“As Sick as Our Secrets”

Will Penner

In our little church in Meridian, Texas, I sang in the choir until the day our choir director left. At that point, I became the choir director. I was a junior in high school.

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One Foot In, One Foot Out

I was drawn to the church because I believed in God and felt something good coming from spiritual study and worship. I was also drawn to what I thought was a typical high school lifestyle, which included the excessive use of alcohol. I was actively involved at school and church and worked hard at my part-time jobs. I also drank every chance I got, and I drank as much as I could every time. On many Sunday mornings during my senior year, I led the choir while I was hung over from the night before.

Bursting the Bubble

One of the choir members finally pulled me aside. I thought I’d been balancing my life pretty well. He let me know that I had not. This man, a pillar of the church who joyously took on whatever task needed to be done, expressed compassion for me as a human being but also expectations for me as a church leader. He let me know I couldn’t keep my way of life a secret. While I continued to struggle with alcohol dependency, his willingness to bring up “the elephant in the room” helped me to begin the recovery process.

Deeper Issues

Years later, I became a youth pastor, in part because I wanted to help young people navigate some of the difficulties I had gone through. I was good at it—until Samantha started talking to me about cutting. I met with her for several months, and she seemed to be getting better.

When someone told me that her cutting was getting worse, I confronted Samantha. She had been lying to me about the extent of the cuts, which covered her arms, legs, belly—pretty much all of her body except her hands and face.

Calling her parents was awful, and Samantha felt that I had betrayed her. But she would not have begun to get better if we had kept her secret.

Secrets = Sickness

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I have walked with kids who were addicted to drugs, gambling, food, and pornography. I have counseled with them as they struggled to deal with terminal illness, abusive parents, family members in prison, and sexual identity issues. I have also worked with committed Christians, struggling agnostics, militant atheists, and self-proclaimed pagans. All of them had secrets.

In twelve-step recovery groups (Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous), one of the catch phrases is “We are as sick as our secrets.” The process of recovery includes a period of examining personal character traits by taking a moral inventory and talking about the findings with another person. Many people in recovery say that admitting what has been hidden offers them a sense of release, much like Christians who practice confession and find that they experience God’s forgiveness more fully when they tell their deep, dark secrets to another human being. As 1 John 1:9 (NRSV) points out, “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”



Every teenager should have at least one adult they trust, someone who assures them that no matter what they have done, what has been done to them, or what they believe, God loves them. Trustworthy adults may be youth leaders, pastors, teachers, coaches, counselors, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, the lady who sits across the aisle, the guy in the choir, the woman who walks her dog down the street.

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I guarantee that somewhere in your life is an adult you can trust with all of your deep, dark secrets. If a name doesn’t immediately come to mind, pray about it. Don’t stop praying until God brings someone to mind. Then start the conversation immediately. If you have no idea where to start, take this article with you and ask him or her to read it. Say that you are looking for someone who will help you get rid of your secrets, someone who will help be your light in the darkness. God will take it from there.

Will Penner is a husband, dad, teacher, speaker, author, editor, and minister. He is fortunate enough to have an amazing wife who is one of the confidants in his life to whom he can tell all of his deep, dark secrets.

—from devozine (September/October 2013). Copyright © 2013 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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