“I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me” (Psalm 51:3)
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16).
Where in the Christian community do we feel safe confessing sin?
In tragedy, people tend to surround the hurting even if after a period of time the cards, visits, phone calls, emails, etc. taper off.
In sin, people tend to run for the hills even when there is remorse and repentance.
If we feel uncomfortable sympathizing with the grieving, we feel even more so sitting with confessors. We are much more likely to visit the griever than the sinner, to spend time with the mourner than the fallen.
Perhaps we are uncomfortable with the grieving because we fear the pain of grief–we fear that it might happen to us. Perhaps we are distant with the sinner because we know ourselves too well. We know that we, too, are sinners. To sit with a confessor is to come dangerously close to recognizing and even confessing our own sins.
Confessing the “little” sins, admitting our “minor” faults, and exposing our vulnerability at superficial levels is difficult enough for most of us. How “in heaven’s name” could we ever confess deeper sins, our root sins, when we are so afraid to acknowledge our smallest inadequacies? How can we really confess our materialism? How can we really our own judgmentalism? How can we really confess bigotry and our debilitating resentments? How can we really confess our hypocrisy?
Why are we afraid to confess? I know I am often afraid to confess my sins.
We fear the loss of relationships and friends. Will people shun us when we confess our sins?
We fear the loss of reputation and status. How will people look at us when they know our sin? What will they think about us?
We fear that people really won’t love us if they really know us. Will they love me even when they know the worst about me?
We fear gossip. Who will they tell? What will they do with that knowledge?
We fear vulnerability. We don’t want people to know our deepest, darkest secrets. Will they love me when they know me?
We need a “safe” place to confess our sins with “safe” people. We need mutual confession where a “safe” environoment can be created. We need to experience mutual vulnerability. We need a place where we are loved no matter what and we love no matter what.
Where in the church does that exist? The public assembly? I think not. Small groups? Rarely have I seen small groups go so deep. Covenant groups? It takes lots of time but it does happen there. But rarely does it exist in covenanted marriages much less covenant men’s or women’s groups. But I have seen it in places and at times and I have experienced its grace as well as given grace in those moments.
It can happen; but it is all too rare in my own experience. The rarity makes sense to me. Fear hinders us and, unfortuantely, the community of God has hindered us at times with judgmentalism, hypocrisy, and its own fear.
Where I have seen it most unfortunately is not in the “church” community, but in 12-step groups of various kinds. Many testify to the acceptance, encouragement, mutuality and empowerment of those meetings.
If we don’t have a “safe” place to confess our sins, my guess is that we won’t confess them at all. And if we don’t confess them at all, then we delude ourselves into thinking our sins are not so bad, we can manage or control them, and others don’t measure up to our rectitude.
That is unhealthy, damaging and destructive . It is self-deceiving and self-righteous. Yet is where many of us have lived or still live.
We all need a “safe” place, a loving community, to confess our sins. Keeping our sins in the darkness only means that we ourselves remain in the dark. If we confess our sins within a loving community by the light of God’s own presence, God’s love forgives, comforts and transforms as we are surrounded by those through whom God’s presence becomes real in the midst of our darkness. By confession we experience the light.
“If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).