Why do many of us long for and cherish our confidants? We want to share with someone our great news and good fortune without being thought of as a braggart; a confidant knows how to hear us on such occasions. When we have done something that we regret or about which we are embarrassed we want to be able to talk it over with someone who won’t judge us and whom we’re sure will love us after our confession. There are those with medical conditions about which they don’t want most others to know, but they may discuss the issue with a single confidant.
We may have a public persona that has nothing to do with who we really are deep down inside; generally, I think it is unhealthy to live with such a dichotomy, but there are those in public life who are more or less forced to do so. I’m thinking of an actor, for example, who plays he-man, aggressive, hero roles, but in private he is timid and retiring. Somewhere, my guess is, he has a confidant who knows the real person. Who knows the real Oprah, for example? Not Steadman, but Gail!
A confidant is someone with whom we can be ourselves completely and trust not only that we will be heard as we intend to be heard, but also that what we share will be kept locked away in the heart of the one we embrace as our confidant. The news we share privately will not be broadcast at a later date for others, whom we did not intend to be privy to the secrets of our souls, to know.
Sometimes, the confidants we choose are friends or family members; at other times, we pay professionals to serve in that role. Some folks have a single confidant; others have several.
Typically, it is not in the interest of our emotional well-being to keep stirring news, whether we label it good news or bad news, bottled up inside. Telling the wrong person or the wrong people, however, can result in embarrassment, humiliation, or disaster.
If we are not paying a therapist or using a pastor to serve as our confidant, how do we find one? Here’s one of the worst ideas I’ve seen in a long time. There’s now a website called “College Confidant,” and it’s affiliated with Facebook. I can only imagine the reliability of those connections--telling absolute strangers that you can’t even look at face to face your deep, dark secrets and expecting them to guard your deep, dark secrets--please! The produce manager at your grocery store is a better bet!
Maybe you’ve heard of the older priest giving a novice priest some pointers about hearing confession. “Under no circumstances,” said the weathered priest, “no matter what you hear someone say from the other side of the confessional can you ever let yourself say, ‘Oh my Gooooooooooooooooooooooood!’”
I stumbled across a website called the Global Pastors’ Wives Network--not because I was looking for a wife or looking to become a wife; it was just one of those search things that happened. The advice there is, “You can’t find your own confidant. You have to rely on God to find your confidant for you.”
I broke a confidence once. It was way back when I was in seminary, and one of the guys I’d gone to college with and who had migrated to the same seminary I was attending--there were, actually, several of us there--suddenly disappeared. I stopped seeing him in classes. He was never around the coffee lounge. I began to get worried about him. There were no cell phones or Facebook sites back then. People didn’t share phone numbers as automatically as many seem to do in the era of caller ID.
I asked a mutual friend who said, “I’ll tell you where he is if you won’t breathe a word to anybody.” I was good at keeping secrets; still am. The story I’m telling is my only flub up in that area for life, I think. So the mutual friend told me that the guy I was missing had been kicked out of the seminary for cheating. As I recall he had plagiarized big time on a paper, and the professor in the course immediately recognized the material as having come from a professional journal in the field, a journal that the professor read from cover to cover every time an issue arrived. Readmission would be considered after the rest of that semester plus one other full semester. My recollection is that he ended up transferring to another seminary where was admitted on probation, but allowed to continue his studies right away.
So the players in this drama so far are three. The guy who plagiarized, the guy who told me, and me. Now we add a fourth. He was also a graduate of our college, but he was attending a different seminary many states away. One night when we were chatting by phone, I told him what had happened--not to gossip, but because I was so surprised and because he was a friend who had been my confidant on many occasions.
A few days later, I got a call from the local guy who’d told me about the dismissal from seminary episode saying, “All these years I’ve trusted you and thought you’d be the last person ever to break a confidence.” My stomach dropped. I knew where this conversation was going, but I couldn’t imagine how it happened and didn’t really want to know. I just wanted to run away and hide my face in shame.
