Everyday Encounter with God

Pastor Sylvia's Encounters with God in the Midst of Everyday Life


Secret of the Salt Water Taffy

While we were in Idaho on vacation with husband’s family, one of my grandsons and I had a secret. Despite the fact that he struggles with his pre-adolescent weight, I packed several bags of salt water taffy with our food supplies. He and I share a love for all things sweet and chewy.

The day before we left I helped him fill a small plastic bag with his favorite colors and flavors. “Your mom might shoot me for giving this to you,” I said with a grandmotherly wink. The candy instantly became a secret between us.

As a pastor and counselor to sexual abuse survivors, I’m a professional secret-keeper. I’m often the first person to hear someone’s painful childhood stories. Giving words to the memories can be the first step to healing and wholeness. Some secrets need to be told. But is that true of all secrets?

From government conspiracies to couples having affairs, secrets permeate every level of our society. Although they have existed throughout time, social media has changed the rules of disclosure. Cultural norms once attached shame to many events in human life; now we struggle with the reverse. Today's families face new dilemmas about secrecy, privacy, and silence. There is an assumption that “telling all,” no matter how, when, or to whom--is morally superior to keeping silent.

I still remember when I learned the importance of keeping a confidence.

A friend of my mother came to visit one morning. They sat at the kitchen table while the friend poured out her heart. After she left, Mother made the visit into a teachable moment.  

“If my friend left her purse here, what would we do? Would we look inside it? Would we tell people what she keeps in her purse? Or would we hold onto it until she returned?”

“We would keep it ‘til she came back,” I said confidently.

“Yes. Today my friend left something much more valuable than her purse. She left her troubles here. And like her purse, it would be wrong for us to share them. They don’t belong to us.”

Although we encounter them in every area of life, secrets are perhaps most destructive when kept in the home. Families are support systems; our identity and ability to form close relationships with others depend upon the trust and communication we feel with loved ones. If family members keep secrets from each other--or from the outside world--the emotional fallout can last a lifetime.

When family members suspect that important information is being withheld from them, relationships corrode with suspicion. Some family members may respond to a secret with silence and distance, which affect areas of life that have nothing to do with the actual information.

Eventually the secret wedges a boulder between those who know it and those who don't. And children should never be encouraged to keep secrets from their parents. It erodes trust on both sides. A person who seeks to undo the damage caused by family secrets must accept that sometimes revealing the truth is not a betrayal, but a necessity.

Knowing when to keep and when to break a confidence can be tricky. Compared to the secrets I hear and will never disclose, a bag of taffy seemed innocent enough. Looking back, I wish I had thought it through a little farther.

The next morning at breakfast I took responsibility for both the taffy and the inappropriate secret. Sometimes I still struggle to know the difference between a purse and a baggie filled with taffy. Some secrets need to be kept. Others need to be told.