At least once a year at some point after a good rain, while playing outside in a state of complete parental abandonment and neglect, my kids elect to dig a bathtub sized mud hole. Then, they take turns flopping and flailing in it until they’ve achieved an appropriate level of “there-is-no-coming-back-from-this” mess. At which point, their dad and I pivot from disbelief to amusement and go find the camera for pictures.
It occurred to me recently that this spa like ritual of a mud slinging dance party is always initiated by one daring kid who just so happens to find themselves knee deep in mud. And it is always the same ole story and no one is ever sure exactly how it happened. It’s unclear if one tiny, timid, clean toe was intentionally dipped, at first, ever so cautiously into a corner of wet grass, or if rather someone found himself in a moment of fun-drunk, reckless abandon and dove in teeth and earlobes first.
But there are two things that are abundantly clear about this situation:
- Once that ONE brave soul picks up the clay-soiled baton of messiness, the rest feel safe to follow.
- It always ends with everyone wet, cold, covered in mud, and clambering at the ( locked) back door.
I say all of this as a super smooth segway into this conversation I had with a friend last week, when I was so struck by the parallels of this reoccurring situation to the one we had been discussing– the call to confession.
First of all, I think if we are confessing our sins to one another (and we should be), we’re eager to confess to someone who will really be “in our mess with us”. We long to hear those reassuring words of yeah, I’m dealing with that too. What we want is the confirming echo chamber of agreement, so that we can feel like, okay, this dirt is pretty unspectacular and normal. We comfort ourselves as the blow is softened and the sting of shame is a little less piercing– and our conscience is soothed with the cooling balm of “solidarity”.
I don’t know what usually happens to you in this situation, but my experience always involves a little “sanctified” wallowing. Ohhhh yeah…I know what it’s like! With muddy hands, we pet each other’s hair and poke out our lips. We sigh over how hard our circumstances are and how the struggle is in fact real. We remind each other that there’s “grace”, and usually it ends there, with us both in our mess, talking about the mess… like we aren’t being absurd and our mess really isn’t that messy.
I’m pretty sure this isn’t just me, but has become the standard response to confession in christian friendship. For some reason, likely the generational pendulum swinging hard away from our parent’s closed off system of propriety, we have come to revel in messiness. Messiness that is exalted and hailed as brave and raw and honest.
And confession IS brave, and it is raw, and it is honest. And there is grace for desperate and weary sinners, but only when confession leads to repentance.
This is why I’m thankful for sisters who refuse to comfort me with a “me too” over my sin.
Because it’s not solidarity, but the sweltering discomfort of conviction that exhorts me to move past my sin into a place of repentance. It hurts to hear the words, this sin is not at all okay. But it is a hurt that leads to healing, by the life-giving wounds of a friend.
“And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” James 5:15-16
Matthew Henry’s commentary on the passage in James 5 says,
Let nothing be done to encourage any to delay, under the mistaken fancy that a confession, a prayer, a minister’s absolution and exhortation, or the sacrament, will set all right at last, where the duties of a godly life have been disregarded.
So I exhort you, let us be people who reach for someone who refuses to get “in it” with you, but who calls you to “get out”. Reach for someone who has seen victory over sin and who fears returning to darkness. Reach for someone who has been cleansed by the blood Jesus Christ- someone who refuses to let messy be okay. And let us be people who speak boldly, courageously, kindly to those struggling in sin.
Questions for Discussion:
- Do you have someone in your life who will deal life-giving wounds?
- When is it appropriate to comfort someone struggling with sin and when should we exhort?
- How do we exhort one another in a way that doesn’t lead to less confession and fear of judgement?