Tuesday, April 18, 2006

When You Can't Shake That Sin, Confess It to a Friend


Uggh. It's one of those words many Protestants dismiss even before they hear it. And we have our reasons:

"That's a Catholic thing."

"Confession is a private matter between an individual and God."

"A human being can't forgive sin."

"Christians should only confess to Jesus because he is our high priest."

But are we missing out on something awesome when we refuse to confess to one another? Are Protestants, in associating this practice only with the Catholic church, dismissing important New Testament instruction?

I recently read about the concept of corporate confession in Richard Foster's "Celebration of Discipline." Foster states confession shouldn't be an "either/or" situation of choosing between confession to God or confession to other Christians. Rather, he says, it should be both:

"We are grateful for the biblical teaching, underscored in the Reformation, that 'there is one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ' (1 Timothy 2:5). We are also grateful for the biblical teaching, newly appreciated in our day, to 'confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another . . . ' (James 5:16). Both are found in Scripture and neither needs to exclude the other."

At first glance, the idea of confessing to another person seemed way weird to me. Was I supposed to make an appointment with my pastor to tell him who I was hating this week? Or have the church elders pray over me every time I silently swore at the crazy drivers on the freeway?

As usual, I needed God to knock the sarcasm out of me by giving me a healthy dose of reality. So, on a typical day of my life, he showed me the meaning of corporate confession.

A conversation with a single friend (I'll call her Linda) turned to the topic of dating. Linda told me she held on to the memories of an ex-boyfriend, even though he was now married. This caused her a great deal of pain. She'd prayed repeatedly God would help her let go.

Later that afternoon, I called another friend (I'll call her Janice) who'd had an experience similar to Linda's. Janice had struggled to let go of a past relationship for many years. Janice had dated other men, been to counseling, and regularly vented to friends, but the memories and pain from that old relationship never seemed to go away. She'd prayed daily with the same request: "God, please heal the pain from this former relationship so I can move on."

Janice had prayed again a few weeks before our phone conversation. But this time, she'd changed her prayer. Instead of asking God to heal her, she prayed, "God, please let me find another woman who is struggling with the pain of a broken relationship, so that I can pray for her." Immediately, all the hurt and frustration Janice had felt for years lifted from her. She felt physically lighter, as if someone had removed a backpack full of rocks from her shoulders.

I didn't know about Janice's prayer until after I told her about Linda's struggles. Janice committed to pray for Linda right then and there. These two women live in two different states and may never meet. Yet now they have a bond of prayer and support between them. And I got super blessed by being their link.

You might ask, "What do painful break-ups have to do with confession? How does having that hurt have anything to do with sin?"

Both Linda and Janice were holding on to pain, and while they'd both prayed for healing, they still struggled to let go, to truly give the pain and the past to God. Haven't we all been through this: A friend or loved one hurts us, and though we want to stop hurting, we cling to anger, resentment, and self-pity. We feel entitled to our hurt, even though we know God has something better for us.

When Janice confessed her hurt to me years ago, I was able to start praying for her. There wasn't an instant healing, but God used this back then to show Janice she was supported and loved. Then he used it again to connect her with Linda.

This is all a lot easier than it sounds. It's difficult to share our struggles because we think others might judge us. They might not understand our situation. They might offer unwanted advice. Sometimes, we're just too ashamed.

I had a certain sin in my past that I'd confessed to God long ago. On one level, I knew I was forgiven. But I still felt ashamed for this particular sin until, 10 years later, I met a woman who'd been through the same thing. By simply admitting it out loud to her, that sin was no longer hidden. I immediately felt set free. Today, I've written several stories about that situation and told the story to audiences. I tell it in hopes of offering freedom to others who feel ashamed.

Is there an ongoing sin in your life you've prayed about, but it seems like it will never go away? Or maybe there's a skeleton in your closet you've told God about, but you're still afraid someone will open the closet door. Perhaps there's pain in your life that never seems to go away, no matter how much you pray. Maybe it's time to confess that to a Christian friend. God may well use your friend to show you the love and compassion he has for you.

To ponder:
Think about the friends with whom you share openly. What are the qualities they have that makes it safe and easy for you to share?

2) Of the qualities you listed for the above question, which do you have? Which do you need to work on?

3) What's your biggest obstacle to confessing to a friend?

4) Think about a situation you shared with a friend, or a time you asked a friend to pray for you. What happened? Did it make it easier or more difficult to talk with someone the next time around?

5) Do you feel at ease with the concept of confessing to both God and to other Christians? Why or why not?


Ducky said...

Interestingly, this concept also applies to confession in the Roman Catholic context. Catholicism doesn’t call believers to go confess to the man in the little booth so you can get some sort of “seal of approval” from God. That would be superstition, not Catholicism.

The Catholic faith tradition complements the concept of “confession” with “contrition” and “penance,” which similarly aid in our healing from sin. Even though other faith traditions might not use those words, Christians of all stripes follow the same model of “confession”: show real remorse (contrition), acknowledge wrongdoing (confession), and act to improve yourself (penance).

Nothing magical or supertitious aoubt that. True Catholics know the only “seal of approval” we need was given freely on the cross.

Holly said...

Awesome comment, Ducky--most insightful and well said. I think Catholics and Protestants too often see themselves as worlds apart (and Protestants do this among Protestant denominations as well). Thanks for your thoughts.

I'm thrilled to see you're online! Doesn't it feel like we have a secret society, code names and all?

Speaking of, I hope you plan to write about "The DaVinci Code"--I'd love to get your thoughts on it.

I've bookmarked your blog and look forward to reading it.