Envy is hardest when all is wrong. When all the world has spring and you have winter. Endless, endless winter.
Posts tagged ‘forgiveness’
The blog post today is written by Dave. In the previous post, I wrote about letting go of Dave’s recovery. My prayer in the last few years of his addiction finally became a simple, “If he’s lying, please don’t let him get away with it.” I still pray that prayer — for Dave and even for my kids. Lies destroy relationships. The truth heals.
* * * * *
My addiction to pills caused a lot of damage. Every part of my life was hurt.
Financially I wasted thousands. Physically I was wracked through the withdrawal and detoxification process. Mentally I am not as sharp as I was before I was on Ultram. Spiritually I seared my conscience and distanced myself from God.
The most evident damage, however, was the wreckage I brought on my relationships. My wife. My children. My parents, brothers, sisters, in-laws, friends, co-workers, acquaintances, anyone I met. And almost all that damage was a direct result of lies.
When I was using, I lied about it. Over and over and over. I lied all the time to hide and minimize my sin. I had an entire life to hide.
I could not sleep. Guilt and fear that weighed on me and my mind raced from one lie to another and one manipulative scheme to another. I would lay at night wide awake in the dark, while Deb slept soundly next to me, with pills in my system — afraid I might die. Not because I was afraid of death or even that my family would be left without me. (By that point I had decided they would be sad, but most likely better off without me.)
I was afraid of dying because all my secrets would be laid bare without my constant vigilance to keep them hidden.
It was a full-time job just keeping the lies straight.
Where did I say I was when I was at a doctor? What could I make up to explain the money spent at the pharmacy? Who did I tell what?
Keeping those lies up and my sin in the dark was draining, exhausting and terrifying. I was terrified of discovery.
When I was asked to resign from my ministry job it all came out. The lies were laid bare. My nightmare came true. And it was the beginning of freedom.
The problem was, even if I told the truth now, no one trusted me. I had lied for so long and so well that all the words and all the tears and all the declarations of innocence had been heard before and were eventually proven false.
At times in those first months I nearly despaired that I could ever rebuild trust with my wife, my family and anyone who knew me.
I quickly learned that I needed to be OK with suspicion.
Deb wanted to believe I had changed and was clean and willing to truly walk with God, but she had been to that place over and over and had been hurt. Not just hurt, but violated to her core.
Today we have rebuilt most of that trust. Not completely healed. There are still scars that will always linger. She still needs to be able to ask me if I am taking drugs, if I am hiding anything.
Rebuilding trust was painfully obvious but painfully slow.
The best and only way to earn trust is to have nothing to hide. Just as the damage was caused by lies over and over, I needed to be honest and clean for a long time. Over and over.
Rather than trying to convince Deb that I was being good, I needed to just let the evidence of my recovery and changed life be enough.
I needed to stop manipulating. Stop minimizing. Stop deflecting. Stop seeking instant and controllable pleasure.
I needed to stop trying and hoping and wishing it was different and realize I was powerless over my addiction and needed to turn my will and life over to the care of God. Rock bottom propelled me. But at some point, I had to actually stop and surrender myself to God.
And then I could start… start. Start to seek God and simple pleasures of a real life. Start honesty. Start trusting. Start loving. Start accepting responsibility.
I love that I have earned some trust back from my wife. That we can grow together. I love that honesty and a clean conscience means I can speak and lead and help without the nagging doubts of a blatant fraud.
Another thing has changed . . .
Tonight I will lie down to go to sleep and I will… sleep. I will be OUT in a few minutes. I sleep like a baby, or a log . . . Honesty and a clean conscience have given me peace and rest like I had not known for years.
* * * * *
If you are a recovering addict, you need to realize that restoring the trust you’ve broken takes time — there will have to be a lot of truth-telling before you see signs of hope. For Dave, it has been a long and humbling road. Are you committed to being truthful even if you are not believed? Can you tell the truth longer than you lied? There is hope.
If you’re married to someone who has started on this “road to recovery,” your journey will also be long. Remember that the habit of lies doesn’t die quickly. If your goal and hope is restoration, give them time to tell you the truth. Pray that God will catch them when they lie and convict them. He knows and He sees. Encourage honesty. Pray for wisdom. There is hope.
