Good for the Soul
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. ~ 1 John 1:9 (NIV)
While I was baptized in the Catholic Church when I was very much a newborn baby, I didn’t grow up there. It wasn’t until my college years that I decided to learn more about the Catholic faith and pursue First Communion and Confirmation. The scariest part of that journey was easily the reality of going to confession. However, experiencing confession, or as it is more correctly known, reconciliation, ended up being one of the most powerful, freeing, and life-giving experiences in my faith journey.
I grew up going to church and confident in the forgiveness of my sins when I prayed. I never questioned that Jesus paid the price for my sins with his death on the cross. I never doubted God’s love for me, no matter how bad I felt I had messed up. But as I grew older, I began to wonder and worry that God might be the only person who could love me. ‘Surely,’ I thought to myself, ‘no one would even want to talk to me if they knew what I struggled with.’ My church had done a great job when it came to teaching about and encouraging private confession but had never talked about corporate confession.
Confession might seem an odd spiritual discipline to look at as the first one in our new series but, for me, the focus is not on airing one’s dirty laundry for any and all to judge. Rather, the focus is on God’s deep desire to be in relationship with each of us. A primary basis for that relationship is openness and honesty: both of which are hard if we are unwilling to confess our sin, repent, and accept the forgiveness Jesus freely offers.
As I eluded to above, there are two primary types of confession: private and corporate. Most of us are familiar with private confession. It is a time spent one on one with God confessing your sins and asking for forgiveness. And to be clear, private confession is all God requires in granting forgiveness of your sins. A human mediator is not something God requires in any way. It is also important to remember that nothing surprises God, not even our sins. He has been around since before the world was made and has known the thoughts of every human who has ever lived. It does not matter what you have done, Jesus still died on the cross and paid the price for your sins. Private confession takes away sin’s power to create a divide between you and God. That is a pretty amazing thing.
Corporate confession is about finding one other person with whom you can be honest and open with about your struggles and failings. It isn’t about giving someone leverage over you. Instead, it is about experiencing God’s love and acceptance in a more tangible way. It is about knowing that no one is perfect and everyone messes up from time to time. It is about being able to accept others despite their flaws, failings, and shortcomings. It helps us realize we are all in this together and we are all in need of God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness.
Perhaps the most common way corporate confession is practice today is through accountability partners. If you are unfamiliar with the concept, the idea is that you find a trusted friend with whom you agree to be mutually honest with when it comes to the not-so-pretty parts of your life. You then give each other permission to hold each other accountable to making real change in your life, to striving to do better and live the life God has called us to live.
Both forms of confession take away the power of secret shame and guilt in our lives. The power of speaking something aloud is often underestimated in our world of digital technology. Perhaps the best example of how speaking something aloud can diminish or even take away its power is found in the Harry Potter series. Lord Voldemort is known as the powerful, evil wizard who was, at one point, thought to be unstoppable. Years after his disappearance, he is primarily known as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named simply because the fear associated with hearing his name is still so tangible in the wizard world.
But then along came young Harry Potter, who did not grow up in the magical world, treating the name like any other name. For him, there was no fear associated with the name, only a desire to understand why Lord Voldemort had killed his parents and a desire to prevent him from causing anyone else to experience the same loss. As the series develops and the story unfolds, more and more people come to realize that, in using his name, he becomes less legendary monster and more an ordinary man who hides behind other’s talent and feeds on fear. In the end, as the final battle looms, one of the lead professor’s at the school, tells her college that they might as well use Voldemort’s name because, either way, they are about to face him in battle.
The same is true for sin in our lives. When we hide it away, refuse to acknowledge it and deal with it, refuse to allow God to speak forgiveness over it, the more power it has to separate us from God’s love. But when we speak it out, when we acknowledge it before God, it loses its power to cause us shame and guilt. When we find that one trusted person to share it with, we can be meet with understanding and grace instead of judgement. This is what I experienced in my college years when I finally found the courage to partake in the sacrament of reconciliation. The power of speaking out things I had not dared to share with anyone else and, instead of being met with judgement and scorn, I was met with a quiet, “Thank you for sharing,” followed by words of forgiveness.
While I’m not suggesting we all run to our local Catholic Church asking to go to confession, I am encouraging you to take the time to be honest with yourself and with God. We are great at justifying our sin, at explaining it away, at minimizing it until we have nearly convinced ourselves that we have not sinned at all. But what if we, instead, just sat and talked with Jesus honestly and let ourselves really experience His grace and mercy? What if we took away the power by speaking our sin out loud?
1. What sin in your life do you tend to minimize and justify in an attempt to convince yourself that it is not all that serious and therefore, there is no need to confess, repent, and accept forgiveness?
2. Do you believe, fully and deeply, that there is forgiveness for all of your sins? If not, why not? If yes, how does your life and faith bear witness to this?
3. If you could share your deepest struggles with someone and experience grace instead of judgement, how would that impact your life and faith? Are you someone others can feel safe sharing their struggles with? Are you more likely to react with grace or with judgement? Why?
Primary Resources Used:
"The Discipline of Confession" by Dr. Richard J. Krejcir
"Understanding Confession" by Richard J. Foster
"Celebration of Discipline" on www.onelifeleaders.com