Releasing Our Guilt: Confession

Imagine the scene: a little girl, about four years old, wispy white-blond curls hanging to her shoulders, plays in her mother’s room while Mom takes a shower. She wanders over to the nightstand and gently slides open the drawer. Inside she spies her mother’s jewelry. Entranced, she picks up an earring, gold inset with a pearl. But in her clumsy fingers, and to her dismay, the stone falls out of its setting. What can she do with this now-broken treasure? She quickly shuts the drawer and tucks the earring and pearl under the edge of the long white curtains hanging just behind the nightstand. With the evidence out of site, Mom will never know that the child had anything to do with the earring.

Except… The guilty child returns to check on the broken bit of beauty. She tucks back the curtain, and a large black spider lurks in the earring’s place. Horrified, the girl drops the curtain, certain that the spider is a magical omen of judgment for her wrongdoing…

house-spiders-13

Interesting which childhood memories linger into adulthood, isn’t it? I can still feel the gasp in my throat, the thudding of my heart, the terror shaking my limbs. And yet I don’t remember what came next. I think I must have confessed to my mom, as I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to bear that guilt interminably.

Not long ago, Tween asked if we could talk about something, his tone making it clear that he had something serious on his mind. His friend had entrusted him with a secret, yet while he was working on a school project with another friend, he accidentally blurted out the secret. Tween felt terrible, sure that his friend would feel betrayed and unable to trust him ever again. He asked what he should do.

What should we do when we’ve hurt someone, even if they don’t know about it (yet)? Confess.

What do we want to do about it? Hide the evidence until we’re caught, and then blame someone else. At least make excuses.

Confession is hard. It’s so much nicer to avoid those deep, dark explorations of our hearts and minds, to pretend we’ve got it all together, to deny any and all wrongdoing.

Tween took the high road. He confessed that he had not kept the secret. And fortunately, his friend forgave him. In the end, both boys came out winners: Tween released his guilt and will be more careful in the future not to betray confidence; but their friendship itself is stronger as they trusted each other with truth and grace. They now understand their friendship as a safe place, where neither has to be perfect and both can be forgiven.

Confessing our sins before God is hard enough, but confessing to another human being is a different story altogether. We risk rejection and condemnation. Why even bother when the Bible is crystal clear that God forgives us when we confess (1 John 1:9)?

A dear friend taught me the value of confession. She had participated in an intensive discipleship training program where they took seriously traditions of the church that many in Protestant circles have ignored. One evening as she had dinner with Guy and I she suddenly blurted out: “Can I confess something to you both?”

I don’t think I had ever heard those words spoken aloud before. And certainly not about something that had nothing whatsoever to do with us. She hadn’t done anything to offend us, no lie or broken trust. Rather, she had already confessed to God but still needed to hear the words of absolution spoken aloud: “God has heard your confession and you are forgiven.” Just like sometimes we need to feel human arms embracing us in order to experienced God’s love, she needed trustworthy people to play a priestly role.

You know what? While I remember that she confessed, I don’t remember the details of her confession. It reminds me of this beautiful passage from Psalm 103:

The Lord is compassionate and merciful,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
He will not constantly accuse us,
nor remain angry forever.
10 He does not punish us for all our sins;
he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.
11 For his unfailing love toward those who fear him
is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.
12 He has removed our sins as far from us
as the east is from the west.

With confession comes freedom. And a bonus: her confession changed the quality of our friendship as I never have to fear that she will withhold forgiveness. In fact, I trust her like few other people in my life. Those who recognize their own need for grace are far more likely to extend grace to others.

No one is perfect. We all blow it and need forgiveness. We are sinners in desperate need of a Savior. Through the cross of Christ, God stands ready to forgive our confessed sins. May we also be a people who freely give the grace to which He has called us.

Connect
Reflect on a childhood experience when you did something wrong. How did you feel before and after you either got caught or told someone what you did?

Study
Read aloud James 5:14-20.
How do you understand the connection in this passage between sickness and sin?Explain the roles of the sinner, God, other believers, and prayer in the discipline of confession.
Read James 4:7-10, a picture of repentance.
How is repentance related to confession?
Sometimes we want to excuse sin rather than confess it. What steps of confession do you see in this passage?

Live
Reflect on this quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy… He who is alone with his sins is utterly alone.”
How can confession help you see differently yourself and God’s work of salvation through Christ?
What stands in the way of more Christians practicing confession?
How might a discipline of confession affect your future behavior?
When have you practiced confession? Describe the experience.
What can you do to foster a grace-filled community in which people feel safe to confess their sins to one another?
Which Faith Training Exercises have you tried recently? Share joys and struggles.
Which exercises might God call you to this week, and why?