. . . So justice is far from us,
and righteousness does not reach us.
We look for light, but all is darkness;
for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows.
Like the blind we grope along the wall,
feeling our way like people without eyes . . .
For our offenses are many in your sight,
and our sins testify against us.
Our offenses are ever with us,
and we acknowledge our iniquities:
rebellion and treachery against the Lord,
turning our backs on our God,
inciting revolt and oppression,
uttering lies our hearts have conceived.
So justice is driven back,
and righteousness stands at a distance;
truth has stumbled in the streets,
honesty cannot enter.
Truth is nowhere to be found . . . .
“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
. . . I am the Lord;
in its time I will do this swiftly.”
“His life is a testament to how redemption, so often debased and abused in a 24/7 news cycle obsessed with celebrity and scandal, can be astonishingly powerful and real.” — Rich Lowry on Charles W. Colson
I was writing an article recently for work and had to read some sections of Chuck Colson’s book, “Born Again.”
Some of it is just too painful, hits too close to home in some ways. Granted, the nation wasn’t watching when Dave lost his ministry because of his prescription drug abuse and all the destructive side-effects.
Because of his Watergate crimes, Chuck Colson went to prison. He served just enough time to see the hopelessness of condemned men and the failure of a system that sent them back to the streets to re-offend. He used his notoriety to found Prison Fellowship sharing his testimony of transformation to give hope to millions.
Granted, it would be hard to hide from your past if your sins, crimes, shame were as famous as Watergate. It would follow you your whole life, just as it did Chuck Colson. Just look at the headlines and the articles detailing his crimes from nearly 40 years ago.
The thing that inspires me about Chuck Colson is that he repented, acknowledged his shame and let God turn it into a platform to speak to criminals and kings. It takes a great deal of humility to have your flaws chronicled for all time and still face the world.
How have you failed? What has God healed you from? And why do you hide it?
People don’t want to hear how great we are or how perfect we’ve become. There’s no real hope for perfection in this life. So give it up! What are you going to let God do with your shame?
People want to know that no matter how badly they’ve failed and no matter how much they’ve scoffed at and rejected the God who loves them, that He still stands there with open arms ready to embrace them and forgive.
It may be in a prison yard speaking to 600 convicts or it might be a small recovery group in your church. All around us men and women are living in their past or present bondage to shame.
Let God use your story. They need to know redemption is real.
“If Mr. Colson can repent of his sins, there just has to be hope for everybody.”
Boston Globe in 1973
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.
But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners,
Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example
for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.
Saint Paul, I Timothy 1:14-15
The dangers of apparent self-sufficiency explain why Our Lord regards the vices of the feckless and dissipated so much more leniently than the vices that lead to worldly success. Prostitutes are in no danger of finding their present life so satisfactory that they cannot turn to God: the proud, the avaricious, the self-righteous, are in that danger.
— C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
* * * * *
I spent a week of October in Southern California doing interviews with men and women who are working through this process of recovery. Twenty-five of them.
I sat across the table from them each day at the rescue mission, as one by one they told me their stories. Nearly all of them had had a struggle with addiction that had ravaged their lives:
* a former gang member with intimidating tattoo covered arms who can’t have his name printed or photo taken because of his violent past;
* a beautiful young woman, resembling an average college girl but who had been in and out of prison since she was 12, committing crimes just so she could go back to where she felt safe;
* an unemployed, homeless family — mother and father both recovering addicts — whose only alternative to living at the mission was to live with relatives who were heroin addicts.
At night, when the interviews were done, I drove an hour or two to spend time with my sister and her family, a brother and his family, and my parents. And I realized again how blessed I am.
Dave and I have nurturing, loving families who didn’t let go — and didn’t drag us down. Loving family, who follow God, whose presence in our lives is an encouragement, who never locked their doors on us, who gave — more than we could ever begin to repay — when we were most desperate.
That is the humbling difference between me and all the people I interviewed. No matter how different I may think I am from the woman who escaped an abusive relationship — and slept in her car with her toddler for eight months and got arrested for drunk driving and child endangerment and went straight to the Mission after being freed from house arrest — I am not.
