Anything But Confess...
A few days ago, I was sitting on the balcony of a hotel room, enjoying my coffee and a view of the Mobile Bay. Three stories below on the sidewalk, a young mother and her two children rode bicycles along a brick path next to the water’s edge. Like a mother duck behind her hatchings, she spurred them along with her words. The daughter, the oldest and directly in front of her, was a proficient rider; but the small boy up ahead was pedaling slowly, struggling with his balance even with training wheels there to catch him.
The mother urged him to keep moving and pedal faster, but he protested loudly enough for me to hear him on the third floor.
“I’m scared,” he said.
My heart did a little flip. When did my children stop saying they were scared and I had to learn to discern it because they weren’t going to admit it. Somewhere in growing up, we stop admitting we’re scared. Then I heard myself asking, “When is the last time you said you were scared?” When did I stop acknowledging it in myself even though it is beneath so much of my surface?
Where did we get the idea that grown-ups shouldn’t say that or the idea that we have to pretend we are not?
I found myself in a situation this week where I had to say the following:
I have to come clean and tell you what a mess I am inside because I am worried too much about pleasing people and I’m carrying that worry all by myself. I’ve been pretending and denying. Confession is not easy for me. I don’t like admitting that I am scared because I work so hard to appear in control. Frankly, I feel weak - which I hate… But I’ve come to prefer that to being sick or broken - which is where I’m headed.
Though I waited until the light of day to say those words, I wrote them in the middle of the night. When I awake at 2 a.m. and sleep eludes me, I get serious about owning my mess.
So I put words to my confession. I got it out of my body. I said it to God, a piece of paper, and next day another person who received it and held it for me.
Dr. Larry Crabb, in his book Fully Alive, says, ”God meets us where we are to empower us to move closer to where we long to be. He does not meet us where we pretend to be, or where we wish we were, or where in better days we once were. He meets us where we confess to be.”
Too much of the time I’m pretending, wishing, or reminiscing, rather than just acknowledging right where I am. I’m telling myself I shouldn’t feel a certain way, rather than admitting that I do and asking God to channel that emotion in healthy way or show me what’s beneath it. I’m listening to self-talk about what I ought to do, rather than confessing what I actually want or asking that my truest, deepest desire underneath be revealed.
I rationalize, deny, and ignore…anything but confess.
I’m wasn’t raised in a tradition that put much emphasis on confession as a spiritual practice; and though I don’t believe in endlessly wallowing in what’s been forgiven and forgotten, I’m told in James that confession is healing and the psalmist says those who don’t confess find their bones wasting away. That’s why I said earlier I prefer confession to being sick or broken. I’ve had enough experience with denying my reality and my own limitations until my body shouts, “Enough!” and puts itself to bed despite the commitments on the calendar. The body doesn’t pretend, wish, reminisce, or deny. It speaks its truth eventually. The ego, however, will tell endless lies.
When my son was a small boy, he wanted to do things for himself at an early age and tasks like tying shoes or zipping pants would frustrate him. His face would redden and his jaw would tighten, and he’d make inaudible sounds through his teeth. I can remember saying,”Use your words, Chip. Ask Mom to help you.” I could see what was wrong, and could have easily fixed it; but I wanted him to learn how to identify his emotions and ask for help when he needed it.
The essence of confession - just say what’s wrong and ask for help. It sounds so simple that it astounds me how many ways I try to avoid it.
“I’m scared,” that little boy said, and immediately his mother’s tone shifted to one of soothing encouragement and confidence, assuring him she was right behind him.