Q: The church teaches the need for confession yet it's often not practiced. Does it matter that we avoid it?
A: A theme runs through many of our conversations: the longing in the hearts of clergy and parishioner alike to be known. Whether we’re talking about studies that show pastors experience isolation and loneliness, or the conversation about how to better connect people with one another, this theme exists.
The problem is that honesty is messy, and as “holiness people,” we like things clean and in control. We don’t know what to do when a long-time member admits to addiction. We struggle to walk the fine line between grace and truth when a believer shares they are living with a girlfriend or boyfriend.
As a result, we share “unspoken prayer requests.” We click our tongues when a member talks about her unwed and pregnant granddaughter. We roll our eyes at the man smoking outside the church. With every disapproving stare or fiery sermon our churches communicate a very dangerous message; hide your shadow for it’s not safe to share that here.
And so we hide.
It’s in this hiding, in this living in the darkness of our secrets, pastors and congregants alike are consumed by their shadows. Our pressure to present a holy face sometimes creates a very unholy and unhealthy person.
Our pressure to present a holy face creates a very unholy and unhealthy person.
Confession as healing
Theologian Richard Rohr said “our wounds are the places God’s grace most viscerally comes in contact.” He went on to say that “all which is required of the Christ-follower is humility and honesty.”
Shadows. Humility. Honesty. To know God is to be honest with Him and each other. Another way to say it is, “to be holy is to be honest.”
If we holiness people are serious about inviting others into holiness, then we must create space for the wounds they carry. We must allow the wounds to be named, and welcome the grace of God to come into contact with it.
What does this look like? Maybe the pastor begins sharing his or her wounds, doubts, fears, shortcomings (this done carefully and within reason). Maybe a church can offer its space to host various Anonymous meetings (alcoholics, narcotics, food addicts, etc.) or sponsor a Celebrate Recovery group.
Maybe it means to challenge people to live honest lives. And in this honesty to create a culture of openness and engagement with the problems of life.
Because here’s the thing about honesty and confession: they heal us. The only way to heal a wound within us is to bring it into the light. The only way to drag it into the light is to name it. This requires humility and honesty. A humility which reminds us we’re not quite “there” and an honest assessment concerning what’s “really” going on within us.
The confessional life is difficult because it’s terrifying to stand emotionally naked and vulnerable before God and others. However, there should be no safer place than the holiness community. For it’s in our most significant areas of need where God’s grace is most viscerally known.
May we meet God here. Together.
Michael R. Palmer is lead pastor of Living Vine Church of the Nazarene in Napa, California. He writes at michaelrpalmer.com and you may follow him on twitter @Michaelrpalmer.