Sometimes we give ourselves too much credit. We say we would never be like that because we’re smarter. Or because we’re hard workers. Or . . . and we discount the fact that God set us in families. We didn’t choose them. It was none of our doing.
Because in spite of the differences in our upbringings, in our families of origin, we speak the same language, these recovering addicts and me: But for the grace of God . . .
Each one of these recovering addicts told me a story of how God got a hold of them. Each one, tearfully expressing a deep gratitude for the grace I have known of all my life. Each one, rescued by this grace of God from a life of death. Each one, knowing exactly where they would be, but for the grace of God . . .
There is a danger in being raised in a good, loving Christian home. And there is a danger in having all of our needs met and never knowing hunger. There is even a danger in always making the right choices.
Because when we haven’t felt the vast chasm that separates us from God, we tend to take the bridge for granted.
There’s a little romance in playing pioneer.
Like Ma and Pa Ingalls, leaving their family in the Big Woods of Wisconsin and travelling west to settle on the prairies of Minnesota.
Pa chops down trees, hauls and hews logs, hoists them (with a little help from Ma), building a house for his family in the middle of nowhere and clearing the land for farming with the help of an ox.
Ma plants a garden, makes satisfying meals from scratch for her family, sets aside stores for the winter, keeps house and fights prairie fires.
Such a simple life . . . I’ve dreamed about it ever since my dad read the “Little House” series to us when I was nine.
* * * * *
Dave and I got married on February 29, 1992 — twenty years ago now — and we honeymooned at Lake Tahoe, high in the Sierra Nevada.
One of our favorite stops was Emigrant Gap from which you can see Donner Summit. Such a romantic vista . . . a great spot for pictures . . . and the scene of the worst possible horrors of pioneer life.
The charming childhood stories fade briefly there as reality hits: Pioneer life was hard and terrible.
And I would never have made it.
The Donner Party story is notorious, disturbing, and morbidly fascinating. And yet, if you look closer there is a painful, beautiful picture of survival.
James Reed, banished from the party before they were fatally trapped in the mountains, barely made it to Sutter’s Fort alive and then hiked back into the mountains — a treacherous 7 day journey — TWICE to rescue all of his starving family and their remaining travelling companions.
Margaret, his wife, was only 32 at the time. She endured four months of that winter alone, caring for her children and elderly mother, fighting for survival among people who most likely blamed her husband — who not only had made bad route choices but had also murdered one of the party — for their predicament.
Those months stranded in the mountains must have seemed an eternity.
An unimaginable nightmare: snow, starvation, death, cannibalism . . . rescue at last — and then an agonizing decision for Margaret and James to leave two of their small children behind for the next relief party.
Half the Donner party died. Margaret and James Reed and their children were one of only two families to make it through the journey to California intact.
There have been many studies over the years attempting to determine why some survived the months stranded in the deep snow and some didn’t, but this family defies the odds. And some believe they may have been the only ones to not resort to cannibalism.
Maybe the Reeds had more body fat.
Maybe the separation from her husband gave Margaret determination to see him again.
Maybe they had hidden stores of food.
To me, it doesn’t really matter. The point is, they survived by the hand of Providence.
I wonder how many weary pioneer women heading to California after 1847 said to themselves, If Margaret Reed can do it, so can I . . .
And I wonder how many men chose to follow James Reed’s example of perseverance. Unwilling to let his family die, he didn’t give up. His family was worth the fight. He raised up relief parties of men who risked their lives for strangers.
The Reed family made it. And even rescued some people along the way.
* * * * * *
I’ve spent hours and hours searching the internet for statistics on addictions and the toll they take on a marriage. Somewhere I read that 90% of all marriages that battle with addiction end in divorce, but I haven’t been able to find it again. In other places I’ve seen that we’re four times more likely to go through divorce than anyone else. Whatever the numbers, the situation isn’t very promising.
Dave and I don’t have any special secrets to making it twenty years. Only simple words like: endurance, hope, trust, and forgiveness.
There were days, months and years when neither of us thought we’d make it. The death grip of addiction led Dave to despair of ever having victory. Loneliness and fear haunted me.
