I can still picture the scene vividly in my mind. I had been away from home for some years and was back to visit my parents. My mother and I were alone in the car. She was driving. Our conversation edged into dangerous territory when she informed me that a man from the church in which I grew up had been arrested for child abuse.

The silence filled the space between us. Then my mother said in a small uncertain voice,

“Nothing like that ever happened to you.”

“Why do you say that?” I asked.

“Well because, of course we would have known at the time if it had,” she replied.

But it did happen to me. And they did not know. I never told and certainly no one ever asked until this day in the car twenty years after the events. Even then it was not entirely clear whether she was genuinely asking a question or making a statement. But I sensed, if it was a question, she did not really want to hear the answer and, at that time, I was not eager to reply. I mumbled some vague response and, relieved of the burden of pursuing the topic, we moved on to other matters.

I wonder now, who in my past should have known, could have known, might have known. I am touched by the power of denial. After my shaky pre-adolescent start in the realm of sexuality, I had no inclination to talk about my earliest experiences. I believe I sensed at the time, that this was a part of my life about which no one else in my world wanted to know. So, we joined in an agreement of denial. I never spoke; no one ever asked.

It was not until I felt compelled by the desire to finally be fully known, that I shared this part of my life with one person. And it was only many years after I spoke with the woman who would become my wife about my initiation into sex, that I ever alluded to it in public.

I wonder now about the power the dance of denial has in our lives. What painful price do we pay in order to keep secret from others, and perhaps even from ourselves, those parts of our lives we don’t want to see or to be seen? How do we know when we are living in denial? If our denial is deep enough, is it possible we do not even know ourselves what it is from which we are hiding? How do we communicate to those who are closest to us that there are certain areas into which we do not want to shine the light of truth?

But perhaps most important of all, how can we find our way past denial? How do I become a person who is willing to bear the truth of my life with all of its shadows? How do I become a person around whom others do not feel they need to hide?

Denial builds a dangerous environment of deceit and duplicity.

Jesus said, “the truth will make you free.” (John 8:32) There is no doubt the opposite is also true. We are bound by the realities we refuse to face and feel forced to deny. This does not mean we must announce to all the world every secret we have ever held. But human flourishing requires that we be willing to be fully known by someone.

The gift of love I experienced when I first met Heather unlocked in me the desire to be seen. I knew that any denial I practiced with her would rob us of the depth of relationship I sensed we could share. There are no topics that are off-limits, no areas in which we have entered into the deadly agreement of denial.

The terrain of our lives becomes too confused and confusing when we live with the constant tension of hiding large chunks of our experience. We will only be free when we are willing to know and to share the full truth about our lives. When our experience is brought into the light, we discover that there is no darkness that is greater than the light. We find that the shadows are not more real than the purity and truth that is God’s presence at the heart of our being.