Well, the guy to whom I’d told the story had called the guy who plagiarized and told him what he’d heard from me and who I’d heard it from. I had been caught red-tongued. There was no reason trying to make excuses or trying to put a positive spin on a story that could not be redeemed. I was as guilty as Bill Clinton would be one day and with no word games on which to rely.
I certainly don’t tell you this story today because I’m proud of it, but because I experienced first hand how much breaking someone’s confidence can hurt someone. Believe me, I learned my lesson, but I still feel bad about what I did these many years later--some thirty years to be precise. I called and apologized to all parties, but once the milk has been spilled, you can’t get it back into the glass. The young man who plagiarized made a mistake, and he had every right to keep that error his secret for life. I do think the guy I told should have kept his mouth shut, but he did nothing worse than I had done in telling him so I’d botched it. I was at fault.
If I needed someone to talk to about that situation, I should have sought out a counselor, unrelated to any of us or the college or the seminary. Then I could have spoken as freely as I chose about how I wished this person had not plagiarized and how I wished people going into the ministry didn’t use other people’s material as their own.
Thankfully, many people since then have found me a suitable, dependable confidant, who knows that privileged information they share with me goes no where else. Not to my friends. Not to members of my family. Not to National Inquirer.
The television show, “In Therapy,” made a big impact on me in regard to something I already knew: how much a therapist needs her or his own therapist. There are matters one hears as others share their secrets that do need to be discussed with an outside professional.
I don’t see a therapist regularly, but when I feel that I’m juggling too much emotionally then to stay healthy for you and for me and for my family, I do see a therapist on short-term bases. Once I was feeling overwhelmed with grief. It may have been soon after Dad died when I had my personal grief being built on by the grief of losing members of my beloved church family. This therapist wasn’t sympathetic at all, which, of course, was my way of finding out he wasn’t the therapist for me. My “standby” therapist had been taken off my panel of options by my health insurance company so I couldn’t go back to her. The new-to-me therapist I was seeing for the first time said, “I just don’t understand your concern. People live. People die. You have to get used to, and it seems to me in your job you’d have made peace with it long ago.” Bad choice as a confidant for me. I said, “So, Doc, how much do I owe you for today.”
He said, “Our session isn’t over.”
I said, “Oh, but it is. This session and all future sessions. Grief is real, and it seems to me in your job you’d have realized that long ago.”
I was thinking about two great stories of confidants in Christian scripture. One has Jesus in the role of confidant, and other has Jesus’ mother, while pregnant with him, seeking out a confidant with whom she could discuss the complications of being pregnant and unmarried in her situation. Both of these stories are familiar, but let’s consider them chronologically.
So, Mary who is about 13 or 14 years old is pregnant. She had been promised in marriage to Joseph, maybe since she was a little girl. Puberty was a sign that she could now be married, but she and Joseph were not yet married. They were, however, engaged--plus. Mary was betrothed to Joseph, which allowed for sexual activity before the actual marriage vows.
I imagine that in the time Mary found herself pregnant in her home culture, with betrothal being the widely practiced norm, there were lots of young women hitting puberty betrothed to a young man taking his first wife or an older man taking a second or a third wife with the young woman ending up pregnant before the marriage vows were taken. Mary’s pregnancy wasn’t going to stir anyone up because she was pregnant and not yet officially married. The potential she problem she faced as the story was crafted out of a mix of fact and fiction was that she became pregnant by someone other than Joseph. This was a serious problem because since Mary was already attached to him legally; he could have had her put to death on charges of adultery. Mary did not face public condemnation as in The Scarlet Letter; Mary faced possible retaliation from her betrothed, the man who would become her husband by plan and design put in place since she’d been a little girl.
Mary was getting to the point physically that she couldn’t hide her condition even behind the big loose robes women like her wore. Mary needed to talk things through with someone who wouldn’t condemn her; she chose her cousin, Elizabeth, who also happened to be pregnant at the time, as her best hope for her confidant.