But we didn’t give up.
* * * * *
Writing about our life sometimes feels like I’m trying to trudge through snow that keeps getting deeper.
The scars of years of dysfunction don’t disappear overnight. It’s tempting to despair. To look at the mess around me . . . in my life, in the world and just pull the covers over my head.
I feel tired. And I wonder who am I to speak about these things? I certainly don’t have life figured out.
But when I lift my eyes from my own poor feet — like last night with a few friends — I see a few foolhardy companions beside me who are just as weary and just as determined to succeed.
We remember what God has brought us through and that though we don’t know the way over the mountains, He does.
The endurance of my companions gives me hope.
* * * * *
Certainly, pioneers who came after the Reeds learned what not to do.
I think maybe if Margaret was giving advice to later pioneers she might have said, “Keep going through the valley even if it seems harder to go on . . . don’t stop or you’ll regret it . . .and never give up.”
I guess that’s how I feel about blogging about addiction. And even if it’s just learning what not to do, I hope our experience encourages others along the way.
Ours is not a charming “Little House” story. And it’s not completely written. But there is a beautiful picture if you look hard enough. And by God’s grace, it’s a good one.
We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through . . . We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. 2 Corinthians 1:8-9
I am awake at a ridiculously early hour this morning.
There’s a windstorm pummeling our house that sits on a bluff above the Hood Canal, and I can’t sleep.
It’s not the noise — though at points it does sound like a freight train is barreling down the ravine just across our driveway. It’s the thought of huge trees (namely the cedar that blocks our view of the Olympic Mountains) falling on my house, killing us all in our beds.
And I’m awake because for some illogical reason, I seem to believe my vigilance will prevent disaster (that’s what Dave, who is sleeping quite soundly and trusting God to take care of the trees, would say).
But also, the worst of the wind is supposed to be done by dawn. And I’m ready for this night to be over. Morning may not bring calm. But it brings light.
I want to see the trees again — cedars dancing like ladies in hoop skirts at a ball and pine trees swaying, rocking that terrified baby in the treetops (What a horrible song that is! Why do we ever sing it to our babies?). In the darkness, I can only hear them resisting the force of the wind and the pull of gravity . . . and imagine the worst.
* * * * *
On a November day four years ago, I sat in silence staring out at the darkness of the early morning.
But the storm that kept me awake was not outside. It was inside our house and in my heart and mind. After a tearful, sleepless night, morning seemed forever in coming.
I prayed to be awakened from my nightmare — that the dawn I was trying to raise by staring would bring escape from the terrible darkness.
Hours passed, and still the light didn’t come.
* * * * *
2007 was a very good year, it seemed to me, considering that the previous year had been the worst in our married life. We had been to our pastor, to a counselor and finally to Celebrate Recovery and things seemed to be turning around. I was learning to love people, to have appropriate boundaries, to stop trying to fix Dave and let God do it.
In April that year, after a serious and devastating relapse, Dave confessed his addiction to his new supervisor at the camp and spent a weekend in rehab.
That weekend, he was introduced to Suboxone, a “wonder” drug used to suppress opiate addictions. Tramadol, though it is still marketed as a non-addictive drug, has the addictive power of an opiate. Suboxone is a replacement drug. Unlike Tramadol, however, it’s vigilantly restricted. You have to be under the care of a Suboxone trained physician to use it, and the closest to us was a psychiatrist an hour away in Tacoma.
Since a longer rehab seemed to be out of the question — camp season was just weeks away — we chose the Suboxone program, praying it would work. And it did.
The summer was amazing. Budget cuts had left the camp short-staffed and everyone, including Dave, had worked themselves weary. When the summer was over, we realized he had worked an average of 90 hours a week: running the camp as well as speaking. All that hard work had fused his staff together. Things were so good.
* * * * *
And now, here I was, on a dark and cold November morning, staring out the windows at the trees. No words. No coherent thoughts.
The afternoon before had been dark and miserable. I remember. It was pouring rain.
