Confession in community is something I want to grow in. I am aware that there are limits to how much we can confess very personal sins and short-comings to a large group but I want to try to work on this area of my life. I also want to learn how to be more transparent with regard to confession in a smaller group. I think there is a connection between confession, prayer and healing. In fact, I suspect that this is something God is trying to teach all of us.
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. –James 5:16
Could the act of confession be the means of grace in our lives? I suspect so. So why have I learned from my experience in church meetings that confession rarely takes place in the context of church gatherings? If God is offering healing through this means of grace, why not explore it further?
What is it that God is healing in us through confession? I’m wondering this myself. I think of the brokenness caused by lies I have believed; the burns that shame from failures hidden from others has seared onto my heart; the deafness learned from not hearing the words “you are forgiven”; the cancer of pride that consumes from thinking I don’t have anything that needs confessed; how my heart has grown stony, cold, and defensive from not communicating openly, from not practicing vulnerability, from not trusting God or the communion of saints.
Like most people, I resist showing my ‘bad side’ to others. There is also a side of me that is very cautious about sharing my own sins because I don’t want what I say to be used against me. Can you relate to this? What are the proper boundaries of public confession? What are some ways for Christian communities to practice confession as a regular discipline? How do we discover what sins we can confess in a large group setting and those best kept to only a few close friends? Regardless, I know that confession is a spiritual discipline and as we engage it we must confront our own pride and our tendency towards all kinds of sophisticated ‘cover-ups’.
We cannot force one another to confess. This rather misses the point. Confession, however, is not easy, and if I wait until I feel like doing it I probably won’t ever do it. I think it’s probably one of those things we can/should make a commitment to doing, as a starting place at least. This could occur between two or several individuals. In a larger context, we can also give space for this on a regular basis (which at GW we kind of are doing…at least, we are talking more about it) and hope that we will trust one another increasingly and allow each other to be involved in each of our healing.
In some ways, the problems we face today are not very different from the problems revealed in Genesis 2-3. Rather than confess our sins (which is agreeing with God), my tendency is to run away from God, hide and point the finger first blaming God and then blaming someone else. So how can I get beyond the habit of spiritual blindness? I am unsure but I do know I can’t figure this out by myself. I want to grow in this area because I see a connection between confession and healing and I want to be healed so that I am more free to love. I also see a deep connection between confession and trust, confession and true community, confession and self-respect.
I’ve found that confession removes this lie we believe that others are somehow more perfect, more “arrived”, that we are alone in our struggles and failures. I think there is also something in giving words to things. In giving words to fears, to failings, or whatever we need to confess; it becomes less of this ominous, foreboding, indefinable presence and becomes more bounded and identified. We are able to look at it and say, “Oh, so THAT’S what you are.”
I think that there are probably different contexts appropriate for different things. For most of us the practice of confession is relatively foreign and scary and certainly a new level of transparency that requires intentionality. I think we can ask for safe opportunities/places/relationships in which to practice this, with an individual or a group. In my experiences, even sharing small things with one person has given me greater courage to share more deeply and with different people.
What then is the role of leadership in helping others grow in this area of confession? I think our role is simply to intentionally find our way into the process. While leaders do set examples and while growing leaders do want to be more transparent, in the end, I think what everyone wants is for leaders simply to demonstrate their desire to grow in this area by making space for it to happen in the context of our community life. And I desire to make space because I desire to grow.
I appreciate the role leadership can take in finding our way into these processes, in making space for this. Sometimes I wonder, though, how much we don’t do because we’re waiting for someone else (a pastor, president, or whatever kind of leader) to start things. And this is not the fault of the leader; he or she is limited just like the rest of us. A good thing a leader can do is to give space for others to initiate and lead in spheres or topics that which energize or convict them. It’s unrealistic to think that any one leader could lovingly push a group in all the places needed, and lazy for the group only to wait for specific directives from leadership before pursuing growth. I know from personal experience that this is an easy mindset to embrace.
Recently I rediscovered a prayer of confession (I think it’s from the Book of Common Prayer) that a friend and I had spent some time with a couple years ago, and it’s been something I’ve been thinking about and praying. I’ve found it to be a useful tool in thinking about confession, and in giving words to it, and in doing it. This is part of the prayer:
Most holy and merciful Father,
I confess to you and to the whole communion of saints
In heaven and on earth
That I have sinned by my own fault
In thought, word, and deed;
By what I have done and by what I have left undone.
I have not loved you with my whole heart, mind, and strength;
I have not loved my neighbor as myself;
I have not forgiven others as I have been forgiven.
Have mercy on me, Lord.
I have been deaf to your call to serve as Christ served us.
I have not been true to the mind of Christ.
I have grieved you Holy Spirit.
Have mercy on me, Lord.
— Anne Wilson & Keith Wasserman