Thinking about Spiritual Disciplines: Confession

“Ready or not, here I come.”

I sat silently in the bedroom closet waiting for my friend to come and find me. She entered the room, looked around, lifted up the bed skirt on her bed and looked underneath, shuffled a couple of objects and then left the room. It wasn’t until she had left the room and my attention turned away from her and towards the closet space in which I had chosen to hide that I realized that I was not alone.

“Hi!” the voice whispered.

“Hi!” I whispered back, “Who else is in here?”

“I am. My name is Rebecca.”

Rebecca was another child invited to the birthday party. We hadn’t yet met, because the party had just begun. We quickly introduced ourselves by sharing our name, our age, the school we attended, and how we knew the hostess. Then for some reason our conversation turned to confession. In that dark quiet closet we both began admitting to each other sins we had committed that we were too embarrassed to share in the light. We delighted in shared surprise when we both admitted that we had...

As our conversation came to a resting point, we realized the rest of the kids had become bored of the game and had started a movie. We decided to emerge from the dark into the light together and to see each other’s face for the first time. Outside of the closet in the lit room, we smiled at each other, re-introduced ourselves and embraced.

When I recently read the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer contributing the lack of koinea among believers to a lack of confession, I was reminded of several significant moments from my life in which confession was made and friendship was deepened. I remembered the night in high school where a friend sobbingly confessed a sin and another friend and I were able to administer John 20:23 in love. I thought about my dorm hall in college and our commitment to hold each other accountable to maintaining a regular devotional life and certain morals. And then I was reminded of my previous year’s experience at another seminary where one did not feel safe confessing a weakness, because of the potential abuse of that confession, and my sense of deep loneliness in the midst of a supposedly Christian community.

I realize that shared confession and reconciliation among believers is an essential component of the development of a mature and healthy Christian community. But, I find it intriguing that I am uneasy about the idea of a confessional booth or as Bonhoeffer described, “Confession as a routine duty.” ("Life Together" p. 120) I admit that it can be hard to sit down with a friend and ask pointed questions about possible sins we may have committed over the past week, but there is some sense of safety in knowing that the other person loves you and is willing to receive and respond to the same questions and confess sins as well. And even when I think about confessing my sins to someone who will not receive my confession, but deserves my apologies, I know that it is right and honoring to God.

But, there is something about “going to confession” at a church that makes me uneasy. Perhaps part of it is my theology that says we do not need an intermediary between us and God, because the curtain was torn in the temple at Jesus death and with Christ’s resurrection we have a representative in the throne room of heaven. But maybe another part is because it is easier to sit in my room and read through the Ten Commandments and confess my sins directly to God then it is to get in my car and drive to a church to confess my sins to a stranger. Or maybe that is where my reluctance lies, in the fact that the person behind the screen is a stranger and Christian confession is to happen in lived community.

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