Long Church Aisles and Real Confession

…then come forward as we stand and sing.

It always began that way, with some configuration of those words. And we would all rise to our feet, some attempting to rub the slumber from their eyes, and sing together the song chosen specifically for that moment. Something like Jesus is Tenderly Calling or Why Not Tonight? or Just As I Am. You don’t have to know a single word of those songs; you can tell by the titles why they were chosen.

9-main-aisle1And every now and then someone would make the long, slow walk to the front of the auditorium. The church that I grew up in was laid out long and narrow, so it might take someone half the song just to make the trek to the front, everyone’s eyes moving to them as they walked. Then we would sit in silence (which sometimes felt like a lifetime) as an elder or the preacher would speak quietly with the person as they filled out their card.

It didn’t happen all that often, someone making that public journey, but the rare occurrences are burned into my brain. Sure, people would “go forward” for prayers, but once in a great while it would be a big one.

Confession.

To hear someone stand in front of hundreds of people and expose some dark, secret place in their lives, to witness the pain and the shame laid out for so many to see, to feel the hurt emanating from the front of the room and coming over the rest of us in waves. I do admit there was something beautiful in it.

And also awkward. And horrific.

Growing up in my faith tradition, this is how confession was modeled to me. Admittedly, it was not the only way it was talked about, but certainly the most vivid picture presented. A public airing of grievances upon yourself. An act of exposure. Opening the gate to public shame.

I know there were some who benefitted from the experience, who found healing and hope on the other side of such an uncomfortable episode. But I always wondered how many never took that long  walk to the front. Those for whom the event would only add more weight to their burdened souls.

The most powerful moments of confession in my life have not looked anything like that. No large rooms filled with strange faces. No large announcement. But rather a quiet and humble unveiling. An anxious exposure quickly enveloped in love and warmth and tears. A beautiful moment in a small community of friends.

confessionBecause ultimately confession is more than exposing the truth. Confession is a cry for help. It’s inviting others into your weakness and pain so the Truth can have his say. It’s sharing your brokenness so that you can be rebuilt.

As James said, “Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed.”
(James 5:16)

So that you can live together whole and healed.

Confession is the key that turns the lock of repentance. It’s about change, about opening up new avenues where healthier living and better paths are possible. But it’s more than that. Confession is an invitation for others to walk that path alongside you. Which is why it is so powerful when done in a close community of friends who can journey the way with you.

So you can live together whole and healed.

I pray that this Lenten season is a time of true confession for all of us. And not in the “going forward” type of way. But as Trevor described yesterday, may it be a journey that “takes place in the midst of real life with real-life people having real-life conversations about real life.” May it draw you closer to a close community of friends that walk the paths of life together.

And may the sometimes dark road of Lent be one that leads to healing and new life.

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