You are as sick as your sickest secret! That’s a phrase some Alcoholic Anonymous groups use to challenge people to understand what, at its roots, sobriety really is.
Drunkenness, of all kinds, has much more to do with lying than it has to do with alcohol, drugs or anything else. We are sober, truly sober, when we stop lying.
I point this out because today, everywhere, the prevailing temptation is to lie. Very little invites us to real honesty, to face our sickest secrets and make a searing act of contrition. Rationalization is more the rule and is, to my mind, perhaps the leading spiritual disease of our time.
Everything conspires with us to bury our sickest secrets so deeply that, after a time, we are no longer even aware that they are there and to rationalize them so that eventually we don’t even realize that they, and we, are sick.
This is a dangerous game. The health of our souls is what’s at stake here. Let me try to explain:
A few years ago, a 26-year-old filmmaker, made a movie which he intriguingly entitled Sex, Lies and Videotape. It won first prize at the Cannes festival. Deservedly so.
At the risk of an irreverent comparison, this movie makes a good commentary on the ninth chapter of John’s Gospel, where John uses his famous story of the man born blind to teach us a basic truth: We don’t have to be sinless, bright or even religiously interested to find Christ and eventually give ourselves over to him. We just have to be honest. We just have to stop lying!
Sex, Lies and Videotape says much the same thing, save it substitutes the concept of health for Christ.
Its story line is quite simple. A young man, with every kind of dysfunction in his background and with a sick sexual neurosis, makes a vow that he will never again tell a lie. Whatever other sin or whatever other folly he might fall into because of weakness, circumstance or hurt, he resolves that he will never again lie. And he invites others, in his own warped way, to follow him in this.
So he sets up a cheap video camera and invites people to come and, with as much honesty as they can muster, speak into the camera and tell the story of their sexual lives.
An interesting thing happens. Everyone who comes and who speaks honestly gets better, grows gentler and eventually gets healthy, irrespective of whatever weaknesses and perversions he or she has. Conversely, everyone who lies, who does not face the truth, slides ever deeper into hardness, rationalization and self-deception.
Maybe it’s stretching things to say that when those people face the camera and began to tell their sickest secrets we see the secular equivalent of the sacrament of confession.
But it is a curious irony that many people who, for all kinds of reasons, regard sacramental reconciliation with a certain disdain understand what was happening in this movie.
The point is as clear. The truth sets you free. When you stop lying and face and speak the truth, you change, the world changes, you get healthy, no matter what you’ve ever done and no matter what issues you are struggling.
Granted, the movie zeroes in on being honest in just one area, sex—and this is not incidental because sexuality is the area that we find it very hard to be really honest about—but its point is universally true. Health takes its roots in honesty. To lie, in any area of life, is to be somehow sick in every area of life.
The blind man in chapter nine of John’s Gospel, could be a character from Sex, Lies and Videotape. His blindness is more than physical. He’s blind to the truth, not interested in the way, the truth and the life. But they find him . . . because he refuses to lie.
Truth, Christ, life, light, health, these will find us too if we stop rationalizing and lying. NO honest heart will stray far or stay long from the truth.
A friend of mine who, in the passion of his youth, once did a colossally stupid thing, a thing which is now the source of considerable embarrassment for him, is, when he is confronted with his past mistake, fond of saying: “It seemed like a good idea at the time!”
I often wonder how different human history might have been had Adam and Eve—after eating the apple and being found by God, hiding, naked, cowering and ashamed—instead of rationalizing and blaming, simply said to God: “It seemed like a good idea at the time!”
Martin Luther once said: Sin bravely! There’s a wisdom of every sort in that. We are as sick as our sickest secret. The truth can set us free, but we must, at some point, stare our sickness in its face and honestly acknowledge it. Then the truth will find us, just as Christ found the man born blind.