I’ve always been a fan of science fiction, but one futuristic idea I’ve never been excited about is mind-reading. I don’t want to live in a world where it’s impossible to keep a secret or have a private life. It would be awful to have my thoughts and actions on display for everyone to see and evaluate. Thanks, but no thanks. Boundaries and filters are wonderful things.
The tension between openness and privacy can be difficult to navigate. Honesty and transparency connect us to others, but in healthy relationships we get to decide what to reveal, when to open up, and what to keep to ourselves. When there is something we want to share we might not know who to talk to. Life is full of hard, shameful, and frustrating realities that need to be shared, because hiding, minimizing, and denying challenges don’t make them go away.
While studying for my Master’s degree I heard about a spiritual practice called confession1 , which didn’t sound like much fun. However, a friend and I decided to try it out because our research said confession could help us deal with struggles, fear and shame. We didn’t use a script or formula, but confession gave us a framework to have honest and open conversations. Confessions wasn’t just for the bad/wrong/sinful things we did, but for what we imagined doing. The angry replies and biting comments inside our minds and hearts usually came from an underlying fear or insecurity. Instead of suffering in silence, we learned to reach out and describe our pain, loneliness, or anger. We admitted the gap between where we were and where we wanted to be. We brought our judgments, temptations, or fear into the open.
At the beginning confession felt awkward and contrived. But as we made a habit of opening up things started to change. First of all, confession reminded us we don’t have to face life’s difficulties alone. When we felt alone, stressed, or neglected it’s only a matter of time before we went down a bad path. Confession gave us permission to reach out for connection instead of pulling back in fear. It took courage to be honest about our pain and shame, but every step away from fear and toward connection was a step in a good direction.
Next, confession unburdened our soul. Our faults, hurts, and sins don’t define us. Instead, our weaknesses, desires, and overreactions pointed to areas which needed help. We are more than our angry feelings, unmet longings, or harsh responses. When we brought our faults and pain into the light we could breathe more deeply, sleep better, and carry less stress.
Confession was a way to press “pause” in situations when our buttons got pushed. Instead of lashing out we made a habit of going to our confessor and asking for help. These conversations helped us put the breaks on bad ideas before we acted on them. Confession often brought clarity and a shift of perspective. Confession didn’t prevent every bad decision but it slowed us down and helped us avoid pitfalls. The confessor wasn’t responsible to change or fix the other person; we are responsible for our actions and choices, but confession reminded us we’re created for connection and community.
Through confession I discovered that my fear of rejection was actually an illusion. I had been convinced that if people knew what I truly thought and felt they would reject me, but that isn’t what happened. My confessor was not shocked or repelled by my sins and weaknesses. Instead, her kindness reminded me I was loved, even in my brokenness, and my confessor and I experienced the forgiveness and open arms of the Father through one another. As we got more comfortable with the practice of confession our awareness of God’s unconditional love grew.
If confession sounds like something you’d like to try, let me say a bit more about it. First off, the practice of confession requires self-awareness and trust. Before you can be honest with your confessor you have to be honest with yourself. How do you truly feel? What’s underneath a particular struggle or fear or temptation? As you’re honest with yourself, you can be honest with your confessor, and in this way confession allows you to be known. Confession isn’t about venting or complaining or excusing. Instead, it allows you to walk in humble vulnerability with the goal of discernment, change, and freedom.
Confession isn’t only about guilt and sin. Everyone has weaknesses and temptations; everyone is on a journey of becoming more like Jesus, and all of us need help and support to grow. When we normalize honesty and openness, we stop seeing confession as something negative and can benefit from what it has to offer.
Confession invites us to bring our needs and burdens to God and another person. There’s an abundance of grace, forgiveness, and compassion in God’s heart. As we accept God’s forgiveness and His invitation to draw near, we’re able to say to others, “You are not alone in this struggle. Your situation sounds hard and I’m here for you. With God’s help, there’s a way forward.”
What a gift it is to have a confessor, someone who sees our dark parts and still welcomes us as a friend. What a gift it is to know we can come as we are into God’s presence. In His presence, we can find the love we need. Through the practice of confession, as we offer up the hard and hidden parts of life, and as we share our sin and pain with each other, we participate in God’s work of healing and restoration, one confession at a time.2
If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. — 1 John 1:8-9 (NASB)
- This post has been adapted from The Gifts I Never Knew I Had, chapter 22, by Tanya Lyons.
- Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard Foster, and The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People by John Ortberg, talk about the practice of confession. ↩
When it comes to the practice of confession and staying connected to others, here are some questions to consider:
– With whom do you talk about your struggles?
– Who knows about and celebrates your victories?
– Who acts as a sounding board when you need to make important decisions?
– With whom do you have healthy fun?
– Where do you find role models to inspire your faith and life? ↩