Last night I saw a friend do one of the bravest things I’ve ever witnessed. For a long time now, my friend has been wrestling with a certain sin in her life that has come back to haunt her again and again, but instead of hiding it and harboring it in her life (like I do!) she called her closest friends and asked us to come over and pray for her release from it. I have been a Christian for quite some time now, but I have *never* been asked to do that before. Most of us simply lack the courage to confess so openly.
Confession is one of those disciplines that the Catholic Church definitely got right. I can’t imagine how intimidating it must be to tell a priest your deepest darkest sins, but I’m sure it’s pretty convicting to do so. That’s also one of the things that scares me most about marriage–having someone in my life who knows all my flaws, all of my dark sides. I would much rather have people think I am a perfect little Christian girl. I really enjoy conveying that image. The problem is that when we’re able to hide those sins from others, it’s easier to continue on in them because we have no accountability to make us stop.
I pondered all of these things last night as I sat in prayer for my friend, wishing I too had the courage to come clean about the darkest sins of my life. But at the end of the day, I’m too afraid, and too ashamed. I fear that if I tell my friends the worst parts of my life, then they’ll never look at me quite the same. That’s actually one of the things that appeals to me about confessing to priests–these guys have heard it ALL. It is highly unlikely I will tell a priest something that he hasn’t heard before. And because he’s heard it all, he will tell me I need to repent, but not with a look of horror on his face, as if I am especially demented and have experienced some kind of temptation that is not common to most people.
I suppose that attitude is part of what’s lacking in our community, and one of the main reasons confession is a dying discipline. 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man,” but we don’t always treat sinners that way. I’ve seen the faces of Christians who have heard about a fallen brother or sister, faces that convey revulsion and disgust, as if the sinner must be particularly messed up to struggle with such a thing. And while we should have that kind of reaction to sin itself, those attitudes towards the sinners themselves don’t exactly foster the kind of trust and acceptance needed to engage in confession.
Ultimately, however, I think the shock Christians display in response to a revealed sin stems from a lack of understanding of the power of sin. I have found that the longer I live and the more mistakes I make, the more truth I find in 1 Corinthians 10:13–sin *is* common to Man, and it is normal to wrestle with it, as well as fall prey to it at times. In addition to that, the more times I slip and fall, the more I am humbled, and it is this humility that now prevents me from reacting in horror when I hear about sin. Instead of thinking, “How could they!?” I remember that I am vulnerable to the exact same sin, and it is by grace alone that I have not fallen into it myself. I think most of us know this is true, but few of us actually believe it. Most of us live under the illusion that we are generally good people, and that illusion is what causes us to be so surprised at sin. We think we’re invincible to certain sins.
An environment in which that illusion is shattered, in which we swallow the reality that sin is very real and very present in our lives–that is the kind of environment that fosters confession. Yes, it also takes courage on the part of the sinner to confess, and the more people who confess, the more this environment will change (a Catch-22 of sorts), but we need to do all we can to encourage confession. Lack of confession is what holds us in bondage to our sin. Satan lords it over us so it then has power over us. We will never break free because we live in fear and shame of others finding out. But confession is one of the most fundamental steps to breaking from that cycle of bondage, so I pray I will have the courage to do it, as well as the humility to allow others to.