Now, those who believe in the immaculate conception of Jesus--that is, that God Godself impregnated Mary--have to deal not only with a husband who could go berserk here, but also with the fact that Mary’s sexual partner had been God. So, Mary was going to have to say to Joseph, “Yes, I’m pregnant, and, no, you’re not the father, but it was no one in town; it was God who impregnated me.” Not only is that the story Mary wanted Joseph to believe, but also that is the version of the story the institutional church has wanted everyone to believe after that point.
Elizabeth, Mary’s confidant, had no trouble believing the “God impregnated me” story or the extension of the story that said the result in Mary’s womb was God’s own child. She believed the story Mary told exactly as Mary told it and became caught up in all the related excitement. Mary’s secrets were safe with Elizabeth, and she completely affirmed Mary in all of her awkwardness and fear.
As the story goes, Mary didn’t have to tell Joseph what he’d have found it very hard to believe. An angel took on that job, and the details were much more believable so Joseph bought the whole story and became Mary’s protector.
There are a variety of other theories about how Mary’s pregnancy came about--ranging from her having been raped by a Roman soldier to the most logical explanation of all that Joseph was the father of Jesus, which is what I believe. Jesus could have been God’s unique child born to two human parents and still have been God’s Anointed. In any case, Mary got great comfort from her cousin--and probably about some advice about how to manage the latter stages of pregnancy, which Elizabeth was at that moment living through. A thirteen year old girl needed an abundance of encouragement. We might imagine that Mary’s mother had already died. Life expectancy, especially for childbearing women wasn’t very long in that time and place. Elizabeth may have been like a big sister or an older aunt; we have no clues as to Elizabeth’s age. We simply know that she was an excellent confidant to a frightened young pregnant girl.
Jesus and the Pharisees, the Pharisees being the conservative Jews of the day, orally sparred with each other practically all the time. If a Pharisee showed any sympathy for Jesus, he was taken to be weak and, perhaps, something of a traitor. There was one of these Pharisees, though, who became more than passingly suspicious that Jesus was onto something. He knew in his heart he had to find a way to converse with Jesus because he believed that Jesus had a piece to the spirituality puzzle he, Nicodemus, needed and wanted. How in the world do you approach someone in public whom you’ve made it perfectly clear is your enemy? Well, you could send an emissary to test the waters or you could write a letter or you could arrange a sneaky meeting; Nicodemus chose the latter.
The writer of the Fourth Gospel, John’s Gospel, tells us that Nicodemus came to Jesus by night. The little prepositional phrase speaks volumes; by night. A friend might come by night or even a neighbor, but a stranger wouldn’t normally have come by night. Since, as I believe, Jesus had been a Pharisee until he decided that he couldn’t be a part of any political party--not a Pharisee, not a Republican, a Democrat, or a Sadducee or a Zealot--Jesus and Nicodemus might well have already been acquainted as a result of their work together when Nicodemus was in the same political party with Jesus. Even if that had been the case, their differences had long since come between them; it wasn’t a friendly call. Nicodemus took a huge risk both in terms of facing possible rejection from his fellow Pharisees who’d all agreed to hate Jesus and facing possible rejection from Jesus himself who might not have been willing to bury the hatchet and give Nicodemus the information he sought. Jesus might not have given him the time of night.
Not surprisingly, though, Jesus received him warmly and as a respected peer. Nicodemus sought out Jesus as a confidant, and that’s exactly the role Jesus filled.
Nicodemus had come to an uncomfortable place along his life path, a similar place to which almost every Silverside member or friend has also come at some point in her or his life--some long ago, some recently. It’s that place where we know that the way we’ve been practicing religion up to now, though we may still respect the people involved and their efforts and concerns, is absolutely not working for us any more, and if it’s the only way we have open to us we will give up religion altogether because we are honest people. Realistically, Silverside is the last stop on the spirituality pathway for a number of us.
