A Desperate Need for Confession
I have been growing in my recognition of how important it is to confess to God, to our family and to others the nature of our wrongs. We don't need to give details that might wound others. We don't need to describe stories that make our sins attractive, or make our journey from darkness to light a matter of euphoria; such that others might like to emulate our path of sin. We do need to confess our faults. Scripture admonishes us to do this. What happens when we don't is becoming clearer and clearer to me.
I met with a Christian family recently. The adult daughter is a health-care professional, as are her parents. She grew up consistently feeling inadequate and not good enough. This grew to a continual state of anxiety. At our meeting, both her parents confessed to feeling inadequate throughout their lives as they compared themselves to others. They never before told their daughter they felt such feelings or how they came by them. The daughter's lifetime pattern of anxiety was not fully alleviated in a day, but hearing her parents had similar feelings to hers was incredibly relieving.
At the same time, it angered her to realize that her suffering might long ago have been greatly alleviated by her parents open confession of their own woundedness. I think of when I joined church and how I suffered thinking myself much worse than most any others. I struggled with sexual fantasies. I consistently had to revisit and recognize how self-centered and grandiose I am. Others did not express these concerns or issues. They were my mentors, leaving me to either 1) surmise that somehow I was certainly terminally unique or 2) to seek the clothing of denial in which they were garnished.
Our society consistently looks to have our feelings change in order to change our behavior. This and the lack of confession are incredibly debilitating to us individually, our church and our society as a whole.
Research shows that just from one occasion of taking a few minutes and writing out a painful memory that we have not confessed to others, brings a significant health benefit that lasts for at least a year. Further research shows that we continue to receive physical wellness benefit when we should continue to share the painful event with others (see research by James Pennebaker and others). This speaks just of confession from a selfish personal perspective.
I am noticing how very much others and our society are negatively impaired by our lack of confession to them. This lack of confession is an insult and a wound to those we love the most. We rob them of the personal witness of God's grace and how it is we engage in the fight of faith. The result is the spiritual blindness, poverty, nakedness and denial characteristic of God's people as described in Jesus' message to the Church of Laodicea.
In the area of relationships, this is most evident. I remember a wonderful saint who taught and ministered at Oakwood College, Elder Mosely. He gave testimony to a congregation of ministers and laity that he had never kissed his wife prior to marriage. I seem to remember that he hadn't even held her hand, but this might well be an exagerration on my part. No one else offered a similar testimony. For others, silence prevailed.
If only we could confess to our children and families those difficult lessons we have learned the hard way, in regards to relationships. Our silence sets the stage for our children and families having a hard way to go. Our silence indicates that we have done things right, and so should you. Such silence or lack of confession, leaves us and our youth to find our situations much more hopeless than they are, or to take the other deadly alternative of also cloaking in silent denial.
I am not asking for you to tell with who, what, when, where and how often you have fallen prey to sin and selfishness. The Bible gives wonderful examples of the struggles of saints in their seeking to honor God, while living in the flesh. Their seems to be a dearth of such examples presented to our children and families, due to our lack of confession.
I volunteer at Miracle Meadows School (MMS). It is a home away from home to many disobedient, defiant and otherwise troubled youth. These youth are acting out what they are not talking out. They are behaviorally expressing what they are not verbally confessing. Sigmund Freud considered that social constraints are what keeps us from acting out. If he was right, then MMS students simply need more constraint. If Jesus was right, they need to open their hearts to the heart of God. But, this comes only by confession. Our confession is how and why we open the door of our hearts.
One of the skills sometimes taught as a way of avoiding conflict is called 'fogging.' Fogging is done by acknowledging what the person has said and side-stepping any direct confrontation with the rightness or wrongness of what they have said. It is a way of being agreeable, even when you disagree, and thus avoiding conflict. One problem with this is that it can come across as disingenuous or deceitful. Historically, I have been very guilty of this. I would often 'fog' and say "Yes" to statements directed at me. I meant, "Yes, I hear what you are saying." That was often taken as, "Yes, I agree with you." Consequently, my wife would try to point out how I had been deceitful to her in that wise. Again, I would say, "Yes." I didn't agree with what she was saying, because I considered that I had been honest and avoided conflict at the same time. I didn't see that I had only set the stage for greater conflicts later on, and that I was indeed being deceptive. I thought I was being 'wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove.'
When I began confessing how much (what I felt to be) negative comments about me were true, then our relationship entered a more healing phase. I was not arguing. I was not avoiding conflict. But, I was confessing and acknowledging what I knew to be true. After I confessed what was true of me in what she was saying, I would qualify where I considered her comments to not be the case. Not for the sake of defending myself, only for clarification of what God had been accomplishing in me. Confession breeds confession, just as silence and denial breed silence and denial. There are times indeed where 'silence [or 'fogging'] can be golden.' There are many other times where silence or fogging are just 'fools gold' and confession is greatly needed.
Students at MMS need ongoing healthy confession from parents and staff, as do our homes and churches. Modeling is the most powerful learning tool. Jesus cautioned us to cease from practicing hypocrisy (Matthew 7). He noted that we need to remove the beam from our own eye, before we seek to remove a splinter from the same log from another's eye.
Confession and mourning/weeping (a more emotionally expressive form of confession) serve to remove much, if not all, such hypocrisy. This is the reason I have been encouraging all parents, MMS staff, and churches to engage in regular ongoing process/personal-exploration group support meetings-otherwise referred to in the Bible as 'church.' Such meetings are indeed what church and family would best be. Although most fellowships and families have precious little openness and confession, and seldom engage in regular formal or informal process groups. As we confess our faults to God and each other, and surrender our lives to God's leading, we open ourselves to experience an outpouring of love and of His Spirit that is without measure. May God guide and continue to encourage us all in this experience of love and grace.