Confession. I grew up evangelical, without any experience of the Roman Catholic Church beyond what I saw on TV or read in novels, and even for me that word brings to mind curtained alcoves, with a shadowed face behind a screen, and the words, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.”
Archaic. Irrelevant. And with absolutely nothing to do with my life.
The confession I grew up with was to admit privately to God when you’d gone off track, confident of his forgiveness, and with a newfound commitment to doing better next time.
(That’s how we evangelicals roll.)
We’re missing something.
Something triggered in me when a friend told me the day she told me about her private struggle (years ago now) was the day that struggle ended. It was like saying it out loud stole all its power.
I wondered at that, but wasn’t sure if I agreed. After all, we’ve all experienced the opposite – telling a friend can sometimes make the issue grow, especially if its treated casually or dismissed, but her words stay with me and throughout the week it pops into my mind at the most bizarre times: saying things out loud robs them of their power.
Was there truth in that?
And then I had a return of that same struggle which makes its way around again: obsessive thoughts I knew weren’t from God. Speaking truth over myself, renewing my mind, doing all the right things weren’t making a dent in the constant barrage of negative thoughts. It was getting to the point that I wasn’t even able to pray. I pulled out old books of prayer, with written prayers you just have to read out loud, and even that felt too hard to get through. All I could say is, “God, send in reinforcements because I’m losing this battle.”
And that friend called. And I managed to say, ‘I’m not doing so great.’ I told her I was losing the battle in my mind, and I didn’t know what to do.
You know what happened? She didn’t judge. She empathized, but she did not enter my space. She stood in the gap. “Can I pray over you?” Beautiful words. She prayed – warrior prayers that spoke into deep wounds I hadn’t even mentioned. And as she said amen, I suddenly wanted to be back in the Word. I wanted to read Scripture out loud over myself. I hung up the phone and went to do just that. Then, I wanted to pray. Real prayers, hopeful prayers, prayers of deliverance and thanksgiving.
That, my friends, is what confession is supposed to do: call your brothers and sisters to fight on your behalf. To hold you up when you are falling down.
It’s not just speaking your struggle out loud – though that is a powerful part of it that matters more than we know – it’s speaking it to someone who will stand for you.
I’m reminded of Job’s friends – they meant well, but when Job confessed his struggle, instead of standing in the gap, they sat down in the mud with him.
We need both – the courage to speak out loud our fears and failures, temptations and sins – and not only safe, but powerful people who will call you to righteousness.
She could have sympathized. She could have tried to minimize my pain or reassure me. She didn’t. She went to battle, and she covered me with her prayers.
And I was set free.
Honestly. The last three weeks compared to the last two days: a world of difference. I am no longer controlled by those negative thoughts. They’ve become slippery – like the thought can enter my mind, but it can’t get a grip and stay there, so it just slides away. There’s no footholds for the devil in that place anymore. I have victory.
That’s the power of confession.
That’s the power of community.
That’s the power of the church in action.
So to said friend (you know who you are) thank you.
To Carey Nieuhof, whose teaching on confession really got me thinking, thank you.
And to the God above who forgives our sin and heals our disease (interesting that those two are connected, isn’t it) – all glory to You!