Much of my early preparation for yesterday’s message happened while on a student mission trip earlier this summer. So I didn’t have my books or my study aids.
Instead, all I had was Genesis 2 & 3, a pen & paper, and some early morning quiet time.
I think that process made the message a bit less linear and a bit more free form than usual. I also believe that made it heavy on different ways of saying the same thing.
In any event, it seemed to resonate with many people’s experiences. Evidently, there is a code of silence in many families — modern day fig leaves.
Called The Worser Part Of Valor, this first message in Nooks & Crannies lands at this bottom line:
What you don’t talk about poisons what you do.
In every household represented here, there are things you just don’t talk about. Stories you just don’t share. Sometimes it’s good, necessary, and discretion really IS the better part of valor. Like that bride who a couple of days before the wedding discovered that the mother of the GROOM had bought the exact same dress for the wedding as her mom, the mother of the BRIDE. So in a panic, bride-to-be tells her mom. Mom is cool about it, though, and says, “That’s OK. I’ll just wear a different dress to the wedding.” “But Mom!” the bride says, “What will you do with the dress you’ve already bought?” “That’s easy,” mom said. “I’ll just wear it to the rehearsal dinner.” And THAT one stayed in the vault of family secrets. Understandably kept on the downlow.
But from that, understandable, possibly helpful list of things we keep under wraps, it often morphs into more. Those times when discretion is not the better part of valor, but is instead something dangerous and even toxic. Because there are issues in the nook and the cranny of every household here – single, blended, nuclear, extended – that people just don’t talk about. Histories, wounds, patterns, secrets. It goes on between husbands and wives, parents and children, even into extended systems & generations. There are times when we decide it’s too painful, too hard, too secret to dredge up anymore if at all. And many times, we operate under the assumption that if we don’t talk about it, it might just go away.
I think about that guy who told me that his world turned upside down when he learned at 15 that his own father had been married before. As far as secrets go, that one’s not that inflammatory but the damage was enduring. Simply because the info was withheld. But I know some of you grew up in the middle of stuff that was much more serious that you didn’t talk about; others are in one of those marriages right now, and still others are raising your kids that way. Even like that other friend I have who I have known forever and told me not long ago, “We all knew my mom was drinking herself to death but we were never allowed to talk about it.” Someone’s there today. For others it’s the abuse that’s been denied, hidden, avoided. For others it’s the grief that you’re supposed to be OVER. And then for others it’s the pattern of job loss and what leads to it and why is it always someone else’s fault? For still others it is that years-ago abortion and its enduring impact on intimacy and parenting today. Our natural reaction in the face of these & other family traumas is to hide, to cover, to secretize because so many of us believe that if we ignore it, it will go away.
And it is so interesting to me to see where this behavior originates. In the beginning. I mean, THE BEGINNING. The first couple, who in such a vital sense represent all of us. Take a look at Genesis 2:25:
Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
Now this naked-and-no-shame means that there was a level of intimacy between this man and this woman that we can approach these days. The intimacy was physical, yes, but it was emotional, personal, spiritual; it was at every level possible and at the deepest level possible. There was nothing between them.
Except all that changes when they eat the fruit (btw, did you know you can read all of Genesis 3 and never see the word “apple”?). See, most of the time this story gets told and re-told as a rather simple tale of sin entering the world and that’s partly true, but the reality of these words on a page is much more layered than that. Because look what happens shortly after they eat of the fruit: READ 3:7:
Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
So immediately, they go into hiding from each other. There are things about themselves that they don’t want the other to see. Physical things for sure, but emotional things as well. Secrets have entered the picture in the form of fig leaves. Intimacy interrupted
But they don’t only hide from on another. Look at 3:8-10:
8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
They hide from God as well. They’ve got a secret – they’ve done the one thing he told them not to do, just like the time you took out your parents’ car or you watched that movie or you took that drink – and they don’t want God to find out. They are keeping a secret from God. I love the question in 3:9 – as if God doesn’t know the answer!
And as part of the discovery, look why Adam says he’s been hiding in 3:10. He hides because he’s got something he wants to cover up. Not only his body but his soul. What had been all in the open, what had been the height of intimacy w/ his wife and his God is now under wraps. Or leaves.
And these leaves – and how they did an adequate job of covering up, I don’t know, but my children’s illustrated bible tells me so – show something much more significant: there’s no intimacy anymore. Poison has replaced it. The secret these two tried to keep from God very quickly escalates into secrets they keep from each other. This, this is part of our heritage, GS! It’s built into the human race from the very beginning: to mess up and cover up. I do it, you do it, we all do it, and it started early. And it is so abundantly clear that our first impulse is to hide, to cover up, to secretize what needs to be sanctified. Because what happened in Eden put its imprint on every generation that followed, including yours, including mine. The most natural reaction of every household is to cover up, to evade, to avoid, to slowly but surely add to the list of things we don’t talk about.
