There is a story that is attributed to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle where he anonymously sent a telegram to a handful of wealthy and influential men in London. The telegram simply read, “Flee at once! All has been discovered!” According to the story, each of the men left town and were never heard from again. The point of the story, regardless of its veracity, is that you can count on the fact that everyone has some kind of secret that they are painstakingly attempting to keep under lock and key.
We all suffer from this peculiar problem, which Dallas Willard refers to as sin management. Instead of confessing and repenting of our sin, we seek to either cover it up at best or ignore it at worst.
In a world of Photoshop and Instagram filters, the pressure to maintain an image of perfection is overwhelming. We do all that we can to convince others that our lives are great, our relationships are void of pain, and we always wake up looking like we are heading to a magazine cover photo shoot.
As a result, we find the idea of confessing sin to be antithetical to the good life that we are trying to find, because we believe that it jeopardizes our reputation and self image. When this is the way we think about vulnerability, transparency, and confession, it so easily leads to us developing a pattern of hiding and managing sin that we carry throughout our lives.
We find that the effort and energy we expend to cover up, manage, and hide our sin and shame can often be more exhausting. Not to mention it can bring about more shame. We feel trapped.
But it gets worse. The choice to remain silent about our sin creates an inner turmoil that impacts us not just on spiritual levels, but physical as well. A clear example of this is found in the words of Psalm 32:3:
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
God has created us as wonderfully integrated beings; the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of our lives are impacted by one another. Thus, it is no surprise that when we keep silent about our sin and attempt to bury our shame, we find that it has physiological ramifications as well.
But even though we know that hiding our sin is not good and that it will only create more problems for us, we still choose to hide and manage our sin. Because somewhere along the line, we convinced ourselves that the cost of others knowing our sin is greater than keeping it to ourselves.
The great irony is that freedom and deliverance are found in the bittersweetness of vulnerability, transparency, and confession. Which is what the psalmist declares in Psalm 32:5:
I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,”
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah
When we talk about confession, we are referring to the practice of being open and honest about our sin with God and with others (James 5:16). It is about admitting our brokenness with sincerity to God as well as inviting others to see our brokenness so that we might find healing and hope. While we can trust that God will love us and forgive us when we confess our sins (1 John 1:9) we don’t have the same assurance when we open up to others. This is why we must be wise and discerning with whom we choose to share “the fine chinet of our life with,” as David Powlison puts it.
Now, it is not difficult to see how the practice of confession is simultaneously appalling and appealing. As Frederick Buechner once said, “What we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else.”
In our desire to live whole and integrated lives, these practices of confession and repentance are not simply “things that Christians should do,” but are vital habits that bring healing and freedom to our lives that we could not experience by managing on our own.
May God grant us the humility and strength to confess our sins with one another in such a way that we find healing and wholeness. And may it also create a sense of plausibility for those we encounter in our everyday life to see that while confession hurts, it does so in order to heal.