Confidentiality is a word and practice that is not in vogue today. In a world driven by social media, something can happen or be told and passed on to circle the globe three times before it’s discovered minutes later to be a hoax. How many people in your circle of life do you know that, if you had a need or a problem or a prayer concern or a struggle with a decision, you could talk to them confidentially and know that it would not be spread all over the community by nightfall, or they would keep it in confidence until death do them part if that’s what they asked you to do?
Now, I’m not talking about legal issues where someone says, “I need to tell you that I killed three people, but please don’t tell anybody.” Those are issues that have ramifications. The person needs to understand they need help, not just confidentiality, and that you would like to do something to help them face life even with their legal predicaments ahead. Not only thinking about others as you think about yourself, if someone tells you something in confidence, do you have the kind of integrity and character to hold it within yourself?
The reason I was thinking some about confidences and private issues that don’t need to be discussed is because there are ramifications that can come when they are broken. There is a tremendous need for people who practice confidentiality, whether they’re working in business or government, in relationships between countries, or serving the Lord in some places where they would be endangered if some information was known about them. I know of some people who say that nothing should be secret and that nothing should be private and that everything known should be announced to the world. No, some things don’t need to be told and some things should not be told. It’s interesting to me in studying the Gospels that Jesus, who knew everything about everybody, did not go around using that information to hurt them. Often He had insight that would lead to Him helping, but He treated people with confidentiality and He treats you that way.
Today there are laws in effect related to medical practices and hospitals and clinics that most people have come to know as the HIPAA laws that cover a world of things related to your health. The laws prevent people in the medical field from going around telling everything about you or your latest ache and pain, or the medicine you take, or the surgery you’re facing, or the difficulty you’re having in some part of your body. The laws are so restrictive that unless you know the real name of the person you’re going to see, you may find at the information desk that they will not even give you a room number if all you can tell them is, “It’s ‘Bubba Bob.’” Your privacy is protected related to your health and it should be. In so many areas of life there are things that should not be told and that we, whether the laws of the land say so or not, should have the kind of discretion and decency about us to treat others with a kindness of confidentiality. The ramifications can be destructive, damaging, and even deadly.
A second thing on which I would focus is simply to remember that for those of us who believe the Bible and are committed to Christ, there are standards that we need to live by, especially in this area of confidentiality. We need to remember that there is a commandment in the Bible that we’re not to tell lies. Some people interpret that – well, what you tell is the truth – and it may well be, but here’s where your personal integrity comes into focus. If you talk to someone in confidence and then you go and tell it, you lied to them. We have such a loose approach to what we see, hear, and tell about everybody else. A friend of mine says, “A secret is something you just tell one person at a time.” That sounds cute, but it is corrupted. When you say you won’t tell it, don’t tell it.
The lack of integrity in so many people and the lack of confidentiality in our society leads some people to say and embrace, “If you don’t want something told, don’t tell it.” That’s fine, except there are times when you need someone to whom to talk, someone to help you, someone of wisdom and care and character that you can look to and know that they will in the conversation and far beyond those moments be confidential in what was talked about. In every arena of life, whether it’s politicians or preachers, physicians or teachers, people have hurt other people and gotten in trouble themselves because of their lack of confidentiality. Honesty with yourself and others is an incredible trait that needs to be reinstated in our hearts and culture.
A final thought about confidentiality has to do with the reflections of this kind of integrity. Reflections are the glimpses of the character and lifestyle of the Lord Himself who treated people with openness and a kind of loving, caring privacy that allowed them to work through their issues and become what God wanted them to be. Consider the woman at the well (John 4) who was not betrayed and put down because of what she’d been through in life — even where she was at the moment — but was offered hope and real possibilities of a new, refreshing life from the Water of Life. Think about Jesus dealing with one of His chief disciples who, only days after he had denied Jesus three times, was gently confronted with the question and confrontation of a simple probe: “Do you love me?” (John 21:15). Jesus was not putting him down. He was pulling him in. He was not just exposing all that had taken place. He was seeking to reinstate a gifted servant.
Confidentiality in building relationships, offering encouragement, and providing help is a powerful thing. It will open doors for all of us to have a redemptive touch in people’s lives. May God give to each of us the courage and the confidence and the amazing grace to be confidential with others.
The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.