I was sick with a terrible cough. And Dave had come home to talk to me. Outside. As he paced back and forth, choking out the words and saying I was going to leave him: It was so busy late in the summer . . . missed his appointment with doctor in Tacoma . . . couldn’t get prescription for Suboxone refilled . . . Tramadol was available online — so easy . . . camp credit card . . . paying back . . . asked to resign. . . The words overwhelmed me like a fog and I walked away, shattered and in disbelief and shock. I called a dear friend. I don’t know what I said, but she came.
Later, in the darkness before dawn, I wrote to her.
I have not slept. Not knowing about our immediate future is overwhelming me . . . I stayed in bed until 4 & then decided to just get up because I couldn’t sleep. I’ve run the gamut of emotions and am totally exhausted and depressed.
I am deeply grieved that we have to leave the camp. It has definitely not been perfect, but Dave has found so much fulfillment here and the kids and I have loved camp life . . . I cannot imagine what kind of work Dave will do . . . God will have to do miracles for us to be able to stay in this area. I see nothing in the classifieds that Dave is even suited for or pays decent. I know that is his responsibility, but I had to look to see if there was anything even hopeful- a distraction & a hope so that I could at least sleep.
I am glad it is almost morning. Darkness makes me feel hopeless. I am so glad to have you and the support of CR this time around. When we went through this three and half years ago and Dave went to rehab, I felt alone. We don’t feel alone now. Last time, though, Dave had a job he hated and we were poor and living in Tacoma. Life change was not sad to me then. I welcomed it. Now, it hurts my soul.
* * * * *
It would take a long time for that pain to heal. I know there are spaces that are still not healed and that’s part of why I write this blog. But there was this thing . . . the further into recovery we got, and the closer we got to the people around us, the deep desire to tell them about the addiction that had nearly destroyed us became stronger.
At fireside, some nights, singing about running into marvelous light “out of darkness and out of shame” overwhelmed me. I knew in my soul that our secret pain could never be healed until it was fully exposed. But I also knew that stepping into that light would mean tremendous loss . . . and I was right.
* * * * *
It is finally grey dawn now. And the stillness is deafening.
No trees fell on our house — and not because I was keeping them in their place through vigilance. (I still have so much to truly believe about God.)
And I remember how Jesus came to the disciples in the fourth watch of the night, in the darkest hours before dawn, and calmed the turbulent winds on the sea.
St. Peter got out of that boat. I think that’s the thing that amazes me. He chose to do it.
But panic overtook him when he saw the wind. (Matthew 14:30) And He started to sink.
Three words, that’s all he had.
Lord, save me!
It has taken me four years to hear in my soul and understand the words Jesus said to Peter. To really trust the hand that caught me on that day and that still rescues me from drowning in the wind, waves and darkness. To hear His voice in the wind as He pulls me up:
Oh you of little faith. Why did you doubt?
It’s been a long time since my last post.
Sometimes, I struggle with a post for a few days and when it’s done it’s like I’ve knocked down another wall. And I need to let the dust settle before I work on the next.
This particular wall is tough. It has taken years to understand and almost a month to put it into words.
* * * * *
When I was in the 5th grade, I got a scolding I’ve never forgotten.
My friends and I were supposed to be at recess, but we snuck back into our classroom to get something from one of our bags. I can’t remember now what it was. But for some reason, when we were caught in the classroom, we lied about why we were there.
The lie must have been pretty transparent because we were sent straight to the principal — at a public school — who threatened with a spanking and a call home.
As the principal shrilly explained the consequences for lying (she never asked for the truth, by the way) she raised a cricket bat-like board with holes above her head & it whistled through the air landing with a loud smack on the arm of her naugahyde chair leaving tiny circle imprints in the upholstery.
Her voice was terrifying. The thought of that board hitting my backside was terrifying.
But that wasn’t the worst part for me.
The worst was being pulled out of class later that day by my Social Studies teacher who also happened to be my Sunday School teacher.
“How could you do such a thing?” she demanded. ” Don’t you know who your father is?”
My dad was getting his doctorate in theology at the seminary next door to my school, I knew that. But I don’t think I had ever realized that there was a reason why I should be treated differently from my peers until that moment.
It was a blow that left tiny circles of shame on my heart — and it ignited a flame that would eventually consume me: a sense of over-responsibility for what other people think.
