Confession

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This week, we’ve been working through the Spiritual Discipline of Confession as explained in Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline. Yesterday, I talked about my preparation for the actual practice of the confession. Today, I recount the experience. My hope is that, as others read of my account they will be encouraged to walk through their own exercise of confession.

I found, first of all, that the anticipation of the event of giving my confession was in itself a motivation towards the deep work of reflection. The Greek Philosopher Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. Paul tells us to “test ourselves to see if we are in the faith.” Nevertheless, we tend to rush ahead into our days, weeks, months, and even years, barely pausing to catch our breath, so wrapped up in what’s coming, that we rarely, if ever, reflect on what we have done or the effect it may have had on others.

The preparation for the practice of confession caused me to think deeply about my experiences and ask the Lord to reveal that which needed to be recalled, mourned, confessed and forgiven. He did not fail me in this exercise. As I spent the time to recall what I had done, he was faithful to bring to mind the sins both of comission and omission that needed to be addressed in my time of confession.

But the time of confession was not simply an exercise of writing out my past sins as one would write out a list of chores to accomplish or groceries to buy. It was, as well an exercise of comprehension, of understanding of what those sins had meant, not only in the in the moment when they occurred, but also how they had affected my life as a whole and my relationships both with God and others. In that, I found confession to be a catalyst for the production of genuine sorrow. The tears flowed on more than one occasion, both as I prepared and as I shared as I came to understand the profound effect of my failures, shortcomings, and willful disobedience.

Still, my time of confession was more than simply a time for tears, it was for me a pathway for the achievement of true relief. As I spent the hour with my confessor, my first and only act of confession so far as an Evangelical Christian, there was a comfort that I felt as I shared with him what the Lord had revealed to me during my time of preparation. Although I am sure that I had confessed each one of those sins privately prior to our meeting, sharing what I had done with another human being made the confession more tangible, more concrete. The activity of my confessor was truly priestly. He served as an intermediary physically listening, understanding, and responding to the words that I spoke audibly which were previously only confessed in my mind or in whispers.

In the act, I was comforted by the seriousness and respect with which he took up the matter. He gave me his full attention. He listened and commented appropriately as I spoke of the my failures along the pathway of life, be them the routine selfish actions or the isolated incidents that the Spirit had brought to my remembrance over the past 3 days of reflection. His questions were not to pry but to clarify, helping me to reveal that which had been burdening my heart. He brought grace to the meeting by not rushing my response, waiting for me to compose myself when the tears flowed. By the time that he spoke the words of 1 John 1:9, It had become more than a cathartic experience with a stranger behind a curtain, it was the embrace of a brother, loving me in all my imperfection and granting me the assurance that Christ’s work was more than sufficient to cover even the sins I had been unable to recall.

In the end, my time of confession was more than a time of reckoning with the past, it was also a reorientation toward the future. The act of confession and the confirmation of my forgiveness gave me a liberty to embrace radical repentance. With nothing to hide or repress, I am now free to engage fully in my relationship with God and others. With the pardon spoken and received, I am able to live openly, no longer hiding myself from scrutiny, no longer telling myself, “If they truly knew me, they would think differently about me.” If my true self has already been revealed, evaluated confessed and forgiven by God, why do I need to fear from the criticism of others?

This, of course was a personal experience, one informed by the other disciplines in which I have already engaged. My own future experiences may not be nearly so special. Yours may not have the profound effect that mine has had due to your own prior experience in spiritual formation. Still, as I move on from here, I feel convinced that personal evaluation, continued accountability, and corporate confession is worth adding to my routine spiritual hygiene. I hope your experience with confession might at least leave you with the feeling that it was worth it to made the effort to complete the exercise.

Do you have a question about my experience or an experience of your own to share? Perhaps you’d like to make a comment about the Discipline of Confession. Why not leave one in the section below. I’d love to hear it.

Photo credit: “Confessions about confessionl” from pallottines.ie utilized in accordance with a Creative Commons 4.0 license.

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For the past two months we’ve been walking through an experiential study of the Spiritual Disciplines as laid out in Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline. This week, we’re going through the Corporate Discipline of Confession. If you’ve missed my introductory post on this topic, I encourage you to go back and review it.

As we turn from its justification to its practice, I felt it helpful to use Foster’s “Diary of a Confession” section as a guide. During the past three days in which I’ve been silent in this space, I’ve been preparing, selecting setting up and appointment with my confessor and spending time in reflection, in the evaluation my past as I prepare to give my own confession.

