A woman in her late 20s walks into my office for the first time and sits down on my gray couch, a painting of white birch trees behind her reminding me of the peeling bark we all have revealing the rawness of our souls. Her thick, raven-black hair cascades below her shoulders in natural waves. She looks at the floor, out the window, everywhere except my eyes. I know her vicious captor. And I know its name: SHAME.
She begins. “I’ve hit rock bottom. I’m completely broken. I’ve got nothing.” I gently ask a few questions. She spills her grief. “My husband walked out on me and has filed for divorce.”
Her husband’s on-going addiction to interactive Internet pornography that began, unbeknownst to her, before they exchanged marriage vows became a see-saw of abstinence and relapse throughout their seven years together. But her sin? Apparently, the scale fell with full weight, her side the heaviest. She had a one-night stand in her desperate attempt to deal with the pain of betrayal.
Her confession, genuine request for forgiveness, and repentance weren’t enough for him. They were done, he said, as he began hurling sharp stones. Her sin was unforgivable; his was not. I saw a modern Mary Magdalene sitting in front of me, damaged and desperate.
Know the Lies of Shame
The evil, name-calling one wants us to hide ourselves, to hurt ourselves, to never come close to God with our brokenness, with our confession; because though we might be forgiven by God, we fear we might never be loved. Not after this sin. Or that sin. Not after those repeated sins we’re caught in. Not again.
And what about people? How could we dare expose our rawness? We know how people gossip, judge, and pick up modern-day stones, Christians or not.
I know the lies of Shame. I’ve lived those lies. I’ve let Shame beat me down and keep me from confessing because I couldn’t bear the weight of what I’d done, especially as a Christian. I couldn’t bear to come before God again, let alone people, and ask for forgiveness for the same sins.
But God has taught me to sniff out SHAME and name the namer, the accuser. God in his grace helps me see through the liar and helps me refuse any name other than the one God has given me and the others I serve—Beloved, Forgiven, Redeemed, Daughter, Son. Such a gift I can’t help but share so others, like me, can live free.
I understand how guilt (“I’ve DONE something bad”) and shame (“I AM bad”) keep us from drawing close and confessing. Yet, our ever-loving Father longs for us to come and confess, not to shame but to proclaim once again, YOU are MINE! Let me wash your wounds.
Jesus said, “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free.” John 4:18
God knows the poverty of our sinner souls.
God knows how unconfessed sin keeps us captive. God knows how rationalizing and re-writing his Word keeps us blind and oppressed. He wants more for us. If only we’d confess. If only we’d admit our lack of alignment with his will as written in his Word. If only we’d come to him and be healed.
Jesus came to set us free from sin and death. I believe we know, deep in our souls, that without confession, we will never experience the complete freedom of being fully known yet fully loved—not if, just like Adam and Eve, we’re still hiding, denying, blaming, rationalizing, never confessing. Until God comes calling—our God who doesn’t gloss over sin—we can’t absorb his redemption and restoration. Confession is the key to God’s greatest blessing. That’s why God asked Adam and Eve questions to prompt, not force, their confession.
When we know we’ve done wrong, we need something more than the hiding, denying, blaming, and rationalizing of Adam and Eve. We need God—the perfect combination of Truth and Love. We need the One who sees our naked, birch-trunk flesh beneath the peeling bark and says, Come and confess so I can give you my kiss of forgiveness, of reconciliation, of restoration. Fullness of life cannot be had any other way than by being given a holy bath and stepping along God’s holy path.
We also need the connection that confession with other humble Christians brings.We need to know we’re not alone in our sin struggles. We need to pray for others and have them pray for us. But we must be wise about who we’re honest with. Where there is no reciprocity of humility and honesty, there is no safety. In such situations, more harm than good can come.
As Christians, we understand the religious meaning of confession. But as a therapist, often with non-Christians, I’ve found a more neutral definition is helpful. I’ve told my clients that confession is an acknowledgement that we’ve tried to meet our legitimate needs in illegitimate ways. There are ways that bring life and ways that bring death. We get to choose. Interestingly, psychological research confirms what the Bible says—that confession, religious or not, has highly positive effects on mental and physical health.
I’m No Different from You
After the woman sitting before me in front of the peeling birch trees finishes sharing her story, she listens as I say softly, sincerely, “I’m no different from you. I’m a sinner saved only by God’s grace through Jesus Christ. I must confess daily. I have no right to judge you. And as I would never want to be shamed by another, I promise I’ll never shame you.”
Finally, the raven-haired beauty lifts her head. Her eyes meet mine for the first time. But this time, her eyes fill with tears of gratitude and relief instead of fear and shame. She pulls another tissue out of the box and dabs her eyes.
We both told the truth. We’re both sinners, not one better than the other. And because of the leveling that comes from humility, confession can do its holy work. And because truth is truth, God’s way works even with non-believers.
Even atheists long for solace and healing, and have been desperate to hear me say,“I’m no different from you. I’ve done wrong. And I’ve come to know that shame can be healed. Let’s explore what’s yours and what’s not—what you’ve done and what you haven’t. Let’s find freedom.” Perhaps, this love of God through Jesus Christ in the flesh is what we all really crave.
Perhaps, deep down, we all long for level ground—the admission, one to another, that none is better or worse, that we all struggle with wrongdoing and need forgiveness and restoration. Perhaps, as we tell one another the truth and gently hold one another’s broken hearts, we can all come out of the dark and find true life in the Light.
For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Romans 3:23
But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. 1 John 1:9
Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. James 5:16
When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the LORD.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. Psalm 32:3-6
People who conceal their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy. Blessed are those who fear to do wrong, but the stubborn are headed for serious trouble. Proverbs 28:12-14
Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. Galatians 6:1-2
(All Scriptures are NLT)