And here’s how we’ve added to & even perfected the legacy of Adam & Eve: we’ve got so many more distractions than they did. (They had, like, NONE!) We’ve got our shows. We’ve got our politics. We’ve got our sports. And now . . . and now . . . we have our DEVICES! We retreat into the silent, private worlds where secrets pile up, where TWO DIMENSIONAL relationships start, where topics are avoided and where shame escalates. Man, I was at dinner recently & in my line of vision witnessed the ultimate 21st C dinner date: guy & girl, in a booth, both hunched over like this. So dialed in to the virtual world they were tuned out of the real one. And all the while what we don’t talk about piles up.
And then the story’s conclusion in 3:11-13:
11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
Because you know what I can’t get away from? The first couple’s first dinner OUT OF EDEN. The man, “Uh, woman, why did you hand me that fruit?” The woman: “Uh, man, do you remember who you blamed when God asked you . . .?” But even more, notice who the man really blames for his sin: “The woman YOU put here w/ me” – IOW, God, this is your fault! Poison between the couple; poison towards God. You know why? Looking at what gets imprinted from the First Family into every one that follows? What you don’t talk about poisons what you do. That’s the nook; those are the crannies. You think the stuff you’re avoiding goes away when actually it festers, like a sore, and ends up dominating what you actually do talk about. What gets left UNSAID controls what is SAID.
I am more than likely not telling you anything you don’t already know. I am instead giving you some language to explain what you feel intently. You know better than I how the addiction, the grief, the abuse, even the personal failures that are so skillfully avoided in family lore are actually the truest thing about your household.
And God wants better & God wants different. These early stories tells us what longs for. Look at Gen 2:25, BEFORE the fruit and the fall: READ. Naked & no shame. The opposite of 3:7: I was ashamed. The Lord wants us in the place of 2:25. Because our friends in AA tells us that you’re only as sick as your secrets and so I want you to know the reverse is true as well: you’re only as well as your vulnerability. Secrecy is natural. Honesty is supernatural! If secrecy is the fallout of the fall, then honesty must be the result of redemption! That’s what I long for the nooks & crannies of GSUMC! What you don’t talk about poisons what you do.
Oh Lord, couples: when is the last time you knelt on either side of the bed and asked, “how is it between us? What is unspoken that needs articulation?” Where is there honesty about struggles & failures. I will tell you: in general, guys are clueless about their spouse’s unhappiness. Clueless until the crisis, by which time it’s too late. In parenting, how are you using your honesty redemptively? Dads: more than likely your son WILL get caught in that internet stuff, even briefly, and you can either say, “I never saw any of that stuff; it’s disgusting!” or you can tell the truth. Do you think my record is spotless? That’s the kind of truth that sets both you and him free and sets the table for healing and holiness. What you don’t talk about poisons what you do.
And here’s the real revelation. When I sort of warn you about What you don’t talk about poisons what you do, it’s not just the DEPRESSING stuff we suppress; it’s the joyful as well. The euphoric. There’s a lot of good stuff that we don’t talk about and our immediate & extended families are the worse for it. That really hit home in Nov. of 2011, which is when I turned 50. And that’s the exact age my dad was when I was born! (Some of you are like oh, that explains everything.) But all of a sudden I wanted to know if he felt the same things that I did at 50: have I done enough? Am I leaving a mark? Am I professionally satisfied? Living up to my potential? But I don’t know any of that because he just didn’t talk about stuff like that. What made him tick? Where did he get the kind of resilience that made him rise up from NOTHING to be SOMETHING? I never knew because he didn’t really tell. A lot of good stuff he COULD HAVE shared but he came from a generation and a wiring that he didn’t. And I suspect he never knew the riches of the Genesis story & how it could have liberated. REFRAIN.
So: what’s the good stuff you’re not talking about? What appreciation needs to be expressed & articulated? What stories of resilience do you need to share with your kids? What will they need to know that you felt at 40 or 50 or even 60? Who has gotten a card, a letter, or an email from you telling them just how much they mean to you? I sent my son a text yesterday that said, “Have I told you recently how proud I am you’re my son? Becauase I am.” What you don’t talk about poisons what you do and it sure applies to the good stuff as well.
Because you know what I want to happen as a result of this message & this series? TVs get turned off. Devices get put down. Passwords shared. That’s right! For those of you who are married, if you’ve got secret passwords or separate bank accounts, nothing good can come of that! Nothing! Ever! So yeah, as a result of this sermon, I want you to put those devices down, share those passwords, and to stop substituting activity for inter-activity! What’s more, for some of you as a result of this, you’ll get into couples or family therapy – an unbiased outsider to help you with the difficult talking. For others, it means getting in a support group.
And for all, as you take part in the difficult but ultimately rewarding work of breaking the cycles of secrecy that have been entrenched from the beginning, you’ll discover in the nooks and the crannies the more honest you are, the more healthy you become.