Relinquishing the shame of family secrets
We all share a common heritage with our families. From them, we derive our status in society. It is also where we can inherit social stigma and shame. Many families harbour secrets that they prefer to keep hidden. By censuring parts of our family history, we can bring about unintended consequences. It also keeps us from acknowledging and confessing our family’s iniquities before God and being cleansed.
Examples of family dysfunction of every kind can be found in the Bible, even amongst the most notable families.
- Atrocities: Dinah’s brothers killed the entire clan of Shechem, the man who had raped her, and plundered all their wealth. (Genesis 34)
- Bankruptcy: Job lost all his wealth overnight. (Job 1:13-22)
- Betrayal: Jacob was instigated by his own mother to deceive his father into giving him Esau’s, his brother’s, blessings instead. (Genesis 27:1-45)
- Complicity: King David not only (unintentionally) enabled the rape of his daughter, Tamar, and the murder of his son, Ammon, he did nothing to confront or convict his son, Absalom, who killed killed his own half-brother, Ammon (2 Samuel 13:1-39)
- Depression: King Ahab was vexed and sullen after Naboth rejected his offer to purchase his vineyard. (1 Kings 21:1-7)
- Drunkenness: Noah got drunk and exposed his naked body inside his tent. (Genesis 9:20–21)
- Extramarital affair: King David willfully committed sexual immorality with Bathsheba, another man’s wife. (2 Samuel 11:1-4)
- Incest: Lot got very drunk and fathered children with his own daughters. (Genesis 19:30-35)
- Infant death: King David’s first son with Bathsheba died at seven days. (2 Samuel 12:16-23)
- Multiple wives: Abraham, Jacob, and king David took on additional concubines or wives, leading to family rivalry and disaster.
- Murder within the family: Cain killed his brother, Abel, out of envy. (Genesis 4:8)
- Pagan worship: King Solomon built altars and temples for the pagan idols of his many wives. (1 Kings 11:6-8)
- Power grab: Absalom gathered people to turn against his father, king David, in his attempt to usurp David’s throne (2 Samuel 15:1-18:8)
- Prison record: Joseph was in prison for over two years. (Genesis 39:19-23)
- Prostitutes: Rahab, the brave woman who helped the Israelite spies escape from Jericho, was a prostitute. She was the mother of Boaz who redeemed Ruth of the book of Ruth. (Mathew 1:5)
- Rape: King David’s son, Amnon, raped his own half-sister, (2 Samuel 13:1-22)
- Sexual relations with in-laws: Judah had sex with his widowed daughter-in-law after she disguised herself. (Genesis 38)
- Suicide: Anticipating defeat in battle, king Saul took a sword and killed himself. (1 Samuel 31:4).
- Theft: Rachel stole her father’s treasured idols and reaped the curse he spoke over the thief (Genesis 31:19,30)
- Trafficking one’s own children: Lot offered his two daughters for a gang rape by the village men so that they would not attack his two male guests. (Genesis 19:1–11)
- Wedlock: King David conceived a child with Bathsheba through adultery. (2 Samuel 11:2-5)
Through biblical history, we see that shameful family events and their consequences are unabashedly re-told to each future generation as a warning to not fall for these very same things.
1 Corinthians 10:6,11-13 NLT These things happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did… These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age. If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.
We cannot sin in isolation. Sin fractures relationships and impacts our own family lines. We will reap the consequences later on in life and in our future generations. Here are some examples. King David later witnessed sexual immorality amongst his own sons that strikingly mirrored the things he had done to Bathsheba’s husband; sexual perversion, murder, as well as cover-up and hiding (2 Samuel 13). King Solomon built pagan altars and temples for his wives and brought on God’s judgment on the kingdom (1 Kings 11:1-13). Through their incest, Lot’s children with his daughters fathered the Moabite and Ammonite clans, who worshipped idols and became adversaries of the Israelites (Genesis 19:30-36).
In His grace, God intentionally exposes all these shameful incidences of family sins to demonstrate that they need not define who we are in Christ nor hold us back from shining as lights for Him “in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation.” In fact, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Judah, Tamar, Rahab, King David, and Bathsheba are listed in the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:1–17, Luke 3:23–38). Some of Jesus’ forefathers may have committed grave sins but they also obeyed God and turned back from their rebellion against Him.
