Years ago, my husband and I kicked off a church retreat with a teaching on confession. Following the talk, we joined a prayer team around the perimeter of the space and invited folks to confess their sins. The first woman who approached me shrugged her shoulders apologetically and said, “I don’t have anything to confess.” I looked at her quizzically and almost asked, “So, did you stop at the Catholic parish on the way over?”
Unlike my church friend, if I have been awake for more than 30 minutes, I can find something to confess. The words of John the Apostle have always been very resonant for me;
If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth.” —1 John 1:8
The apostle Paul corroborates my experience in his letter to the Romans: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” When he writes “all,” I actually think he means all. We gorge when life calls for moderation. We work compulsively when we could rest. We silence those who disagree when we could draw them out. We curse when we should bless. God gets this, which is why He sent Jesus. By confessing our sins, we acknowledge this realty.
Most of us choose to fabricate a false self rather than reveal our struggles and failures. Our culture—both secular and Christian—has trained us to value the appearance of health and wholeness over and above the real deal. However, we can’t assign all the blame to post-modernism since the impulse to hide pre-dates the 21st century by several millennia. After Adam and Eve disobeyed God, their first instinct was to camouflage themselves in the hope that He wouldn’t see them. Sound familiar? It should; we’ve been doing it ever since—and it rarely works any better for us than it did for them.
This impulse to hide after blowing it has its roots in shame—a prevailing feeling of badness that convinces us we won’t be loved or accepted if others actually see the truth. In our desire to buffer ourselves from shame, we lie, we posture, we incessantly post happy faces on social media.
Shame isn’t always bad. When we sin—in thought, action or inaction—our shameful feelings are actually meant to get our attention and propel us back to God so that we might receive His forgiveness and grace, primarily through others who know us. This is why James admonishes us to regularly “confess our sins one to another”—so that we can be free from the power of shame and sin.
If you have never done a face to face confession, it might seem like telling someone else will add to your shame. Indeed, confession is humiliating—but the humiliation actually frees us. What we fear, that another will abandon or ridicule us when they know our dark secrets, is the exact opposite of what happens.
Years ago, I found myself thinking too much about a man who was not my husband. I foolishly believed I could handle the temptations by turning to God alone. I imagined a loss of credibility if others knew of my crush. Yet after several weeks trying to extinguish the feelings on my own, I was still unsuccessful. I finally decided to confess to two close friends. Rather than dismiss me as a fraud, they extended forgiveness and prayed for me. Within a few days, I was free. Telling the truth did what nothing else could.
The blessings of confession are multi-dimensional. Instead of the rejection we anticipate, we are finally able to receive authentic love because the one who heard our confession is loving us for who we truly are, rather than the facade we put forth. Additionally, whenever we risk telling the truth, it typically inspires and empowers others to do the same.
Obviously, we need to be prudent about how we confess. If you are confessing to your spouse, you have to be prepared for them to have their own experience of your sin, especially if directly involves or impacts the marriage. If you aren’t confessing to your spouse, choose your confessors wisely. My years of pastoring have taught me that it’s safer to confess sexual sins to the same gendered person because confession is so intimate. You may need to coach your confessor how to listen, how to hold your confession in confidence, and how to speak forgiveness over you.
Regardless of the initial discomfort and feelings of self-consciousness, when we choose to admit our sins to our spouse, we will discover that intimacy grows and our desire to sin decreases. Truly, the discipline of regular confession will change your marriage from the inside out.