Confession

This weekend, I visited an old friend, whose dad was my pastor during most of my childhood. I hadn't heard him preach in many years, so I visited his church this morning and while there, a very cool little story was shared by a member of that fellowship. This woman came forward to share about her many years of running from God and living in rebellion and ultimately how God had drawn her back into fellowship with him, and an event involving her son gave her the final push to come forward. And now I am going to retell her retelling of that event to you.

"A couple weeks ago, several of us from church were over at one friend's house, and the adults were chatting while the kids played in the pool. And as we were sitting there in coversation, my son Andrew, who is four, came up towards the adults and as he stood there, he just dropped his trunks. Right there in front of us all. I look over at the pastor, and he's averting his eyes, trying not to stare at it, and I'm embarassed, and I say to my son, "Andrew, you can't just drop your pants in front of other people like that." My son didn't hesitate, "But it's okay, mom, they're our church family." And I realized that if my son is so comfortable with you all, I have no excuse for not sharing my struggles with you."

Confession. It's a practice that we can easily pass over in the Church, as we spend so much of our time listening to sermons or socializing or faking a "life's peachy" attitude. I believe that we have so easily become tainted by the world that we have so many churches full of Janus-faced people, who are afraid to show their wounds and fears and outright willful sins that pull us down and out of fellowship with Christ. As the Church, we are called to the openly confess to one another the stains in our lives. James says to "confess your sins to each other and pray for each other." Open confession was something that I first experienced when I became a part of Illini Life, and it has become vital for growing in Christ and in fighting against my pride. But the temptation to float along, so as to not damper another's opinion of you is certainly real.

This practice is a huge hurdle for many (certainly some are more prone to being transparent than others), but isn't it liberating? Doesn't it help prevent others from placing us on a pedestal, because they see us as one who is also struggling to be obedient to Christ day to day? And most of all, doesn't it fill us with humility as we are forced to face ourselves and our pride in the mirror of another's forgiveness and grace?

How can we foster environments and communities where confession is encouraged and received with grace?

2 comments:

Colin Lamm said...

It's amazing how children can innocently yet poignantly encapsulate certain truths! My children have often provided the most significant examples of faith to me.

I am not saying you're wrong. In my heart I know what you're saying is true, and do cry out for the church to be a community of people where, like Andrew in your story, I can bare all (which, of course I mean figuratively) and where others can do likewise. Honestly, though, time after time when my faith was more like that of a child's, such instances of confession, openness and trust, only resulted in more pain and judgment.

In a sense even writing this to you leaves me feeling vulnerable - and I know of many, many others who feel the same way. It's also a fact that some of these 'many others' (and perhaps myself too, in less guarded moments), are those who want this for themselves but aren't willing to offer it to others. We like it in principle, but in reality it's not very comfortable standing naked in front of your church, or seeing someone else do the same.

Some churches are very understanding of new converts being very open about the life they were saved from, but are more intolerant of people who are seen as 'more established' in the faith.

Suffice it to say, at present my wife knows me inside and out. With others - no matter how well intentionned they may be - I have become a lot more guarded. I wish I didn't have to be, but (and I do not mean this as harshly, or arrogantly, as it may sound) perhaps Jesus' words of warning about 'casting [one's] pearls before swine' bears heavily upon this issue?

(BTW: I wrote a little piece, at your prior recommendation, on the Gregory Boyd interview. I'd love to discuss it further with you. It's over at my site.)

Jonathan King said...

You're so right. It is a truth that is not easy to swallow. As I wrote this post last night, I knew that there was another side to this coin and I am so glad that you brought it to light. As always, thanks for your insightful thoughts, Colin!

Our confession is not always received with grace and forgiveness, but more often than we'd prefer, with pain and judgment. Our vulnerability can lead to being wounded more deeply, but it is a risk that we must take. And I am not advocating open confession to just any one, but to our trusted friends. However, sometimes, open confession, say for example, by a pastor to his flock, can be overwhelmingly powerful. It helps to draw the community closer under the umbrella of transparency and honesty, and ultimately, humility.

In small groups that I have been a part of, when someone honestly reveals an issue with a particular sin or a wound from the past that still haunts them, the community has more often than not rallied around that person in love in a way that is more powerful than nearly any way that I can think of. To display the grace and forgiveness and acceptance of Christ to one another is so sweet!