Philippians 2:13 ESV … be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,
Consequences of covering up family secrets
Our anxious human nature, however, tends to hide unpleasant facts, rather than expose them. Often, we do this to protect the family name or shield young children from some ugly truths. Sometimes, the motives can be far darker, where perpetrators of emotional, sexual, and physical abuse enforce silence on the relatives they have abused. This keeps victims in perpetual suffering, traumatised by their own family members. Whatever reasons we hide family secrets for, there will be unintentional and unhealthy consequences.
Ephesians 5:11-17 ESV Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
God’s Word shows us that every secret will be exposed one day. Secrets have a way to leaking out, often with devastating consequences.
Luke 8:17 ESV For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.
The Bible also shows us that whoever conceals their transgressions will not prosper, until they confess and forsake their sinful ways. This is also true of families that conceal awkward truths from one another.
Proverbs 28:13 ESV Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.
Psalm 32:5 ESV I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah
Family secrets always foster a culture of collective lying and fabrication amongst those who are aware of it. Some topics become taboo and will cause certain relatives to over-react, over-compensate, and simply go mute. The burden of keeping secrets can feel quite heavy for some. When the truth does come out, there can be a sense of shame and guilt, and usually, more denial and lying.
God hates lying tongues and false witnesses, and secrecy requires both. The Bible warns us that those who continue in deceit will not go unpunished and will not be allowed to dwell in God’s house.
Proverbs 6:16-19 ESV There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.
Proverbs 19:9 ESV A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will perish.
Psalm 101:7 ESV No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes.
Family members from whom the truth has been withheld are usually left second-guessing what they have witnessed, heard, or felt. This can leave them feeling, snubbed, anxious, and unworthy. Young children can, and often will, sense an undercurrent of secrecy and wrongly assume that they may have done something bad to deserve it. This can build insecurity, fear, suspicion, and even resentment over time. When the truth does come out, there are usually many mixed feelings, from a deep sense of betrayal, mistrust, and anger to grief and empathy.
Secrets have a way of affecting and enslaving all family members involved, and will never bring true peace even though that may be the intent.
1 Corinthians 6:12 ESV “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything.
The idolatry behind our secrecy
Hiding family sins keeps us from humbling ourselves before God and acknowledging our personal wickedness as well as that of our ancestors out in the open. When we hide our family transgressions in this way, we won’t prosper because we can’t bring our brokenness to God for His redemption and salvation. This robs us of inviting God’s hand in our family’s healing, reconciliation, and flourishing in the name of Jesus.
Jeremiah 14:20-22 ESV We acknowledge our wickedness, O Lord, and the iniquity of our fathers, for we have sinned against you. Do not spurn us, for your name’s sake; do not dishonor your glorious throne; remember and do not break your covenant with us. Are there any among the false gods of the nations that can bring rain? Or can the heavens give showers? Are you not he, O Lord our God? We set our hope on you, for you do all these things.
The Bible doesn’t sugarcoat or hide the shortfalls and sins of God’s people. They are out in the open so that we can see God’s powerful redemptive work in them. The apostle Paul considered himself the “least of the apostles” because he had persecuted the church of God. He is also the one who wrote, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
1 Corinthians 15:9 ESV For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
2 Corinthians 11:9-10 ESV But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
When we hold on to family secrets, we allow a spirit of shame and fear to enslave us. Rather than seek God’s glory by humbling ourselves, we elevate our family honour, reputation, and legacy in an effort to protect our self-righteousness. This is a form of self-idolatry. It is also how generational curses continue to perpetuate from one family to the next, because we don’t allow the next generation to acknowledge our family’s sins, confess their own sinful ways, and repent.
Please see Breaking generational curses.
Confessing family iniquity
We can hide secrets from other people but we can’t hide them from God.
Psalm 90:8 ESV You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.
Jeremiah 23:24 ESV Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord.
1. Confess to God-fearing believers
God wants to free us from our family shame. This comes with turning to Jesus, putting away falsehood, and telling the truth. Therefore, let us seek out God-fearing believers who will not judge or condemn us but rather, will comfort us and pray with us so that we can be relieved of the burden of carrying our secrets.
Ephesians 4:25 ESV Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.
James 5:16 ESV Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
2. Beware partial information
When we first discover family secrets, we need to be careful not to jump to conclusions or judge our own family members, because we often only hear one side of the story.
3. Repent of judging our own family
We all tend to judge those closest to us more harshly. Yet we cannot judge or condemn our parents or forefathers without reaping our own judgements since we are their offspring.
Matthew 15:4 NIV For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’
When we turn to God, we need to lay down our judgements and repent because He is the One who chose the earthly families we were born into.
