Spiritual Disciplines: confession, coming just as we are
by Marion Van Driel
“Just as I am, without one plea
But that Thy blood was shed for me
And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.”
One of the key themes of Lent is confession. In the days leading up to the passion and death of Jesus, we cannot escape admission of our own guilt in the events of Good Friday. Although Lent is certainly a time to reflect on our own human condition in relation to a holy God, confession is a spiritual discipline that requires our regular attention.
Many of us remember a time when sin was a common word, given more thought in both the Church and general society. Confession was a weekly occurrence in Sunday services, with a solemn segment that called for quiet self-examination before God and in the presence of other believers.
Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid myself of one dark blot
To Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
After a time of silent or corporate confession, a deep inner sigh of relief as assurance of our pardon was proclaimed. Guilt removed, freedom complete; Divine grace, mercy and love fuelling songs of thanksgiving and praise.
Just as I am, Thou wilt receive
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve
Because Thy promise I believe
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
Confess your sins to one another
In his bestselling book Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster lists confession as a corporate discipline, but admits it’s an inner discipline as well; not either/or, but both/and. In James 5:16, we read, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
Foster writes, “Confession is a difficult Discipline for us because we all too often view the believing community as a fellowship of saints before we see it as a fellowship of sinners . . . We imagine that we are the only ones who have not stepped onto the high road to heaven. Therefore, we hide ourselves from one another and live in veiled lies and hypocrisy.” When we see our fellow Christians as sinners first of all, it’s easier to be vulnerable and admit our own weaknesses.
He continues, “The person who has known forgiveness and release from persistent, nagging habits of sin through private confession should rejoice greatly in this evidence of God’s mercy. But there are others for whom this has not happened.”
What if guilt remains and release won’t come? Is there a remedy for the anguish of ongoing shame? Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “A man who confesses his sins in the presence of a brother knows that he is no longer alone with himself; he experiences the presence of God in the reality of the other person.”
Confess – to whom?
Foster points out that choosing someone you trust – a spiritually mature person – is essential. This might be a pastor, mentor, spiritual director, or someone trained in Step 5 of the 12-Step program.
Abbotsford teacher, speaker and author Dr. Brad Jersak reveals, “I’ve come to a place where I will only go to people who are trained in hearing confession.” They are trained to listen without judgment, not to dismiss the sin as trivial, and to speak absolution, based on the work of Christ. Jersak says going to the same confessor provides accountability for our actions.
“Half of the power of shame is the secret that I’m holding and carrying. When you get that out in the presence of a non-judgmental listener and they don’t flinch, and they don’t reject you, they’re embodying the acceptance of God himself. There’s a bit of incarnation happening there.” Jersak likens it to a gift he’s unable to open on his own; he needs the help of someone else to open the gift that God has given.
Confess – what?
Foster says that we bring concrete sins, but that this isn’t referring only to outward sins. They refer to definite “sins of the heart – pride, avarice, anger, fear – as well as sins of the flesh – sloth, gluttony, adultery, murder.”
Jersak contends that, “beneath the sin is usually some kind of suffering of the soul that produces the sin. Sin-consciousness might actually not be the first place to start. We confess not only our sin, but our sorrow.” He is often asked by his confessor, “What’s troubling you?” It may be anxiety, stress, or how he’s thought of or treated someone. He is often assured this is part of the human condition; that he is not alone with this struggle.
Jersak’s confessor often reminds him of God’s love and forgiveness, and that “the problem bigger than your sin is wandering away from (God’s love).” Jersak explains that when we have a guilty conscience, we often hide from God. The job of a counsellor is to remind us that God has never left us, that the work of forgiveness is already done, and to encourage us to get back into the presence of God.
After being assured of forgiveness comes a question about moving forward such as, “What’s God’s invitation to you in the midst of this?” At times we are encouraged to make amends with someone if needed.
Confess – how often?
Jersak enjoys seeing his Spiritual Director monthly, allowing him to have a regular session for spiritual formation, whether he feels the need to confess or things are going well. “I love going to confession,” he states enthusiastically. “I feel like thousands of pounds come off me and I know (my counsellors) are safe.”
He tells of the first time he confessed to another person, bringing up a burdensome load of guilt. His counsellor pointed out that perhaps Jersak’s greater sin was sitting in the judgment seat over himself in Christ’s place, and that it might be time to resign the position and come down off that throne. Jersak realized that for years he had used his private confession time to sit on the judgment seat rather than come honestly, openly and humbly to Christ.
Church and authenticity
Foster concludes, “The Discipline of confession brings an end to pretense. God is calling into being a Church that can openly confess its frail humanity and know the forgiving and empowering graces of Christ. Honesty leads to confession, and confession leads to change. May God give grace to the Church once again to recover the Discipline of confession.”
For further discussion on the topic of Spiritual Disciplines, go to attentivesoul.blogspot.ca
*Just As I Am, written by Charlotte Elliott, music by William Batchelder Bradbury