We admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
If only we could confess in generalities, skimming over the surface of the exact nature of our wrongs and hinting at those wrongs.
If only we could come clean by praying one of those oft-heard prayers such as “Oh, God, forgive us of our sins, as we are all sinners and don’t deserve your forgiveness.”
Wouldn’t it be easier if we could get a print-out of sins with multiple choice options as to how bad what we did really was?
How we humans tie ourselves up in knots of our own making, trying to avoid looking another person in the eye and saying, “I did this.”
And yet, there is such grace to be discovered when there is a straight-forward statement with no blaming, no excusing or justifying and neither minimizing or awful-izing the thing we have done. How liberating it is to say, “I did this” and to take full responsibility for the thing you have done.
How empowering it is to say what is true without editing to soften the effect, without worrying about how the listener is going to respond and without holding back.
A good sponsor is trained best by having been through the rigors of the 4th Step moral inventory and the 5th step confession and is likely nonplussed by whatever admission she or he hears.
The good news for those who tremble at the thought of admitting the exact nature of his wrongs is that the sponsor’s qualifications for being a sponsor begin with his own experience of having looked straight into the truth of his own defects, mistakes and wrongs, called them by the precise names and has survived the process.
One of the most important life skills that is learned by those who have been through this program is to take full responsibility of the exact nature of wrongs inflicted on others and on herself, and in the practice, the relief of telling the truth is indescribable.
* * * * *
In one of his most riveting lectures on his book Why Good People Do Bad Things, author and Jungian analyst Dr. James Hollis spoke at length about the problem of guilelessness.
Whereas the term “he is guileless” is often used as a compliment , the reality, according to Hollis, is that being guileless is more an unconsciousness about one’s own inner shadow, wrongs or evil.
Once we have faced our own inner demons, our wrongs and defects, our sins and failings, we are not so prone to project them out onto others.
Once we have admitted that we have the capacity in us to do what any other human has done or might do, given the right circumstances, then we are more likely to be able to admit the exact nature of our wrongs.
“There is a Hitler in each of us,” Hollis said, and while I shudder at that thought, accepting that part of being human in myself somehow liberates me to tell the whole, unvarnished truth about what I have done or what afflictive emotions have me enslaved to another human being.
As a person who is attempting to follow the teachings of Christ, I am well-acquainted with the part of myself that is the Judas and the Simon Peter, denying the part of myself that is made in the image of God, the True Self.
Hollis spoke, as well, about how recognizing and admitting the darkest parts of ourselves gives us better judgment about the dark intentions and actions of others, helping us to recognize that in others and protecting ourselves from inadvertently colluding with the evil in others because we are “just too nice to see it”.
To tell the raw, uncensored, unvarnished truth in confession to another human being can be one of the most healing and empowering acts of our lives.
* * * * *
A good confessor is one who is unafraid to hear the depths of pain, the cries of anguish and regret or the holy silence of sorrow in another person, and in that gift of listening, the one who is confessing feels the grace of being known.
It is in being known that one has the opportunity and the possibility of rising from the ashes of self-condemnation and appropriating the grace mediated through another human being. The more clearly you can speak and the more specific you can be, the more complete and thorough you can be, the more you clear the way for God’s grace to begin its transforming work.
It is in being fully heard with no condemnation, no judgment and no censure that the one who is confessing can begin to imagine a life outside the prisons of her own making and the sludge of unconfessed sin.
“That is the first time I have really felt love,” a person said after having taken this 5th Step. “I have spent my life hiding behind all kinds of masks, scared to death that if anyone really knew who I was or what I had done, that person would condemn me and hate me. For my whole life, I have felt separated from others because I thought what I thought and felt and did made me unlovable, but it turns out that I’m not the only one who has sinned.”
“Now I know that it is possible for me to be loved by another human being in spite of what I have done, and I never would have dreamed that was possible.”
It is in the relief of having said spoken the unspeakable and surrendered the bonds of guilt and shame that one has the possibility of being liberated to become the person he was created to be.
It is in the exquisite words of mercy and grace, “You are forgiven”, that a human being has the possibility of being empowered to accept that God’s forgiveness really is possible.
Those who act as confessors — sponsors, priests, therapists, analysts — can actually give a person his life back by mediating God’s love, and in doing so, those confessors have the capacity to heal, transform, liberate and empower others in the name of Christ.
We are, after all, capable of being priests to each other. We have the capacity to be Christ to each other, and in the mysterious ways of love, hearing the confession of another human being has the possibility of healing the confessor, as well.
It is a powerful thing, being a mediator of grace and mercy. We dare not take the giving or receiving of it lightly, lest we miss the opportunity to be God’s hands and hearts and voices on earth.
* * * * *
Do I believe that God can forgive us without the involvement of another person?
Of course, I do!
Somehow, though, God has chosen to work through human instruments, and in thinking of the persons who have heard my confessions, I am reminded of a story that my friend and mentor, writer Madeleine L’Engle, told about a little boy who had been put to bed by his parents in an upstairs room. Afraid of the dark, he called out, “Could someone come up here and be with me?”
After several reassurances from the downstairs and several repeated requests, one of the parents finally went upstairs to the child’s bedside.
“I’m afraid of the dark,” the child said, clutching his parent’s hand tightly.
“All you have to do is pray,” the parent said. “God is here with you.”
The child thought that over for a few seconds.
“I know,” he said, “but sometimes I need God with skin on.”
We live in a culture that values self-reliance highly, but for whatever reason, sometimes most of us wind up in a situation when we need God with skin on.
There’s nothing that can take the place of a good sponsor who is willing to be just that to us as we dare to tell the truth for the purpose of being forgiven and moving on, changed by the power of being heard, accepted and loved in spite of whatever wrong we have done, or how many times we have done it.
What about you?
Who have you allowed to know you, really know you?
With whom do you feel free to reveal your dreams and hopes, your failures and wrongs?
How closely connected is being honest with yourself, with God and with another human being to being “comfortable in your own skin”? How are you doing with that?
Have you come up to Step 5 and turned away? What is that about?
Has avoiding doing the 5th Step hampered your process of recovery? Are you happy with that, or would you prefer moving on through the steps of recovery?
If you have completed this Step, how do you feel about that?
What would you say to someone who is balking at confessing to another human being?
Describe the benefits you have experienced in taking this bold Step toward serenity, peace and courage.
Grace to you-
I love serendipity. Just as I finished posting this blog, I opened my email and read this in today’s post from Inward/Outward from the Church of the Savior in Washington, D. C. I add these words to reinforce the importance of Steps 4, 5 and 6.
Forgiveness Creates Community
According to Gustavo Gutierrez, to recognize one’s own sin implies also the will to restore broken friendship and leads to asking for forgiveness and reconciliation. The capacity for forgiveness itself creates community.
Being in Relation
To live a “forgiven” life is not simply to live in a happy consciousness of having been absolved. Forgiveness is precisely the deep and abiding sense of what relation—with God or with other human beings—can and should be; and so it is itself a stimulus, an irritant, necessarily provoking protest at impoverished versions of social and personal relations.