Nicodemus came to Jesus in particular because Jesus did not condemn Judaism, even those parts that weren’t working any more; instead, he said he wanted to polish up what was rusty. Jesus believed that with a few basic adjustments, Judaism could continue as the great religion it had been. Without those adjustments, however, it could not go on as a healthful, workable entity for Jesus and several other Jews like Nicodemus and, say, John the Baptist, to name a couple.
Jesus became Nicodemus’ confidant, and though he, Nic, was a respected teacher in his own right he humbled himself before the man he had made his ideological enemy, and said, “Jesus, it’s not working for me. Please tell me how to connect to God.”
Jesus said, “Been there, Nic! The rules we’ve both tried to keep most of our lives won’t get us anywhere with God.We’ve been so ingrained in the old way of looking at things that our only hope is to be born again. Being born again doesn’t mean conversion to the most traditional and conservative ways of thinking about God anyone has ever come up with. It means being born into an entirely different realm where the rules we have cherished and kept with such precision don’t even exist. All that matters is the connection to God itself.”
Nicodemus said, “We can’t change the circumstances of our physical birth or our spiritual birth. These are givens.”
Jesus said, “Physical birth: true. Spiritual: false. You can change it all if you’re willing to change the way you’ve always looked at God and been taught to look at God. Nic, I think spreading that word is my mission, my reason for being, what God has called me to do. For God so loved the whole world that God tapped me out to preach that everyone who will faith in God will find life in this world and the next.”
Had Nicodemus not reached out to Jesus as his confidant, he’d never have learned the truth he sought. No one else could have explained it so clearly and with such understanding. Also, no one would be more faithful in keeping Nicodemus’ struggle a matter of confidence than Jesus.
I’m thinking of some key people I took into my confidence at significant points in my life, and I can’t even explain fully the gift these people gave to me by becoming my confidants at critical junctures along the way.
To my Dad, I finally had the courage to say, on the phone on day, “I’m so excited about becoming a father, Dad, and I’m enthusiastically involved with everything Lindon wants to do with the nursery and the birthing classes. The showers are fun for her, and all the interest people are taking in us is nice; but, Dad, I have to tell you, I’m scared to death. I think I can be a good dad; I want to be a GREAT dad, but I’m scared to death, Daddy. What if I’m no good at it? What if I make bad decisions that hurt my kids?”
Dad said, “Hum. I never thought about it. Your mom told me she wanted to have kids, and she asked me if I thought we could afford it. I didn’t think anything more about it. Next thing I knew you were here. We took you to the doctor, and we took you to church. We watched the kinds of friends you kept and made sure you got home at a decent hour. I think we did ok. You and your sister and your brother have all turned out great so if I were you I’d face the facts and not think too much about the what if’s. Oh, one more thing. I know I spanked you a few times, but don’t you ever spank my grandkids. Bye.”
I’ve told some of you from this pulpit about my college guidance counselor, Mr. Ray Koonce. I’ve known few such caring people in my life. He cared about all of us Carson-Newmanites in our struggles. I made a mistake that violated my ethical standards, and the guilt was getting to me; I had to talk to someone, and it couldn’t be just anyone. I thought it was too serious to bring up with friends so I sought out Mr. Koonce. At the beginning of the counseling hour I couldn’t have disliked myself more than I did; by the end of the hour not everything was perfect, but I had reason to hope, which got me through, and with some other sessions ultimately made me whole. I never thought that possible. He was a magnificent confidant. Mr. Koonce is deceased now, as is Dad. And so is one of the great confidants who stumbled into my pathway in Baltimore, Klaude Krannebitter, who tragically took his own life a few years ago.
I’ve had a handful of friends in life who were ultra-confidants. I could tell them every thing about myself--details of dates, ways I’d humiliated myself in the course of a day, the regrets I had, the risks I wanted to take but was too fearful to try. At the top of this list probably was a college buddy of mine who became a real friend when college was behind us, and we were out in the work world. We had a blast together, and after my divorce I talked to Barry every day. He lived in DC, and I lived in Baltimore. Barry was gay and hated himself for being gay; he finally decided to join up with one of these become un-gay movements. What they required of him was to cut off every friend from his past who had known him as a gay man. They said he would have to have friends only, from that point on, who never knew him as a gay man. This has been going on for at least 15 years, and Barry still will not speak to me. There was a day, though, when he was my trusted friend and confidant. I miss him, and I’m grateful for the years of friendship we did share. By the way, the become un-gay group failed at making him un-gay, but they were happy with themselves if they convinced him and others not to tell anyone and never to act on it.
