I hate the idea of confession. More accurately, I hate the practice of confession. Mainly because confession forces me to make admissions that I’m not all put together. And when you’re in a spot where you have to confess to someone you love that you’ve done wrong, you can’t just get a way with the cheap little, “oh, I’m not perfect” bit. You actually have to get vulnerable and honest.
I live with a natural bent that is the complete opposite of confession. For me to embrace the Christian practice of being honest and forthcoming with own shortcomings is the single most challenging aspect of the Christian life. I have an obsessive desire to convince people that I have nothing to confess.
The inner monologue that I default to is that to confess is to put on display all the will disqualify me from being worth the little bit that I’ve tried to fake my way into earning. Confession places my self-perception and worth on the line in the most risky way possible. The competing whisper of internal reflection I have, which has been informed by what I believe about God, tells me that the real risk is to try and keep my secrets. That if I live with openness I will find that freedom I keep searching for in my secrecy.
My gut tells me that I might be a little more paranoid about confession than most, but my experience tells me that I don’t practice confession any less frequently than most. Rarely do I encounter anyone who actively and willingly practices the regular opening of themselves to admit their faults, flaws, blemishes, regrets, and hurt.
I name two reasons why the lives of American Christians are so devoid of confession. First, we’re a very image conscious people. I don’t think most folks carry the level of dread that I do, but 9 out of 10 people you encounter do understand that to be honest about their mistakes is risky, Second, I would say that most people don’t feel like they have anyone they’re close to that they could even practice confession with.
Even though I hate everything about the idea of confession, it is something that I have learned to practice. It usually takes me a while to work up to making a confession, and the preparation time includes cold sweats, nightmares, and panic attacks.
BUT, I have found no greater catalyst for growth and peace than the practice of confession. I have spent my adult life working in and around the world of spiritual formation. I have been to conferences, seminars, taking courses, read books, listened to podcasts, seeking out practices and postures that will help a person grow in their spiritual life. In all of my searching, I have never found any single practice as powerful as confession.
I believe the reason confession is so powerful is that nothing else we do in our spiritual lives can be genuine and whole hearted until we have nothing left to hide. The Christian journey can be described as one of wholeness. Through our following of Jesus, we are walking a path toward being put back together. Without the practice of confession, then we are putting the puzzle back together without all the pieces. And we all know there is nothing more maddening than a puzzle that is missing a few pieces.
I will add this caution. Confession is not the same as self-deprecation. Nor is it a public humiliation. Confess to people you trust. Confess to the people you’ve offended. Confess for the purpose of healing wounds, not causing hurt. I’m not a legalist and I don’t believe that you have to confess every little thing you do wrong if you want to feel at peace in your pursuit of Jesus. You know that there’s the general imperfections you’ve got, and then there are the things you’ve done either that have really caused people hurt. Those big ones that stand out in your mind are the ones you need to worry about confession.
My last confession disclaimer is that while this practice is vital to a person being able to grow in faith and trust, it does not come without risk. Confession leads you into dangerous spaces, where you and the people you’ve hurt are very vulnerable. This will likely not be roses and sunshine. It will be painful and it will feel dark. You may realize that the damage you’ve done is far great than you realized. But there’s no moving forward without accepting this risk and facing the danger.