"Rev., I want to tell you something, but you have to keep it conﬁdential. We don't want anyone else to know this."
"Sure Pete, you know I'll keep whatever you tell me strictly between us."
"Well, Rev., our son is an alcoholic. And he's only eighteen. He's getting treatment now and he's dried out at the present time, but you would not believe what hell we've gone through."
Keep it confidential!? The pastor has just agreed to keep secret something a supportive community should know about. He allowed himself to be cornered into keeping something private which belongs not to a couple of individuals, but to many other people who would want to show love, care, support, encouragement. This is no isolated experience.
It is more common than rare. People often withhold from their friends the hurts, fears, burdens, and also joys and victories of their private lives. It is standard behavior, I'm sad to say. Pete's pain, over his son, should not be his private property.
Pete may or may not be a church member; if not, there is nevertheless a group of people to whom he could, and should, be able to turn. But let's assume that he does belong to church. While Pete is the father, the alcoholic son belongs to the whole congregation. At his birth and baptism, Pete's son has been incorporated into the community with promises, spoken or implied, that he would be the object of their love and concern. They pledged to take care of him, to pray for him. He was their son, too. In the physical body, if the infected toe is not felt by the rest of the body, it is likely to go untreated and get worse. That rarely happens. The pain is always felt throughout the whole system and all of our physical resources are mobilized to help heal it. That is how healing happens. Every day, some of us innocently conspire to prevent The Body from taking care of its ailing parts.
We do this by requesting secrecy and agreeing to keep secret the hurts, concerns, worries, ills, tragedies, occurring in various parts of Christ's body. So we hold close to our vests our own fears, heartaches, and illnesses. One of the marks of Christ's church is bearing each other's burdens. It is a body! No part is weakened without it affecting the rest, whether they know it or not. A cut toe is never a secret to the rest of the body.
We are expected to be open with each other. This is not risk free—it creates an uncontrollable condition of vulnerability because people sometimes mishandle our information. But the blessings far out-weigh the disadvantages, and dangers. It is a key to being cared-for, a beautiful condition. Jesus’ spirit will help us in all our little ‘churches’ (classes, groups, ministries, friendship circles) to model transparency. It allows others to bear our burdens and in doing so strengthens us and The Body, of which we are part.
So, to be clear, let me assure you that I am fully aware of the negative feelings that prevent you from being open and vulnerable to the community of believers — shame, embarrasment, fear, a sense of privacy, worry and so forth. But, the benefits of receiving love, support, compassion, and help from others far outweigh the risk. Please! Allow yourself to be vulnerable.