1 Corinthians 4:5 ESV Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.
4. Repent of judging God
God did not create broken families. Rather, it is the result of generations of families who have followed Satan’s ways and rebelled against God’s will. This is how families have their blessings stolen from them and their relationships destroyed by Satan. The devil is a thief.
John 10:10 ESV The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
In our ignorance, we can judge God too and doubt His goodness. If this is the case, we should repent in Jesus’ name.
5. Forgive them
When our own family members betray our trust and sin against us in other ways, we will be angry. There is nothing wrong with being angry but in our anger, we must be careful not to sin against them.
Ephesians 4:26-27 ESV Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.
We are to be kind to our family members, tenderhearted, and forgive them for sinning against us, so that God will also forgive us for our trespasses. Their sins are first against God, not us, and He will hold them accountable.
Ephesians 4:32 ESV Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Mark 11:25 ESV And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
6. Remove generational curses
Generational curses arise as a result of our forefathers’ rebellion against God. We will notice that life doesn’t seem to go smoothly for our family. This can manifest as patterns of persistent sicknesses, childbearing difficulties, mental troubles, strife, financial difficulties, adultery, abuses and other deep-rooted sins. Thank God that He will cleanse us of our family’s sins and curses and reconcile us to Him when we pray. See A prayer to break generational curses.
Exodus 34:7 NLT I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But I do not excuse the guilty. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren; the entire family is affected— even children in the third and fourth generations.”
7. Prevent recurrence
If the secret involves abuse or a criminal offence, we should consider ways to ensure it is not repeated and to bring criminals to justice. God will hold us accountable if we act as passive accomplices to grievous activities in our own families. Let us do what’s right and not fear our own family members. Our loyalty should first be to God, before our families.
James 4:17 ESV So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
At the same time, we too need to be vigilant and not repeat the same family patterns. We may share the same last name or bloodline of our earthly families, but we need not share in their sins. We now belong to Jesus and have been grafted into His family.
2 Peter 3:17 ESV You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.
8. Seek counseling for trauma or emotional wounding
Last but not least, it is important to seek emotional and inner healing for wounds inflicted by our family, with the help of God-fearing counsellors who have the Holy Spirit’s love, compassion, wisdom, and guidance for us. God will replace our shame and dishonour with a double portion of His joy as we humble ourselves, confess, and seek God with all our hearts.
Isaiah 61:7 ESV Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy.
This is a recount of a true story.
“My family carries a secret I have been too ashamed, afraid, and sad to tell anyone for decades.
Shortly after my birth, an older uncle raped my mother. When my father brought the case to the police, my uncle’s family made up an alibi for him and paid off the police inspector in charge of the case so that my uncle was never charged. In a cruel twist, they accused our family of lying and slander, and for bringing the family name shame. They even threatened to kill us.
Because we lived in a close-knit community of relatives at the time, our family could not escape the constant acrimonious accusations, rumours, and threats. After two years, we decided to move somewhere else, where we were totally cut off from everyone we knew. We had to start our lives all over again. We tried to forget the past and keep it all secret.
But this series of events had a profound effect on my parents, their marriage, and us children. We all suffered greatly.
As for me, I grew up around a lot of anxiety and still find it hard to trust anyone. My parents tried to protect me from all the details but I lived through their pain and suffering. At the end, I developed many self-coping mechanisms to deal with it all.
It was only after I relocated again that I found a small community of God-fearing believers where I felt comfortable enough to share this family secret with. It helped that they are not likely meet them face-to-face so it felt safer to tell them what had happened.
As I confessed my family secret and brought it into the light, the Holy Spirit moved them to grieve along with me. I found this acknowledgement of pain to be very reassuring and comforting. It felt like a relief. This had been a burden I had carried on my own for a long, long time.
Galatians 6:2 NIV Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
Romans 12:15 ESV Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
This was the first of many steps I took towards healing and recovering from those excruciatingly painful years. I began to confess all my family’s sins as well as my own pain and judgements.
It was very difficult, at first, to truly forgive my uncle’s family. In previous years, I could only say the words but not mean it from my heart. This time, I got to grieve and express all my anger together with fellow brothers and sisters-in-Christ who loved and accepted me, instead of pushing it down and pretending that I was okay. I felt a new freedom and finally forgave my uncle and my relatives in Jesus’ name.
I did not know that I could go to God for His comfort. I never received any from my old parents as they were in so much pain themselves. This was a new revelation of God for me. Thank God for guiding me to His healing. I know that if I continued without confessing and repenting of my judgements of my relatives, I would also reap their bad fruit in my own life.
Now I finally have a greater sense of peace and hope.”
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