The reflection consisted of dividing my life, as did Foster into three sections. In my case I chose adolescence, young adulthood, and adulthood as my sections, effectively separating my life into my post conversion experience, my time of ministerial formation, and my life as a minister. I then spent time in focused meditation over the course of three days allowing the Holy Spirit to reveal the past sins that came to the fore. My goal was not to explain or justify those memories, simply to write them down as I that which I believed necessary for me to share in the upcoming session.

Of course, the benefits that I’ve already received from this time of preparation led me to reflect on why I hadn’t taken the initiative to go through this process before or why I had never received an invitation to do so from the Christian communities of which I’d been a part. My search for reasons brought me to an article on CovenantEyes.com, the website of company that produces the accountability software that we use on our electronic devices.

In the article entitled, “Shame-Killing Churches: A Vision of Real Accountability” the author, Traylor Lovvorn, explains why so few Christian communities are able to operate at the level of the trasnformative community that it should be. He cites a Dr. David Powlison when talking about the problem of shame:

Shame [is] “a sense of failure before the eyes of someone else.” When this “someone else” is a perfect and holy Creator and our perspective is vertical in nature, this sense of failure is healthy in that it opens the door to the Gospel and allows us to see our desperate need for a Savior. But when our perspective is horizontal and we are comparing ourselves to peers and fellow believers, shame turns toxic and leads to a deep-seated unease with who we are that causes us to withdraw and hide.

Any attempts to establish community and accountability that do not account for and address this underlying issue of toxic shame only piles on a deeper sense of failure and drives men further into isolation and away from genuine community.

I invite you to read the rest of the article for his description of, what to me is, a far too common problem in our Christian community. Although his struggle was related to the sexual, I believe that his experience is a specific experience of an all too universal problem.

How do we escape this isolationism, the popular cliché that our private, hidden, relationship with Jesus is enough? I feel even more strongly now that it is by becoming vulnerable through confession. It’s by breaking down the facade that we’ve worn before others and showing them the radical nature of the redemptive work, a work that continues to the present day in every believer, and it’s by offering grace for those who are walking that same road with us.

As I write this, I’m readying for my own scheduled time of confession. To tell the truth, the preparation has already had a profound effect. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to living out the experience. After these last two posts, I hope you might be as well.

Photo credit: “Soderledskyran brick wall/a>” by Håkan Svensson utilized in accordance with a Creative Commons 3.0 license.

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In our consideration of the Spiritual Disciplines as treated in the book, Celebration of Discipline, we now turn our focus from service to the Spiritual Discipline of confession. This is also a movement, as the book suggests, from the outward Disciplines of Simplicity, Solitude, Submission, and Service, to the Corporate Disciplines, which include Worship, Guidance, and Celebration, as well as Confession.

Of course, such a categorization of confession may seem strange to some. “Isn’t the confession of our sin a private matter between ourselves and God?” we may ask. Foster affirms this but also points out that the Bible calls for us to confess our sins one to another (James 5:15). He suggests that the reason that many of us struggle with the guilt of our past sins is because we have left this corporate discipline behind as a casualty of the reformation.

As a former catholic, I lament the loss of this spiritual exercise. If there was one thing that has maintained meaning for me in my religious practice after coming to faith in Jesus Christ it is the sacrament, as it is called, of Reconciliation. I remember the catharsis that I experienced as I audibly confessed to another human being the sins that I had committed, and there was a power that I felt as I heard the words of absolution. As I left the booth or the room where I gave my confession, I remember that there would be a lightness in my step, a smile on my face, and a joy in my heart.

Now, I know that confession has been criticized for its abuse, for the idea that comes from a misunderstanding of its purpose that we might sin to our heart’s content just so long as we give confession afterwards, that in this game that we play with God, as long as we follow the rules of giving confession, that he must forgive us. This is an attitude that we must reject. Still we must ask ourselves, do we negate the benefits of modern medicine because there are those who abuse prescription drugs? Do we stop giving to charitable organizations because there are those who have embezzled funds?

Certainly, I’m not advocating a return to empty rituals, I’m inviting us to experience the grace that comes from recovering a neglected Spiritual Discipline. In the days that come, we’ll explore what Richard Foster and the Bible have to say about the Discipline of Confession and we’ll take some time to walk through its practice. I expect it to be uncomfortable, but I hope and pray that, like any exercise, it will bring us benefit from its practice.

What would you say about the Discipline of Confession as we begin? What, if any, experience do you have with its practice? Have you experienced any benefit from it? Have you witnessed its abuse? Share your thoughts with me in the comments section.

Photo credit: “Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Toulouse – chapelle des reliques – Confessionnal” by Didier Descounes utilized in accordance with a Creative Commons 4.0 license.

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