Skip to main content

The issues we’re afraid to share

Sin, brokenness, as the Church has always said, can be a “happy fault,” an invitation to a new beginning. It Radical Spirit by Joan Chittistercalls us to reflect on the way we live and think and direct our lives until we can change our bearings once again. It is this unending grace of change that is the tether to which we cling as the waves of life shred the sails that have brought us to this point.

But silent admission is not enough. For that, the steps of humility have a clearer message. Growth is a process, an unending process, they teach us: Reflect on the pain. Discern its origin. Find models whose own experiences can help to reconstruct its meaning. And, most of all, understand that confession—the unburdening of the past—is never too late. Confrontation of the unfinished parts of ourselves and self-revelation is forever the key to freedom from the past as well as freedom for the future.

It is one thing to talk, as Saint Benedict does, about self-revelation as a step to humility. After all, who would doubt that? What’s left of hubris, of image, of pretense once we begin to expose the secrets of the soul? But, we have a right to wonder if superiors won’t use the information against us. If friends won’t reject us. If even the wisdom figures among us might not turn away. Those are fair concerns and deserve a great deal of thought before we begin to talk to anyone whose own spiritual depths are uncertain or whose ability to keep a confidence is in question.

And yet, the far more important questions are: What happens to the person who does not deal with the secrets of the heart? What kind of energy can a person bring to life who allows the past to clog the arteries of the mind? How confident can a person be who lives with the stress of fearing exposure? How emotionally stable is a person who spends life ignoring the Achilles’ heel that could well spill over into embarrassment—or breakdown—at any time? And how capable of helping others are those who harbor their own need to hide from themselves?

The issues we’re afraid to share, the things that rankle the soul but never get seriously examined, the researchers tell us, trigger an even greater search for meaning. We become rudderless, stuck in our aloneness with nowhere clear to go. The secret that lies within has control. The antidote to our fear is self-revelation with someone who can treat our scars daringly and lovingly. Then the liberation inherent in the fifth step of Benedictine humility is plain.

Benedict of Nursia has been called the Great Psychologist by those who study his Rule and marvel at his understanding of human development. In this step of humility, he is particularly astute. His concern is not for sinfulness in the negative sense of the word but for the effects of sin and brokenness in all our lives. Without addressing our brokenness, whatever burdens we carry stand to block our growth. The basic point is clear: We all need someone who will hold our lives in loving hands as we grow.

          —from Radical Spirit (Convergent), by Joan Chittister