Pray
Pray that the Holy Spirit will help you freely live the reality of Christ’s forgiveness for your sins.

Faith Training

A few sessions of childhood swim, ice skating, dance, gymnastics, and tennis lessons hardly qualify me as an athlete. I may be the only person you know who has never participated in a team/competitive sport. I once asked my parents if I could join a soccer league. My mom said no, citing scarred knees as unattractive on a girl; I’m pretty sure it had more to do with life’s chaos – me as the oldest of four kids, her job in real estate, and her travelling husband, last thing she needed was to spend hours field-side with a decidedly non-athletic kid.

I did, however, take piano lessons from age five to eighteen. Like most kids enrolled in music lessons, I didn’t love to practice but I did like to play well. The older I got, and the better I got, the more I enjoyed it. In high school and especially as I anticipated a recital date, I played for hours, working the music into my fingers, into my heart and soul. My favorite practice time (surprisingly, my parents didn’t complain – how did they not complain?) took place between 10pm and 2am, even on school nights.

The more I practiced and the better I knew a piece of music, the more the music had the power to take me out of myself, into what Madeleine L’Engle calls a kairos experience. I lost track of time, I lost my sense of self, as the music itself became all that mattered. “I am outside time, outside self, in play, in joy. When we can play with the unself-conscious concentration of a child, this is: art: prayer: love” (Circle of Quiet, p13).

I’ve heard runners talk about a similar experience, once you move past the first phase of muscle fatigue (the “I don’t like to run, I don’t want to run, I can’t take one more step” feeling, because you keep going anyway), and then, apparently, some get to a euphoric state, a runner’s endorphin high.

Faith training can have similar results, yet even better as training our faith helps us to draw near to God on high.

At the gym there are so many different pieces of equipment, each with a different purpose but all with the purpose of increased physical fitness. Similarly, there are many different ways to exercise one’s faith, all with the purpose of drawing near to our beloved Jesus.

Commonly called “spiritual disciplines,” well, that just doesn’t sound all that fun, does it? But they can be. Even when they’re strenuous, they can lead to great joy.

Today is Ash Wednesday, a day focused on repentance and identifying with Jesus in His sufferings as we begin a 40-day season of giving up or taking on spiritual disciplines. In our church staff meeting this morning, we read this:

“Even now,” declares the Lord,
    “return to me with all your heart,
    with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

Rend your heart
    and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love… Joel 2:12-13

I get that today’s focus should center on fasting, weeping, and mourning, but I’ve been thinking about and practicing to varying degrees different disciplines over the last few weeks. I have returned to the Lord, so to speak, and this morning I felt overwhelming joy. God drew my focus to His gracious, compassionate, slow-to-anger love. And the joy bubbling up in my heart. I almost giggled (inappropriately?).

Once a week or so during this Lenten season, from now til Easter, I will post a Bible study focused on one spiritual discipline; there are more disciplines than we can name, but we’ll cover fasting, solitude, prayer, simplicity, confession, and celebration. I’ll also include suggestions for practicing each discipline.

I encourage you to ask God to direct you to the exercises He’d like you to try. And don’t give up just because it’s uncomfortable at first (think sore muscles after physical exercise). You could try one exercise for all of Lent, or different ways of exercising one practice (i.e., different prayer method each day), or sample different practices throughout the season – ask God for direction and stick with it until He asks you to stop.

Here we go with an introductory study!

Connect
What practices or routines do you do to keep physically healthy?

Study
Read aloud 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.
How would you explain the metaphor of physical and spiritual training to someone who hadn’t read this passage?
What is “the prize” for spiritual runners (v. 24)?
What might “running aimlessly” look like in one’s spiritual life?
How could Paul have been “disqualified for the prize” (v. 27)?

Live
On a spectrum from aimless running/air boxing to marathon champion, which physical activity might describe your spiritual life and why?
When have you experienced a connection between physical and spiritual discipline?
Reflect on your experience with any of these practices: fasting, solitude, prayer, simplicity, confession, and celebration. Which do/don’t sound appealing to you, and why?
Which of the Week 1 Faith Training Exercises (see below) might God call you to, and why?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that God will use your spiritual training to make you fit in new ways for Christ.

Faith Training Exercises
Fasting: Skip one meal and spend time in prayer.
Solitude: Memorize Psalm 46:10 and use it as a reminder throughout the day to be still before God.
Prayer: Set aside a regular time and place to pray every day.
Simplicity: Set a timer (20 minutes or less) and clear off one cluttered space, e.g., a junk drawer or desk top.
Confession: Invite the Holy Spirit to bring to mind sins you’ve committed. Confess them to the Lord and ask for His forgiveness.
Celebration: Do at least one thing each day that brings you joy: sing loudly, dance freely, laugh heartily, live boldly.