Confession and Genuine Community

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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Over the last decade, a unique phenomenon developed online called PostSecret, a community art project in which people anonymously send in their secrets with artistic graphics, which are then shared online for anyone to see. They vary in theme, from items as innocuous as the one that reads:

I steal TP from the gym… I haven’t bought any in 2 years.

To ones revealing emotional woundedness:

The one race that meant the most to me, you wern’t [sic] there to see it. You didn't ask, but I came in first.

To the utterly devastating, yet impossibly hopeful:

I got pierced after you raped me. Three years later, I have taken it out. I don't need a piece of metal to remind me anymore. I survived.

Since its inception, PostSecret has collected and shared thousands of anonymous posts, sparking museum exhibits, the publication of books, and international, multilingual spinoffs—all reflecting a desire in our hearts to be free to share the secrets we keep hidden.

At its best, the community of Christ is the relational context where such freedom should be found. We should be able to share with honesty, creating a confessional sharing space/place that allows us to prayerfully and lovingly walk with people into forgiveness, wholeness, and into their true, whole selves.

Confession Takes Dynamic Mutuality

When our inner city church, Little Flowers Community, began to wrestle with these dynamics, we found incredible wisdom in the values and practices of Alcoholic Anonymous. A beautiful model of a healthy, mutually supportive relationship is the sponsor relationship within AA.

As an alcoholic starts to make progress in recovery, he or she will choose a sponsor. The sponsor is someone who, like the person they are sponsoring, is themselves working the steps every day, though perhaps further along on the journey to provide insight and understanding.

Adapting for our context, we have begun to form these kinds of intentional and supportive relationships within our church community.

Critical to success is the mutuality in these relationships. A sponsor who is twenty years sober is only one drink away from being back at day one, while the person they are sponsoring, sober for only three months, could suddenly be in a position to support them. The relationship is not about positional authority but about dynamic mutuality.

This is the kind of relationships we need as we seek to become a confessional people. Nobody is condescendingly helping those beneath them. We seek to lovingly serve, paying forward the grace we’ve received from those who supported us. As we live into restoration, every opportunity to support others strengthens our personal resolve to keep the faith.

Confession Requires Honesty

Over the last year, a couple in our community faced a massive crisis in their marriage which spilled over onto our wider community. Lies, infidelity, and threats of suicide led to a devastating separation. And when things seemed as though they couldn’t get worse, the husband died from an accident before reconciliation could be completed.

Of course, there are no guarantees that, had he confessed earlier, all of the turmoil would have been avoided, but with hindsight it is clear that a lot of suffering on all sides could have been avoided.

Our pretense and dishonesty offers little more than a sense of false security.

Confession Is Not “Sanctified Gossip”

We’ve found that confession needs be handled with great care and discernment. Confession can easily become a form of “sanctified gossip.”

I remember one occasion when a member of our community exposed the private sin of another member, framing their public comments as their own “confession” for remaining silent about the sin. While an extreme example, it is very easy for us to rationalize ways of using the spiritual discipline of confession, using it as a means of retribution or self-centeredness. We need to check our motives. If what we are saying isn’t marked by our humble contrition, then it might not really be confession.

Also, to whom we choose to confess requires discernment, not only for our own sakes but for the love of those to whom we confess. Burdening those less mature in their faith or whose own experience makes your confession unhealthy for them can cause more harm than good.

Confession Creates Authentic Community

We have also found that confession is not only the means to cleanse ourselves of moral stains but also the means to free us from the bondage of our fear and shame, allowing us to truly and freely expose our brokenness. Through this liberty, we are able to love God and others more authentically and sacrificially.

The result of this vulnerable faith is loving unity. This is why confession is so closely linked to communion, as it is far more about what we are becoming than how we have failed. Fulfilling the paradoxical promise we read in 2 Corinthians 12:10—“for whenever I am weak, then I am strong”—our weaknesses and failures are redeemed, allowing us to genuinely and humbly connect with one another in true community. As M. Scott Peck writes:

Begin to appreciate each others’ gifts, and you begin to appreciate your own limitations. Witness others share their brokenness, and you will become able to accept your own inadequacy and imperfection. Be fully aware of human variety, and you will recognize the interdependence of humanity. As a group of people do these things—as they become a community—they become more and more humble, not only as individuals but also as a group—and hence more realistic.