We were sitting around having a cuppa after church, when the conversation among some of the men turned to the subject of underwear. One chap announcing he had just re-stocked his supply of underwear, saying it had been a difficult decision as the old underpants were still in reasonable condition, well, except for the fact the elastic was no longer up to the task, and he kept finding them falling down within his trousers. To my surprise, the other men at the table, myself included, shared similar stories about the difficulty of saying goodbye to a pair of aging undies.

I imagine there are a few reasons for this difficulty. Being thrifty farmers, we know the value of a dollar, and it is rarely just a single pair of undies that are faulty. Underpants tend to be sold in packs, so if one pair is on the way out, you can expect several other pairs are in a similar state.

You have probably heard the story about the frog being boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water, which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death.

Well, that is the ‘underpants dilemma’. If the elastic snapped completely, it would be easy. We’d throw them out straightaway, but it’s not like one day they stay up, and the next day they fall down. It’s incremental. The elastic fails very gradually. At the time of this conversation, I was having the same problem, so was relieved to find that I was not alone.

I’m not the best shopper. Living fifty kilometres from the nearest menswear shop, it’s easy to put off going shopping for clothes. Fortunately, I’m not very fashion conscious so I generally wear my shirts, jeans, and jumpers for many years until my ‘resident fashion consultant’ declares I can’t wear this or that item of clothing anymore. Despite her impeccable feminist credentials, she still feels that my frayed collar or torn jeans will reflect badly on her. But she is not a witness to my failing underpants so this is a decision I must make alone.

Daniel in the Lions’ Den by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1614/1616, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. Here Rubens depicts the moment that Daniel, realising that God has saved him from the lions, offers another prayer that his highly prized underwear has remained immaculate throughout the ordeal, in the event of being seen in soiled underwear by King Darius’ men, once they’ve finally released him.

I once bought a pack of seven pairs of underwear. On the waistband the clever designers had embroidered Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc., each pair emblazoned with a day of the week. It looked good and I didn’t give too much thought to it, but for the next four years I was tormented by the thought of having an accident and being found with “Monday” on my underpants, when it was actually Thursday. My mother always told me to wear clean underwear in case I was in an accident. What was my mother thinking when she told me this? People are in accidents all the time and I’ve never read about the state of their underwear in any of the reports.

Have you ever seen this in a newspaper?  “A 25-year-old male driver was injured in a single-car rollover on the Bendigo-Murchison Road this morning after swerving to avoid a kangaroo. He suffered head injuries and a broken wrist. Police say he wasn’t wearing clean underwear at the time of the accident.”

No, I haven’t either! No one writes about the state of your underwear when you’re in an accident. To be fair, most of us can get through most days without having to take our pants off in public, accident or not. So, sixty years later I’m still guessing at my mother’s motives. I know I’m not the only one. It seems to have been a very common bit of maternal advice. Assuming she wasn’t just trying to give me one more childhood trauma, perhaps Mum was saying that the things you think are secret and private can be uncovered when you least expect it, so be prepared, have integrity. Let your private self be the same as your public self.

Some secrets are fun and healthy: surprise parties, hiding the gender of the baby until it is born, and romantic proposals. But there are other kinds of secrets that are inherently harmful.

The insidious nature of secrets is that they are almost always rooted in shame. If there weren’t some degree of shame attached to them, we wouldn’t want to hide them. To be the keeper of a secret, means carrying a burden whose weight never grows lighter, believing if anyone knew the truth, the shame of it all would consume you.

Shame and secrecy have no place for those of us following Jesus. We are loved unconditionally, as we are. In the words of the Apostle Paul, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)

To which we might add the words of Jesus, “Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.” (Matthew 10:26-27)

This is the gospel, and Jesus wasn’t talking about your underwear!

Brian Spencer, Minister