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What’s Your Secret?

Using confession to reach wholeness of heart and wholeness of relationship  

In 2004, Frank Warren, a businessman from Maryland, decided to find out what secrets people held on to and had never told anyone. He printed 3,000 self-addressed postcards with an invitation to mail him an anonymous personal secret. Artistic expression was encouraged.

He then placed these cards in public places where people would find them and respond — Starbucks tables, in the pages of books at the library, benches in museums, etc. At first, a few cards made their way back to his address. After four years, he’d received over 300,000 postcards. Some of the secrets were on the cards he’d created, while many more came back on homemade postcards.

People wanted to tell their darkest secrets to a guy they didn’t know and would probably never meet. It was as if the pressure that had built up over time had finally been given an outlet. Warren continues to get 100 to 200 postcards a day! So many have come in that he published compilations of some of the secrets in a series called “PostSecret.”

One of my all-time favorite secrets was sent to Warren on the sleeve of a Starbucks cup, reading, “I give decaf to customers who are rude to me!” As difficult as it sometimes may be without caffeine in my system, I am now extra careful to treat my Starbucks barista with excessive care, respect and gratitude.

The PostSecret projects might tap into our voyeuristic tendencies, and sending in a postcard may make us feel better knowing that our secrets are known by someone. But while this idea is a good one, it is far from complete.

James didn’t tell us to confess our sins (5:16) anonymously via the U.S. Postal Service; rather his encouragement was to confess to a living, breathing person. It is difficult to pray for “Anonymous” and impossible to respond. The ministry of Jesus was always personal and never anonymous. James carried the way of Jesus into confession. Confession needs to be personal … so people we know can personally pray with and for us.

To confess anonymously without involving others, without engaging the community of God, is a good exercise in navel gazing.

It’s interesting but ultimately unproductive. It would be nice if anonymous confession was all it took. It might be a baby step, but it is definitely not the last step. God has something bigger in mind. Something that requires giving up on the feeling of security by holding things in. Something that requires letting your walls down and showing the darkness in your heart to someone else. I love James 5:16 in The Message: “Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed.” God’s reason for confession to another human being is about wholeness of heart and wholeness of relationship.

Copyright 2011 Aaron Stern. What’s Your Secret? published by David C Cook. Publisher permission required to reproduce. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Aaron Stern

Aaron Stern is the pastor of Mill City Church in Ft. Collins, Colo., and the founder of the LEAD Network, a nationwide resource that trains young adult pastors. He likes getting the mail, Mountain Dew and the smell of sawdust. He dislikes folding laundry, the NFL off-season and tomatoes. Aaron is the author of What’s Your Secret? Freedom through Confession. He and his wife, Jossie, have four boys.


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