If you’ve been following my story, you may think deciding to change careers was the hardest thing. Nope. Completing my doctorate? Close, but no. Become a spin instructor? No. Launch a ministry? Still no. The hardest thing I’ve ever done is actually something I have committed to keep doing on a very regular basis: confession. Letting someone know what my real life struggles, faults, and failures are is by far the most difficult thing I’ve done. We all know no one is perfect, but it sure feels good to pretend and is incredibly vulnerable to actually name the ways I’m not!
Sin creates a great deal of shame and shame is an incredibly powerful emotion. It’s subtle and sneaky. It quietly creates an inner dialogue of self-condemnation. Shame makes us shrink back and away from others, the isolation only increasing its power. And shame disrupts our ability to be God’s image bearers because it stunts our courage to create, which is one of the most powerful ways we are like God.
Even in our shame, God longs to be with us and relate to us. We see this in God’s response to Adam’s shame in the aftermath of sin and in Jesus incarnate. Though shame turns us away from one another, God draws us towards himself and back into relationship with others. In fact, that is the way toward healing – towards one another. And we move towards one another by sharing our stories, even the shameful ones.
Christian psychiatrist, Curt Thompson says, “The first verse of Hebrews 12 alludes to a ‘great cloud of witnesses’ that allows us to ‘run with perseverance the race marked out for us.’…[This] includes Christians today who know me deeply and whom I confide in personally. These are individuals whom I allow to see everything there is to see.” He points out that we have to “name things to tame things.” There is great healing available when we put words to emotions and experiences we don’t even want to acknowledge and do so in the presence of another. When I voice my shame and acknowledge my fears, faults, and failures, the community is able to point me towards God’s love for me. Thompson points out that shame can’t tolerate transparency, which means the antidote to shame is sharing anything and everything that may lead to shame, including sin.
So although confession is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done, it is also the most healing thing I’ve ever done. I have never vulnerably laid my shame before my cloud of witnesses and had them respond with more shame, shun me, or scorn me. Not one time. No, instead when I am vulnerable within the safety of a trusted cloud of witnesses, I am met with tender care, kindness, and gentle accountability. The fear of vulnerability is that others will reject and push you away. However, in the midst of and wake after moments of vulnerability, a well chosen cloud of witnesses draws you in.
So press into possibly the hardest thing you’ll ever do. Risk being exposed and vulnerable within trusted community. Give yourself the opportunity to hear someone with skin and bones draw you in with great acceptance in the midst of all the shame. Allow yourself to hear them say, “I’m so sorry you are struggling with this sin. I’m here for you. I love you. I still accept you. And so does God.”
Who are your “great cloud of witnesses”? Maybe you don’t have one. Pray that God would bring those people into your life. If you do, what keeps you from being vulnerable and authentic regarding confession with them?