The second night the youth girls were with us……they were pretty worn out. Up til LATE the night before, up early Saturday, then a FULL day of sessions and fun, then back to our house. I’m not sure it was the wisest of decisions to have a “real” session Saturday night…. Laura (student leader) had a pretty good handle on this, so she didn’t belabor the points that were supposed to be made.
As I said before, the focus of the weekend centered on forgiveness. Most of the emphasis was on “us” being a forgiving people (as believers) because we are a forgiven people. I was quiet during the sessions I sat in on, an observor, not a participant. (Anyone who knows me, knows that requires a great deal of restraint:)…I’m a girl…I like to talk.)
It hit me that I had heard little about the “being forgiven” part, although I’m sure they must’ve covered that in the sessions I didn’t sit in on. As I looked around the room that night, when the girls were much less engaged in the session, I wondered what “secret sins” they were harboring…those things they felt they could tell no one. The song “Dirty Little Secrets” by All American Rejects popped in my mind.
This is one of those songs I probably wouldn’t have liked if I had not seen the video before I heard it. In the video, there are a series of people holding cards in the foreground with their personal “dirty little secret” written on it (i.e., “I haven’t spoken to my dad in 10 years….and it kills me everyday”, “I’m only dating her sister to get to her”, “People think I’ve stopped lying but I’m just getting better at it”, “I only love two of my (3) children”, “Sometimes I fake sympathy to get people to like me”, “When I eat, I feel like a failure”, “My family is rich but I shoplift everyday”, “I hate people who remind me of myself”, “I miss feeling close to God”….and more). A lot of the “secrets” begin with the two words “I’m afraid…”.
Everyone has a “dark place” although not everyone admits it to anyone or even themselves. Dark places can be the indiscretions of youth, addictions, secret sins in deed or thought, and even people you cannot imagine having a dark place, have a dark place. Parents… grandparents….teachers…. preachers, no one is exempt from the dark place. It’s a place riddled with guilt and shame, and whether the dark place was birthed yesterday or yesteryear, when you think about it (or if you are currently in it), you think there’s no way out. Even when you KNOW the way out.
I brought up the song the other night to the girls (“What!? YOU know All American Rejects???!”) and made the parallel between “DLS” and secret sin; and the freedom found in realizing the forgiveness we already have in Christ…which in turn compels us to be generous forgivers. They had already read dozens of verses on forgiveness, but it seemed like something I read a while back punctuated their last home session. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together offers a brilliant exposition on the expression of forgiveness, beautiful really (then again, the whole book is, and it’s a much easier read than his more lengthy Cost of Discipleship). I shared it with them because this is how it’s supposed to work. THIS exchange between sinner/repentent confessor and the forgiver as representative of the Body of Christ is amazing…transforming.
In confession the break-through to community takes place. Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of the unexpressed it poisons the whole being of a person. This can happen even in the midst of a pious community. In confession the light of the Gospel breaks into the darkness and seclusion of the heart. The sin must be brought into the light. The unexpressed must be openly spoken and acknowledged. All that is secret and hidden is made manifest. It is a hard struggle until the sin is openly admitted. But God breaks gates of brass and bars of iron (Ps. 107:16).
Since the confession of sin is made in the presence of a Christian brother, the last stronghold of self-justification is abandoned. The sinner surrenders. He gives up all his evil. He gives his heart to God, and he finds the forgiveness of all his sin in the fellowship of Jesus and his brother. The expressed, acknowledged sin has lost all its power. It has been revealed and judged as sin. It can no longer tear the fellowship asunder. Now the fellowship bears the sin of the brother. He is no longer alone with his evil for he has cast off his sin in confession and handed it over to God. It has been taken away from him. Now he stands in the fellowship of sinners who live by the grace of God in the Cross of Jesus Christ. Now he can be a sinner and still enjoy the grace of God. He can confess his sins and in this very act find fellowship for the first time. The sin concealed separated him from the fellowship, made all his apparent fellowship a sham; the sin confessed has helped him to find true fellowship with the brethren in Jesus Christ.
Moreover, what we have said applies solely to confession between two Christians. A confession of sin in the presence of all the members of the congregation is not required to restore one to fellowship with the whole congregation. I meet the whole congregation in the one brother to whom I confess my sins and who forgives my sins. In the fellowship I find with this one brother I have already found fellowship w/the whole congregation. In this matter no one acts in his own name nor by his own authority, but by the commission of Jesus Christ. This commission is given to the whole congregation and the individual is called merely to exercise it for the congregation. If a Christian is in the fellowship of confession with a brother he will never be alone again, anywhere.
To forgive or be forgiven biblically as Bonhoeffer describes, is healing, restorative. If you’re a party on either side, it’s something you’ll never forget. I’m thinking we should be experiencing this extraordinary but simple act of obedience daily.
Sad I often settle for less, grieved I make it more complicated (conditional) than it needs to be, but hopeful I’ll begin to get it right.