* * * * *
That year my parents became missionaries. We traveled across the country visiting churches to raise support, staying with relatives, friends and sometimes strangers and made it to Bangladesh in less than 12 months.
We met so many people that year . . . I had no idea there were so many things to have opinions — convictions — about.
In this new life, I learned:
That going to see a movie in a theater was bad but watching them on video wasn’t.
That playing cards with faces were evil but playing the same games with faceless cards wasn’t.
That there were words that are not curse words, but so and so’s family doesn’t like them, so none of us use them.
That there were versions of the Bible you could read that would cause division, even if you were an expert in Biblical languages and said the translation was technically better.
That churches in the States would drop a missionary’s support if your son’s was too long for their taste in your prayer card photo. Even if it was really just a shadow.
That churches, when you pull up in a nice car, may decide your family must not need their support if you can afford to drive that (even though the car was provided for you by another church).
These things — and so many more — stuck with me. Resonated in my conflict-hating, people-pleasing nature.
I tried to conform to every conservative view to fit in.
* * * * *
But this is the thing that too often happens to children of Christian leaders. Even if their parents work hard (as mine did) to allow them growing room, to not bend to arbitrary standards — someone, somewhere will place undue expectation on them. Like somehow, because of their parents, they are expected to be better than regular Christians. Better than anyone.
The same people usually put unreasonable expectations on the leaders as well . . . like there is an unwritten rule book of things you can’t find in the Bible. Expectations of behavior. Of dress. Of priorities. Of sacrifice. And there are people who feel it is their calling to make sure you “incur a stricter judgement.”
But these rules and standards are often as different as the people who have them. And you can make yourself crazy trying to keep up. Trying to stay ahead of the game and guess what may offend . . .
. . . maybe that’s why some of the most conservative churches have such terrible scandals, things that go on for years and years hidden. When there is so little room for tiny failures — differences of opinion, really — who would share a real struggle?
* * * * *
At camp, Dave was criticized for the strangest things. The expectations of dozens of different people aimed at him:
This is the way we’ve always done it. The way it’s always been done is wrong.
You have to hire her. If you hire her it will be your worst mistake.
You preached too much about grace at the fireside invitation. You didn’t preach enough grace.
Your wife shouldn’t help with that. We have summer staff to do it.
Staff should have a night off each week. You can take your time off when camp’s over.
Let me do that. I did it all, Dave did nothing.
You need to fix this. If you change it, I’ll leave.
Within six months, we felt defeated.
Damned if we did. Damned if we didn’t.
Dave turned back to pain meds. And when all my efforts to please fell flat, I buried myself in to-do lists. Decorating the house. Homeschooling the kids. Oblivious to the fact that the changes I was beginning to see in Dave were more than just exhaustion from his new career.
* * * * *
I’ve spent a lot of energy in my life trying to live up to please people.
But over-concern for what people think eventually leads to image control. You learn to hide things. Because you know you don’t really measure up. . .
. . . in Bangladesh, there are high walls around houses. And if you’re worried that the walls are not protection enough, you can put a layer of cement on the top of it and imbed it with pieces of broken glass.
The first giant step on our path to recovery was to become a part of a church where no one knew or cared who our parents were. No one cared where we went to college. Few had even heard of it.
We were no one. And that was the beginning.
I was in a place where God could finally chip away at the walls I started building in 5th grade.
But as steadily as God was chipping, I was reinforcing my wall.
Lining the top of it with broken glass.
It’s so strange. How we keep secrets.
And so human.
It comes so naturally to us, that we are often uncomfortable around people who are open and honest about themselves.
We’ve had some interesting responses — Dave and I — to his candid sharing and to this blog.
But there is a place where we put these problems decent people don’t have that will eventually cause them to grow — secrecy, privacy, darkness . . .
* * * * *
When all the darkness had come to light in our house, and he had gone through rehab, I wanted Dave to tell openly to our church what had been going on in his life.
He had been a deacon and a Sunday School teacher and a seminary student. Seems like by virtue of his position, the sin should be considered public. After all, there were doctors and pharmacists in three counties of Washington who knew his secret.
