“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 5:16
A group of us at our church had a conversation recently where the question was asked, “Why is it that we find it so hard to be real with each other?” We walk through the halls at church, “Hi, how are you?” “Fine, how are you?” You may have had a horrible morning, screamed at the kids, everyone fuming on the way to church after the hustle of getting out the door, but you pull into the parking lot, put on your smile and mask over the hurt inside. We talked about how you don’t want to just dump everything onto everyone who asks, “How are you?” and you probably shouldn’t air all your dirty laundry for just anyone to see. But the question we discussed was, why is it so hard to find anyone with whom you can take off the mask and be honest? In the church, shouldn’t we be a family who bears with one another and helps each with burdens? Why are we so often not able to do that? Is it the fault of the one with the burden, too afraid to let anyone know they don’t, in fact, have it all together? Is it the fault of the one whom someone would want to ask for help - are we not being the kind of person someone can trust with that? Or is it a combination of both? How do we move beyond superficial ‘how-do-you-do’s’ to finding the kind of community that can be real?
I don’t have a complete answer for the how part, yet. I do have a little bit of thought on the why, though.
As I said during that conversation, part of the reason I don’t often open up and share is because when I do, someone either jumps all over my ‘wrong thinking’ or tries to ‘fix’ my problem. In my experience, most people are uncomfortable with honesty. When asking, “How are you,” we really don’t mean, “How are you,” we mean, “Good morning” or “Hello.” If someone, in a moment of desperation, begins to answer our implied, “Good morning,” by answering our spoken, “How are you,” and begins to tell us how they are, we get uncomfortable. TMI.
I am not saying we need to be the energy-draining person who is always down, always complaining, always sharing too much information with people we don’t know well. But we do, each of us, need the kind of friendship where we can open up and share one another’s burdens - and joys - honestly with people we have come to know well. And we, each of us, need to learn to be the kind of people who can be that kind of friend and genuinely ask, “How are you,” and mean it.
I’ve been thinking about something, and I hope I can say this without being offensive, but it’s on my heart today. One thing I’ve noticed is that we in the church do not really understand how to hear confessions of sin from each other or how to respond to them in a gospel-understanding way. One thing I’ve noticed repeatedly over the years is that if you ever do share a failing, people are really quick to reassure you and let you know that you are a really good person, you are really okay, stop being so hard on yourself, etc. You know something? As well-meaning as those attempts to boost my self-esteem are, they aren’t what I need. For example, whenever I say anything about failing in a test of patience with my kids or about messing up in an area of mothering, I get people telling me I’m a great mom, it makes them sad when I say I’ve failed as a mom, etc. I know that is well meant, but I wasn’t expressing a lack of self-esteem. I was expressing an area of sin in my life that I regret deeply and want to change. I wasn’t beating myself up unnecessarily. I wasn’t saying I thought I was an abject failure as a mom in all areas generally and woe-is-me. I was honestly admitting my fault. I know that God is in control and I am not. I am extremely grateful that He can take my faults and forgive my sin and capture my children’s hearts in spite of me.
But you know what? I am not a great mother inherently. I am not even a very nice person. I can play a pretty nice person outwardly, but you have no idea the sinful struggles I have in my mind and heart as I seek to daily die to myself and live for Christ. By God’s grace, I am a better mother than I could ever have been if I were not in the process of being sanctified by God’s grace, and I am daily learning to trust Him for the strength to parent well. But I don’t really need the guilt trip laid on me that by admitting my fault that I’m somehow being too hard on myself. Because the lectures telling me that I’m a great mom really only make me feel like now, not only did I blow it in losing my patience with my child, now I’m blowing it for admitting I have struggles, too. Saying I blew it doesn’t mean I’m despairing over my general mothering skills. It means I’m being honest and saying I sinned, today, in this very specific incident, and I know that this is an area where I tend to fall to temptation and I would welcome someone to come alongside me and pray for me and even to share that they, too, struggle with this issue. I know my heart better than people from the outside looking in do. By God’s grace, He is sanctifying me so that, by His grace He is growing His fruit in my life and overcoming the sinful me and pruning me and growing me in His grace to be the mother my kids need me to be and to be the person He would have me be. I know, desperately, my daily need for His grace, and my daily need to be preaching the gospel to myself and my children.
So, when we confess our sins to each other, we need to learn how to hear that from each other, and rather than seeing it as a self-esteem issue, which it isn’t - trust me, a big part of my problem is that I already think too much of myself - let’s learn to see it is a grace issue. Let’s learn to, instead of bolstering up self-esteem, let’s learn to come alongside with something like, “Wow. I’ve been there, too. May I pray for you? And will you pray for me?” And wouldn’t it be wonderful if then you and your friend could even search the scripture together and see what God says about this thing you’re dealing with and seek to hide God’s word in your hearts together so that you might not sin against God and so that you can spur each other on to good works. And as a sister in Christ, wouldn’t it be awesome if we would learn to preach the gospel to each other, rather than try to shore up a lagging self-esteem?