Confession

“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

 

“There is no form of therapy, no technique, no method, that even comes close to being as healing as the simple and courageous act of becoming truly and honestly open with another human being, and then being fully accepted by them in return.”

– Matt Atkinson

During my years of therapy, I eventually spilled everything, all my deepest darkest secrets, all my worst thoughts and deeds. There was much healing in that, far more healing than I had dared hope for. But something was missing…and, as a Baptist Preacher’s kid, what I longed for seemed crazy at times, the result of watching too many old movies, of having an overwrought imagination, of longing for the impossible…

My spiritual journey has been taking me into the Anglican Church. So on two different afternoons I found myself at a coffee shop with the priest, pouring out my story to him. The telling took two installments. It was a confession of sorts — he was even wearing his collar.

But something was missing, and by then I knew what it was.

Our particular flavor of Anglicanism believes in and practices the Sacrament of Confession. So I went last Saturday for my first ever real confession. I’d prepared prayerfully, and I felt an overwhelming grief over the enormity of my sins, even though I’d confessed most of them to God and fully believed myself to be forgiven.

It was not exactly how I’d always imagined from childhood on…I didn’t slip into some beautiful cathedral and find myself in one of those mysteriously beautiful wooden confessional booths, separated from a priest who seemed to always be there, hidden in the shadows, just waiting to hear my confession.

It was more simple…two chairs back to back. I faced the altar in our little church, where I could see the Crucifix.

That broke my heart. My beautiful Savior…

I confessed.

The priest said the perfect words. He stood in the place of Christ for me, because that is what the Church and its ministers are supposed to do and be — we are supposed to be the Body of Christ, His representatives here on earth.

He gave me penance…not punishment, not a “work” to “earn” forgiveness, but ways in which I can better care for my soul.

The whole thing was far more emotional than I expected. And it wasn’t as hugely and immediately transformative as I’d always imagined, when I used to tell people — only halfway joking — that I wouldn’t have needed years of therapy if I’d had a priest to confess to.

But as I was processing the whole thing, after I’d done my first act of penance (which seemed more like a wonderful reward and blew my preconceived notions of penance right out the window) it suddenly struck me that I felt cleaner somehow…lighter…a greater sense of freedom.

Forgiveness was no longer a theological concept. It was real. It had a voice, not just any voice, but a voice that spoke authoritatively. (Yes, I still believe in the priesthood of all believers, but I also believe in…well, in the priesthood.) Forgiveness had emerged from the abstract and from words on a page — even from sacred words on sacred pages — and had become immediate, here and now, part of the physicality and reality of my everyday life.

The next day I had the awesome privilege of doing the reading from the Old Testament and the Epistles during Mass. It’s been years since I’ve read Scripture out loud during a church service; there isn’t as much of a call for that in most protestant evangelical churches. But I remember that, each time before, I approached the responsibility with great fear and trembling, not out of nervousness about reading out loud in front of people, but out of a sense of inadequacy. I am a woman of unclean lips…how dare I read God’s Word in church? Yesterday I still had a sense of reverance and responsibility, but I knew my lips were clean. I felt much joy.

Partaking of the Eucharist was even more precious than ever.

Today I sent a text to my priest, wanting to make sure that he knows that I want to be confirmed in the Anglican Church when our bishop visits us in January. As I was sending the text, I joked to myself, Haha, after hearing my confession, Father Chris is going to tell me that I should wait several years until I’m hopefully less of a vile sinner! but then I remembered:

I’m forgiven.

The Bible says so. My priest says so. The Church says so. The saints and angels say so. Most importantly, God says so. He has always said so, but now…now I know.

When husbands hate their wives

“The problem is…my brother-in-law didn’t [come] out of nowhere and become a murderer. These people are cultivated, they’re raised by families, they’re raised by friends, they’re raised by churches, they’re raised by their educational institutions, and they are chronic bullies from a very young age. I knew him, my friends knew him, my family knew him, and all along the signs were there, and they start small, and they turn big, and this is what it comes down to.” — Aleksandr Katane, brother of Lyuba Savenok who was murdered this past week by an abusive husband

To donate to Lyuba’s children, go here.

My podcast episode addressing this tragic situation can be found here.

For husbands of survivors| Trauma Tuesday

This short video is an excellent resource for Christian husbands of survivors, although I would urge caution about one of the recommendations made by the speaker.

My reaction to this video was almost entirely positive. I especially liked what the speaker said about husbands pursuing their own healing and growing in sexual purity. The husband who takes this video to heart would truly end up being a tremendous blessing to his wife as well as receiving much blessing in return.

