A Confession About Confession
Updated: Feb 28, 2021
I’m writing this blog post with some apprehension because of two things I am going mention. Some of you may be familiar with these concepts while others may not. To be perfectly honest, five years ago I might not have understood these things myself. But I have been learning, growing, and seeking ways of pursuing more of God in my life. I no longer want to be satisfied in a relationship with God that only involves reading a daily devotional or scripture and praying for people or things on my prayer list. Please don’t misunderstand me, I still want scripture and intercession in my life with God - it’s just that I long for so much more. I yearn to know Him deeply and I want to know what He thinks about me. I am eager to hear what He says to me. And I want to be obedient, not because I’m supposed to or because it’s what is expected of me as a Christian, but because I so desperately love Him.
So, read on - and if you come across something unfamiliar, feel free to comment or email me. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
About three years ago, I contacted my spiritual director for an “extra” meeting – outside of our normal monthly session. The purpose, I told her, was for her to guide me through a formal time of confession to the Lord. This type of thing wasn’t something I practiced in the denomination in which I grew up and it isn’t a spiritual discipline I have practiced before – other than privately confessing to the Lord or to someone that I have hurt or offended.
I prepared for my time of formal confession by sitting in the presence of the Lord and asking Him to reveal my sin to me – and He was faithful to do so. It was painful and I was heartbroken about what He revealed. In that moment, I confessed and repented. But I also made a commitment to taking a step further by meeting with my spiritual director to make confession to the Lord with her present with me. As a trained spiritual director, she knew exactly how to guide me in that process. It felt good to bring things out of the dark and into the light within the safety and confidentiality of our relationship as I confessed to the Lord.
So, you might think at this point that the topic of this talk is about the spiritual practice of confession. But it’s not. That’s because the Lord did something far more powerful and unexpected in the process. You see, after I confessed the darkness of my heart, my iniquitous words and hurtful deeds, my spiritual director asked a question, “Do you then forgive those who have sinned against you?”
A lump caught in my throat. Fresh tears burned in my eyes.
I was not expecting this. You see, I have a lot of practice when it comes to withholding forgiveness and holding on to resentments. Yet, unforgiveness was not in the list of things I had confessed. In that moment, hurts that I thought I had forgiven and moved past stuck in my heart. Two faces and their names seared anew in my mind. All the resentment I felt about how badly I had been wronged, about how terribly I had been hurt, and about the lack of responsibility the people involved had taken for their part… all of it came to the surface as if it had happened that moment.
“Do you then forgive those who have sinned against you?”
What does forgiving others have to do with the act of confession? With repentance? With receiving forgiveness?
Matthew 6:14 -15 is unsettlingly clear, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Another version says it this way, “In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part.” (The Message)
I broke. How could I not forgive? How could I confess all that I had done and personally encounter the unconditional love of the Father – knowing the extravagant price Christ paid for my forgiveness – and then hold on to my resentment?
The juxtaposition was revealing. What would it cost me to forgive? Nothing. Not one single thing. In fact, forgiving and letting go of my resentment would free me. Not only would God take something that cost me nothing – my forgiveness of another - He would give me gifts in exchange. Freedom. Joy. Peace. Comfort. Priceless intangibles.
When is the last time you prayed the Lord’s Prayer? I mean, really prayed it? Do you recite it and let it roll off of your tongue without thinking deeply about the words?
“This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:9-14 (NIV)
It was only later that I noticed in the process of formal confession that the question my spiritual director asked me about forgiving others came first, before her encouraging words of the Lord’s forgiveness towards me. Christ purchased my forgiveness on the cross AND He requires me to forgive – as He did.
I expected to be writing this blog about the spiritual discipline of confession, especially in light of the Lenten season. But what I discovered as I began to write was this important component of confession that is often overlooked – to forgive. We all want to be forgiven. The question is, are we willing to forgive?
Forgiving is hard. I know from personal experience. Below are some steps can you take to address unforgiveness your life. Find a quiet place to be alone with the Lord. Still your heart and follow these simple steps to begin your journey of forgiving. However, if you find resentment has built up and you need more than these few steps, I’ve posted an article below that I have found to be a helpful resource.
1. Remember the cross.
2. Confess unforgiveness to the Lord.
4. Offer forgiveness.
5. Receive forgiveness.
Oh God, let us not be tempted to ask for Your extravagant forgiveness before first offering generous and heartfelt forgiveness to those who have hurt us, wronged us, and sinned against us. May we live in the freedom of your grace, not only because we have been forgiven but because we have embraced and freely forgiven others. Amen.
How to Release Resentment - https://renovare.org/articles/how-to-release-resentment-steps-for-forgiving-others
If you have questions about spiritual direction or about confession to others, the resources below may be helpful for you.
Spiritual Direction - https://www.graftedlife.org/spiritual-direction/about-spiritual-direction
Spiritual Direction - The Next Right Thing Podcast - https://emilypfreeman.com/podcast/the-next-right-thing/167/