But we were advised not to. No, private confession was enough.
And though I disagreed, I understood. Because we were a part of a denomination and a culture that would, in all likelihood, write us off. Dave forever labeled an addict. Disbarred from leadership.
And there was pride . . . it takes a truckload of humility to confess to one person. A mountain of it to confess to a church.
* * * * *
I read portions of a book on forgiveness by a popular conservative, evangelical pastor and writer recently. And I was deeply disturbed by his take on dealing with what he called “private sins.”
In the F.A.Q. section, in the back of the book, the question is who do we confess to? His answer:
“Confession of guilt must always be made to God. Confession is also owed to whomever our sin has injured. The arena of confession should be as large as the audience of the original offense. Public transgressions call for public confession; private sins should be confessed to God alone.”
Private sins . . . confessed to God alone . . .
. . . the tricky thing about the heart — the so deceitful who can know it part of us — is that we are capable of twisting any sin into a private sin . . . this is just between me and God.
Rationalized. Compartmentalized. Kept secret. Covered up.
Reading this in the context of this awful year of discoveries of hidden sins of Christian leaders I grew up with, this idea makes me ill. The ramifications of such a belief are frightening.
Because where is the line?
When does “private sin” become more than just between you and God? More than just between you and a small group of men in a conference room who decide the Kingdom of God cannot afford such a scandal? More than a secret among colleagues who let you go back to a mission field full of young children whose lives you will mar forever with your “private sins.”
It is an ache in my heart that has deepened. This covering of sins. This convincing of ourselves that it is love to do so, when that can’t possibly be what the Apostle Peter meant. (I Peter 4:8)
I’m not saying tell the whole world every flaw. But struggling alone is folly. Because keeping it just between you and God isn’t biblical at all.
It’s not how God made us.
Confess your sins to one another. Pray for each other. That you may be healed. James 5:16
I don’t believe James was talking about that time you thought about ditching church. Or that you forgot to pray for someone you said you’d pray for. Or that you didn’t return your shopping cart to the front of the store.
No. I believe he meant the sins that eat away like a cancer at our souls. The hardcore stuff that we would rather hide. The stuff people don’t talk about.
* * * * *
If there is any regret, anywhere in our story, it is that we believed this human idea of private sins.
Private sins eventually become public. And the end of keeping our secret was disaster.
The pain and the sorrow and the loneliness and the judgement and the rejection — all of these were a result of prolonged struggling and failing — alone.
Keeping it a secret meant not dealing with it — after all, where would we go for help? Admitting struggle meant Dave losing his job. Admitting failure meant we’d be cast aside forever by the church as useless, wasted lives. Admitting that there wasn’t “victory” meant disappointing family who had helped us get back on our feet.
So we kept it to ourselves.
Seasons and years of confessing only to God.
But it was slowly destroying us. Our marriage. Our relationships. Our ministry.
* * * * *
I love that the writers of Scripture were brutally honest about themselves, their sins, their struggles.
Moses, David, Paul — they wrote some seriously harsh things about themselves that, as loving friends, we probably would have advised them to keep to themselves . . .
But see, God isn’t into secrets.
Secrecy is a like a bandage put on a festering wound, hoping it will heal itself.
And eventually, because God loves us and doesn’t want us to die from infection, he takes off the bandaid. Sometimes by ripping. Sometimes by a slow, painful peel . . .
One of our favorite stories, Dave’s and mine, is in John 11.
Lazarus. Dead. Sealed in a tomb for days. And Jesus tells the bystanders to open the grave.
Lord, he stinketh.
Objections. To Jesus exposing the stench in order to heal . . .
Loudly, Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb. Shouts, so that everyone around can hear.
And then, of all things, he asks the crowd to take off the bandages.
* * * * *
Sometimes, in order for people to understand the possibility and power of healing, they need experience the grief of the death.
Sometimes the stinky bandage removal is so that the bystanders will learn something about God.
. . . for me and for Dave, going back to the secrecy and privacy and “putting away quietly” would be as insane as Lazarus wrapping his healed body back up in the stinky grave clothes and retreating into the tomb to slowly rot to death…
And it would be a waste of an incredible resurrection.