However, I do want to voice a few serious cautions to husbands about seeking support from other men:

  1. Only disclose your wife’s sexual trauma to someone with her full knowledge and consent. Do not pressure her — not all women are ready to go public with the most traumatic events of their lives, especially trauma of a sexual nature, and the thought of a man knowing can be especially frightening, shameful, and humiliating. Your wife’s ability to trust you and feel safe should trump your need or desire to tell “the guys”. A therapist might be a far better source for support, since not many men are equipped to offer the wisdom, insight, and confidentiality you need.
  2. Choose your confidante carefully. We like to pretend that men don’t gossip, but this is sadly not the case. Furthermore, the last thing you should want is to confide in a man who believes in rape myths, insists that your wife made the whole thing up, tells you to “make her submit!” or even angrily confronts your wife about “crying rape just because she regrets her slutty behavior, and is making up a lame excuse to withhold sex”. (One woman had to deal with more than one such angry confrontation after her husband confided in his men’s group at church.)
  3. Choose as a confidante only a respectful, godly, tender-hearted, safe, loving, compassionate man who is a friend of your marriage. Such a man should not press you for details about what happened to your wife or about any of her current sexual struggles. (Those issues should probably be dealt with in therapy anyway.) Instead, he should encourage you to be more Christ-like. One husband was shocked, and later convicted, that the man he confided in was moved to tears — in marked contrast to the husband’s own lack of tenderness and compassion. The best confidante will challenge you to grow in sacrificial love, rather than further enable you in selfish indifference or impatience.
  4. Be prepared that telling people may make your wife the target of gossip, false accusations, harassment, intimidation, and even worse. One wife was continually harassed by a man who accused her of lying about her sexual assault because, as he insisted to her, “you are too ugly to rape”. Some survivors have had to endure “rape jokes” or “incest jokes” supposedly in order to get us to lighten up and not take ourselves so seriously. Men have attempted to intimidate rape survivors with, “I hope someone rapes you again.” Even more frightening, a woman was confronted in her own home by a “friend” of her husband who threatened, “I could rape you too, you know, and this time no one would believe you.” The worst case I know about personally is the woman who was assaulted by her “pastor” after he learned of her past sexual trauma. Predators and abusers don’t usually identify themselves as such in advance, and are all too often the last person we would suspect.

Obviously I am not suggesting rape survivors hide in silence. After all, I’ve gone public. But it should be our own choice, and we should not be outed as survivors without our consent — especially not by the very men who have vowed to love, honor, and cherish us.

Easter in the midst of grief

On this Easter Monday, while praying for someone who recently experienced the devastating loss of a loved one,  I was reminded of words I wrote back in 1990, to be published in a church devotional booklet:

Easter…it has held a new, triumphant meaning for me since I discovered that you can’t really celebrate the victory of Easter without being devastated by Good Friday; one is meaningless without the other. When I was 19 years old, my beloved Opa died, my mother’s father, a man who had completely opened his heart to me and captured mine in the process. Even when he was a continent away, I felt his love.

A brutal, painful heart attack took his life not long after he had celebrated his fiftieth wedding anniversary. My mother, who had the privilege of being with him when he went home, told me his last words were a prayer of praise, ending, “Jesus is the victor! Hallelujah! Amen.”

Grief is far more than emotional. It is a pain so intense that it is physical, devastating, exhausting, all consuming.

Easter came in the early days of our grieving. My mother and I stood together in church, singing the familiar Easter hymns, tears flowing down our faces. It was then that Easter became real to me — truly real — dynamic and immediate rather than historic. I was amazed that my heart could be simultaneously filled with such great joy and such aching sorrow.

Someday I too will be snatched out of this life. Someday I will stand before my Savior, along with all the saints who have gone before, and I will shout with my Opa, “Jesus is the victor! Hallelujah! Amen.”

That is what I celebrate at Easter.

Holy week

Those of us who were not raised in a liturgical tradition, or in a faith community that observed the church calendar, often don’t know what we’re missing out on when it comes to the celebration of Resurrection Sunday — or what most of us call Easter. We may have wonderful Easter sunrise services and even meaningful Good Friday services, but we usually have not had the full benefit of putting the greatest events in Christianity in their context in a way that is both meaningful and practical.

We have not observed Lent as a season of preparation, personal sacrifice, repentance, contemplation, and longing for the glory of the Resurrection to be celebrated with joy. We have not set aside Holy Week as a time of somber prayer and reflection. We have not washed one another’s feet on Maundy Thursday, partaken in the Lord’s Supper together, and grieved the betrayal of our Savior. We have not wept on Good Friday at what our sins did to Jesus Christ, and mourned the suffering it cost Him to redeem us. We have not spent Saturday night in vigil, waiting…waiting…

The truth is that we need reminders. We need to make the gospel, the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, as personal as possible. We need to remember. We need to set aside the business of our everyday lives, and allow ourselves to walk through the events of Holy Week.

At least I do.

So today I read the old familiar passages about the Passover, both its origins and its new meaning as instituted by Jesus on the night in which He was betrayed. I read of the Last Supper, and of the betrayal. I read beautiful prayers of the Church. And I asked the Holy Spirit to allow all those words to grip my heart and break it anew and afresh. I asked Him to examine my innermost being and show me where I need to repent…to reveal to me my sins of omission and commission…to make me painfully aware of how I fail to love God and my fellow human beings as I should.

I don’t want this to be just another Easter season, one in which I live Holy Week as if it were any other week, sing a few wonderful hymns on Easter Sunday, eat a nice dinner, and then go on my merry way, untouched and unchanged by my celebration. I want to remember, and I want to be transformed by the reality. I want to truly live as one of the Easter people should. As Pope John Paul II said:

“Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.”