I’ve been reading a book this week entitled Permission to Speak Freely by Anne Jackson. The book tells the story of Anne’s spiritual journey, and spotlights some of the responses that she received when she simply asked “What is one thing you feel you can’t say in the church?”
In chapter 15 she reflects back on how the church, historically, was used to provide sanctuary – or protection/safety – to, pretty much, anyone. Things gradually changed and eventually this practice was abolished. She also reflects on how, outside of the legal system hundred of years ago, some Christians would refuse to welcome a person back into church, even if that person had truly repented and changed – because they “felt that the church was better with these so-called sinners out of the picture.” And she makes this statement: “I find it interesting that in our current culture, we identify the church as a safe place for broken people to find refuge. Church is a place for us to claim the right of a modern-day sanctuary where we can name our sins or ask our questions and be protected and sheltered while we search for grace, forgiveness, and answers.” She then begins to question this concept of the church being a safe place for confession… a safe place to be broken.
Those 2 pages stopped me short with my reading and I began to study, listen and write.
The word “refuge” is one of those powerful words that resonates with my heart, as does the premise of having a safe place to question… a safe place to struggle… a safe place to “be”. We, as Christ-followers, are to be that refuge for one another. We are to be a safe place to each other, where we can confess our faults, failures, struggles, and outright sin to one another and be lovingly held accountable, held up, and sometimes just held as we mourn and grieve our sins against others and God.
James 5:16 says “confess your faults one to another”. The word “faults” is translated “a lapse or deviation from truth and uprightness; a sin, misdeed”. James is speaking to those in the church, the Body of Christ.
In the OT (Ezra 10), it begins “While Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a large crowd of Israelites – men, women and children – gathered around him. They too wept bitterly….It goes on to say that then confession was made to Ezra about their unfaithfulness to God, marrying ‘foreign’ women, etc.
In Nehemiah 9:2-3 it says that the Israelites had gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth…. “They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the wickedness of their fathers”… It goes on to talk about how they spent a quarter of the day reading from “scripture”, and a quarter of the day confessing their sins – and the sins of their fathers – and worshiping God. This is followed by a prayer that they prayed aloud which contained both confession and thankfulness.
Acts 19 is speaking about Paul’s journeys and an evil spirit overtaking some who had tried to “invoke the name of the Lord” and the spirit jumped on them, tore their clothes off, and beat them – and it says “many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds….”
It seems to me that the church, or those who professed to be followers of Christ – or God, Jehovah, YHWH – had a habit of confessing their “faults” to one another, and it wasn’t a fearful thing. There wasn’t fear of rejection, retribution, or retaliation. Confession was, at one time, safe. It was “good for the soul” because all recognized that there was none faultless. None without struggle. None without doubts even. None without sin. There was none perfect. None expected to be perfect. And none belittled, or harshly judged, for honestly confessing their imperfections.
The church – or the body of people who make up the church – is supposed to be a safe place where Christ-followers can confess their sins, wrong thoughts, wrong motives, wrong actions to one another and be “in sanctuary” – or protected. Not that their sins would be covered. But that the church would help one another to overcome those wrong thoughts, wrong motives, wrong actions. That the church would do as Jesus did, following His example, and show love coupled with loving accountability. Instead, it seems that the church encourages the shameful hiding of these things – which makes it difficult for others to be real about their struggles and sins.
Confession was never meant to be a secretive, shameful thing between one person and a “higher than me” priest in a dark confessional. Nor was it meant to be a time to boast about your sins by proudly shouting them from the rooftops.
Confession was meant to be about real-ness. Humility. Honesty. Raw vulnerability. Repentance. Asking for help. Baring the heart. Forgiveness. Restoration. Refuge.
Perhaps if we, as the church, would consider the sins of our own hearts that occur daily – and stop trying to present that facade of flawless perfection – we could once again become that safe place to confess struggles and sins.
We all are human, and therefore faulty.
We are none without sin.
We all need a “sanctuary“.
We all long for others to whom we can reveal our humanity.
We all need somewhere we can ask our questions and confess our faults without fear.
If the Body of Christ would – each one – just be real about our own brokenness, confession would indeed be “good for the soul” and the church would again be a powerful and welcome “safe place for broken people to find refuge.”