I consider members of the Staff Pastor Relations Committee confidants here at Silverside. Monthly or so we meet and talk about general church stuff I can raise concerns; they can raise concerns. I trust them and say pretty much what I think even if I’d not say it so bluntly in front of most members and friends. I deeply appreciate the current crew and all their predecessors; they have had a huge positive impact on why my stay here has been successful and growthful.
Without time to explain today, I’d add the pastor we had during my teen years, Jerry Hayner; my Mom; the wild Rabbi Ed Cohn; gifted therapist here in Wilmington, Susan Chandler; and my sons as young adults. It’s improper for a single parent to force a child or a teen into adult topics and responsibilities to try to compensate for the absence of a spouse or partner, but as adults my kids are wonderful confidants.
Power people, most of them, just like those of us who do not have to make decisions affecting thousands or millions of people every time we turn around, need confidants too. But the stakes are higher; secrets absolutely must be kept. Sometimes national security depends on it.
Here’s an example of a presidential confidant. Louis Howe and Franklin Roosevelt became acquainted in 1911. Howe was a newspaper writer and FDR a New York state senator. Howe told others that he instantly saw Roosevelt as presidential material. Howe helped FDR get reelected to his senatorial position in 1912 even though Roosevelt was sick.
When FDR became assistant secretary of the Navy, Howe was named his top aide. Later, when FDR was stricken with polio, Howe was credited with bolstering Roosevelt’s will to recover and, thereby, keeping alive his political career. By 1932, Howe was calling the shots in FDR's presidential campaign. According to historian Alfred Rollins, FDR and Howe “...operated as parts of one political personality.” Confidants.
Our current President has as his most trusted confidant Mrs. Obama, but immediately after her in the lineup of willing confidants is Valerie Jarrett. All others come after her; yet, she manages to stay largely in the background.
There’s an award winning Native American film--meaning not only that the story is a Native American theme but also that the producer and director and all actors are Native Americans--that is very moving for me. It’s called “Smoke Signals.” Part of the story line has a man running off and leaving his wife and little boy because he feels like a failure, and he can’t fix how he feels about himself on the reservation where he has felt like a failure most of the life. It’s hard not to feel like a failure on most of the reservations as they exist today and how they’ve existed since the Europeans forced the Indigenous Inhabitants of his continent off land that was theirs and forced them to live on reservations.
This character moved out in the middle of no where and lived in a small trailer. He happened upon a friendship with a young woman who worked in big business by day but often found her way out to the runaway’s trailer at night. They became the best of friends and got to know each other exceptionally well.
He had decided that it was best for his family, if they never heard from him again, but that doesn’t keep him from talking regularly about his family to his new friend and companion. When he dies suddenly, despite his preference that his family not know about his whereabouts while he lived, the young woman who’d become his best friend and who knew him apart from the reservation, gets word to his wife and son that he has died. The son is now a young adult.
He with a friend make the trip to where his father had died to pick up his ashes. When his son, who has never gotten over his anger that his father deserted him and his mother, meets this lovely young woman, he hatefully demands to know, “Exactly what was your relationship to my father?”
Without reacting defensively at all, she said, simply, “We kept each other’s secrets.” I think that’s a wonderful description of what confidants do for each other.
Some of this function in a church setting is standing with those who struggle and suffer. We are willing to be their sounding boards when they need them; this is one obvious part of being a confidant. In Paul’s letter to the church at Galatia, legalistic Paul admonishes those within the faith community to bear one another’s burdens. He said doing this fulfills the law of Jesus, the Anointed One.