear, once known, will make us unlovable. I saw that fear in my child as they voiced their secret with a nervous courage. As the secret found expression, wonderful moments of victory erupted. A tightly closed door opened and light raced in to chase away darkness, deception and guilt. In the telling of what was hidden, my child was freed from a silent prison. Physical and emotional expressions of relief ensued. A celebration started as the power drained from a secret held painfully tight for too long.
And then we received an unexpected gift of grace. A gift born out of our interaction. My child expected me to respond to their revelation with some level of disappointment, anger, or even a lecture. That’s Ok. I’ve earned that presupposition. But by His grace, God blessed me with a calm spirit to receive the secret the way I would want my secrets received – carefully, gently, lovingly, gracefully.
How I listened and interacted with my child in a moment of intense vulnerability resulted in a memorable moment in our relationship. A small, but wonderful victory. The type of victory I yearn for. John Piper said, “God often disapproves of his children’s behavior. But he never treats us with contempt. Imitate him in your disapproving.” Too often my disapproval has tilted toward contempt – sometimes subtle, other times overt and judgmental. When really upset, I’ve been known to launch into a rehash of a tired 3-point sermon. Those are not my best moments. And that’s not how I would want to be treated. Nor it is how God treats me.
Jesus gives me blood-washed, bottomless grace for all my nastiness. He picks me up after all my stumbles. He knows about the secrets I’ve shared, and those I still keep. He receives me, not because of what I do, but because of who He is (Titus 3:5). That kind of treatment makes me want to do the hard work of growing a greater affection for Him and His kingdom. To be a better husband, father and friend. To be a better listener to my children’s joys, hurts, questions…and secrets.
I’m a recovering perfectionist. My recovery began several years ago with a “slap.” A slap of truth that woke me from dreams of a perfectly controlled life. A slap that caused me, for the first time, to ponder my affections.
I have affection for many things. Among them my wife, kids, old books, strong coffee, quiet mornings and bacon. My affections govern my thoughts, words and actions. My love for strong coffee results in frequent visits to Starbucks. I can’t resist a used bookstore. I hug and kiss Katrina and the kids. I like my bacon a bit soft. Affections are the energy – the voltage – that pushes us along the path of life (I’m also a recovering electrical engineer).
The transition to a new year offers a distinct opportunity for starts, stops and changes. This year I’m pondering, again, what I love. To who or what do I give my affection? My review is upwelling more regret than celebration. I’m finding that I still love things I shouldn’t, don’t love what I should, and am making my story the only story. I’ve found hints of perfectionism I thought were dead. Such discoveries bring disappointment, frustration and flashes of anger.
But amidst my unwelcomed discoveries glows a warm and steady hope. Hope fueled by the Great Affection. An affection for me that offers a chance to start, stop and change – not just at the transition to a new year, but every day. “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV) What great truth that is for this recovering perfectionist! Despite my failings, God’s compassions – His affections – never fail. Oh God, why do you extend to me your patient love? Why are you faithful when I prostitute my heart? When I love me more than You? When I give you leftovers instead of the first and best? When I refuse to be quiet, rest, listen and submit? Father, I don’t understand your Great Affection for me, but thank you.
In response to God’s love, I’m declaring 2011 a year of revolution: an “Affection Revolution.” This revolt is against my misplaced affections. Affections that want to love Chris more than Christ. Affections for the temporal with hope of gaining significance and security. I want to live more fully the greatest commands: to love God and love people. I want to grow in grateful giving. Jesus said we give our heart to what we love (Matthew 6:21). In perfectionism, I love myself – first. Such misplaced affection brings a lonely self-worship. I’m revolting against such selfishness. I pray that 2011 brings a more intimate walk with God that starves my affections for lesser things while fostering a greater affection – a first-place affection for Jesus Christ and His Church.
In addition to the verse from Lamentations above, the following quote from J.C. Ryle turns-up the voltage on my Affection Revolution. Perhaps you’d like to join my revolution and grow our love for Jesus Christ in 2011 – together?
“The man whose soul is “growing” takes more interest in spiritual things every year. He does not neglect his duty in the world. He discharges faithfully, diligently, and conscientiously every relation of life, whether at home or abroad. But the things he loves best are spiritual things. The ways, and fashions, and amusements, and recreations of the world have a continually decreasing place in his heart. He does not condemn them as downright sinful, nor say that those who have anything to do with them are going to hell. He only feels that they have a constantly diminishing hold on his own affections, and gradually seem smaller and more trifling in his eyes. Spiritual companions, spiritual occupations, spiritual conversation, appear of ever-increasing value to him. Would anyone know if he is growing in grace? Then let him look within for increasing spirituality of taste.” (J.C. Ryle – Holiness, p. 107)