Honesty and Confession.
If I’m honest, I don’t like to admit to weakness.
I suppose that’s actually the very problem right there. You see, we live in a culture that is terrified of honesty. It is communicated to us from a very early age that our value is derived from our ability to produce and perform. In order to meet those expectations, I find I must suppress my weaknesses because they compromises the facade I want to project that paints me as a winner, a leader, someone who deserves a platform. Any crack in the armor of my own awesomeness has the potential to become a target for wounding. And so my life becomes the active pursuit to maintain a level of invulnerability that permits whatever version of “success” I have been told is the right goal for survival in a brutal world.
The church, in many ways, is just as guilty of this kind of suppression(to be fair, I’m about as tired of church bashing as you probably are). The very space that should be one for honesty and vulnerability has instead reinforced those patterns of the world that create a culture of human strength and achievement. The gospel becomes something about “pursuing your dreams” and “being the best you can be”, and gradually the language starts to sound something more like a motivational conference than a place to meet God and His people.
What we find in the scriptures, however, stands in stark contrast to this illusory strength we are to maintain in order to protect ourselves from the pain of life. The psalmist speaks of this burden of holding in and hiding his sin, trying to pretend to be strong:
When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
the guilt of my sin. (Psalm 32:3-5)
Similarly, Paul leads his communities in such a way that he is constantly reminding them of his humanity. He says that he is “content in weakness” (2 Cor 12:7-10). He recognizes that all the qualifications he has in the worldly realm are garbage now (Phillipians 3:4-14). He celebrates in his own foolishness and awareness that he leads with “fear and trembling” (1 Cor. 1:26-2:5). For Paul, he had played the game of success in his former life. Yet it was the radical experience of Jesus that humbled him in such a way to touch his own weakness, not as a horror to be rejected and suppressed, but as a beautiful space for the gospel to take root and blossom. God’s power is made perfect in weakness.
In my Anglican tradition, we pray a prayer of confession every Sunday, and sometimes during the week. It pretty well covers all the basics: things we do/don’t do; sins of thought/word/deed; the fact that maybe we aren’t as stupendous at following the Greatest Commandment as we would like to think. Yet rather being the blunt object of condemnation, confession becomes the arrow which pierces the armor of our illusions and grounds us in reality. We come to terms with our humanness and our sins, not in a way that excludes us from the presence of Father, but as an opportunity to actually draw closer to Him. To hold the full reality of our forgiveness, our dependence upon Him, and our common bond of frailty in life with our brothers and sisters.
It’s not as if God doesn’t already know all your secrets. But He wants you to know that you know them. When we speak out our confession, we flesh out the things we’d rather not admit to, but they finally become real in such a way that we can hand them over to God for true absolution. And when we confess to one another (James 5:16) we find that we are united in our common humanity and our need for Jesus. The illusions of hierarchy and tribes fall down, and we come to each other bound in the “me too” of true communion. In this way, we are drawn together in/to Christ, who is all and in all.