A Note from Chris Adams: Last week, in How to Handle Messy Secrets, Part 1, Dr. Deb Douglas (First Baptist Church, Bossier City, LA) shared what we can do to be prepared when women share messy secrets with us. Now we focus on the power secrets hold on all women and providing solutions for those times when secrets threaten to tear apart small groups, women’s ministries, or friendships. These are the times when ministry gets messy because of toxic secrets.
Here’s how you, as a leader, can use this article:
- Absorb the information to help you recognize the cause of problems that creep in and destroy.
- Share the information with women who are haunted by secrets or have been harmed by secrets.
- Let this article encourage you to step in when toxic secrets are being shared in small groups. Toxic secrets can destroy a women’s ministry!
What is a messy, toxic secret?
Secrets can be fun, like when we are planning a surprise 40th birthday party for our best friend or when we know our sister’s baby is a girl before anyone else does. But some secrets are devastating to the holder of the secret and to others. It is tempting to bury the harmful secrets in our lives instead of processing them and dealing with their implications. Secrets that are not dealt with begin to destroy the secret holder causing stress, anxiety, and fear. Bitterness and anger can take over the secret holder’s life, which makes her and everyone around her miserable, creating a pressurized situation waiting for the secret to erupt.
What’s the harm of a toxic secret?
Secrets rarely stay secret. As the toxicity begins to fester and cause more problems, the secret is revealed. Sometimes it happens in an explosion that harms other people. Sometimes this happens in ways that could have been avoided.
How do you avoid creating more problems?
- Recognize that secrets are surrounded in hurts. Burying hurts without healing creates an environment for more people to be hurt.
- Remember that God is the healer of our hurts. Turn to Him.
- Know that holding on to a secret to protect others rarely works.
- Seek out wise counsel and help from professionals to know how to share the secret and heal from the hurts caused by it.
- Know who to trust. Instead of sharing the secret randomly, pray over who should learn the secret.
What do you do when messy secrets become a part of your life?
When you share your secret with a leader, counselor, minister, mentor, or friend:
- Understand they will probably forget it (which is actually a good thing because what is not remembered can’t be shared). Their lives do not revolve around your secret. Yes they care, but they may be actively caring for many hurting women at the same time, while they are also struggling to balance their own lives.
- Think before sharing. Ask yourself, “What is the consequence if this secret is shared further?”
- If later regrets about sharing the secret arise, be honest with the person with whom it has been shared. Tell them about the fear of having the secret shared.
- If you’re feeling that the secret holder has power over you:
- Think before acting. Is this a reality or is fear creeping in?
- Understand that attacking the holder of your secret is inappropriate. Yes, they may know more than you are comfortable with, but you made a choice to share. Trust the person will not share the secret further. Pray, asking for peace and reassurance.
- If your secret is shared further and the confidentiality and trust of the secret is broken, confront the secret holder in a private, loving way. If you are uncomfortable doing so, ask another leader to go along with you.
- As a leader, remember that secrets do not have an expiration date. If you are told a secret, you are to respect the confidentiality of that secret.
When someone is sharing another’s secret in a small group:
- Someone say something! This is the time to interrupt! If the leader is slow to respond, do not wait for the leader or someone else to act. Interrupt. You cannot unhear a secret. Stop the unhealthiness. Here are some suggestions of how to do so:
- Stop and pray.
- Say, “I am sorry but I feel uncomfortable with this information being shared.”
- Be honest. Interrupt by saying, “Sharing secrets in this way is harmful.”
- Note: Setting boundaries for a small group in advance may prevent such opportunities for secrets to be shared. Having rules about prayer requests and being honest about appropriate sharing will keep all small group members and their secrets safe.
When the secret involves someone being harmed:
- Seek professional help immediately!
When the secret involves an unfaithful spouse:
- Pray before acting.
- Seek advice from a professional in how to respond.
- If led, confront the unfaithful spouse and suggest counseling.
When the secret involves immoral, unholy actions of a leader:
- Pray before acting.
- Seek advice from the pastor or another ministry leader.
- Go to the leader, but have someone accompany you.
When the secret could destroy a family:
- Remember family secrets often have deep roots.
- Generational secrets create generational issues and fears, but generational secrets can end with this generation.
- Families are resilient; God can heal what we think is impossible to be healed.
When the secret is something we wish we did not know:
- While we cannot unhear a secret, we can forgive and move on with God’s grace and help. Pray!
- Remember you did not ask or wish to know the secret.
- Remember you did not cause the situation. Keep mental space away from the secret by reminding yourself this is not your secret, but someone else’s.
Messy toxic secrets have the potential to destroy, but with God’s leadership, healing, and grace we can move past the secrets and into healing. Understanding the potential of the secrets can help us stop the long-term impact of toxic secrets. With prayer, secrets can provide the first step toward healing rather than destruction.
For more help and resources on ministering in the messy, check out Women Reaching Women in Crisis and Steps: Gospel-Centered Recovery or refer to the other articles in the Hurting Women or Ministering in the Messy categories.
Dr. Deb Douglas has served in women’s ministry for over 37 years. Now she spends her time working with Purchased Ministry, a ministry to women in the sex trade industry. Deb is also the Director of Biblical Counseling at First Baptist Church, Bossier City, LA. She was the first to graduate from New Orleans Baptist Theological seminary with a Masters degree focusing on women’s ministry and has earned a Doctor of Education in Ministry degree from NOBTS. She is “Pearl” to 3 sweet grand babies, “Mom” to Jared Douglas and Katie Chavis, and wife/sweetheart to Paul Douglas.