There was a time in my adult life when I thought we were only supposed to confess our sins to God. I based it on scriptures like, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us of all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9).
But at some point, I ran across a more intimidating verse: “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16) (emphasis added).
I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of confession being a two-part process that involved telling another human. It was easier for me to vaguely tell others I was – um, you know, “struggling.” It protected me from embarrassment, and more importantly, it protected my image.
And then, in a personal conversation, my friend Steve Blair called me out.
“Struggling with what?” asked Steve.
“Oh – um – it’s just the stuff that everyone deals with, you know,” I said, with my voice trailing off.
“No, I don’t know,” he said. “Let’s hear it.”
“I guess it doesn’t really matter,” I said.
“Of course it does,” he said, “or it wouldn’t be so hard for you to talk about it.”
I was afraid of telling someone how dark my thoughts were, how much I had fooled everyone into thinking I was some kind of Christian golden boy. But I knew Steve really cared about me, and I also knew he wouldn’t go around telling my business. So despite my great reluctance, I blurted it all out.
Steve didn’t even flinch. He just listened, reassured me I wasn’t alone in my brokenness, and prayed for me.
That was 15 years ago, and to this day, I always make sure I’ve got a Steve or two in my life – the kind of person who will allow me to confess my brokenness and still love me anyway. Because the thing is, I’m weak, and there’s nothing that shakes my faith in the invisible God like the times when I feel unworthy of Him because of my sin.
No wonder He, a good Father, wants us to confess our sin to others. As we put words to our brokenness and watch their reaction, they become an imperfect proxy for God Himself – providing eyes that see our shame, ears that hear our remorse, and words of assurance and forgiveness that echo those of the Holy Spirit.
We can mummer a confession to God like a dull recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance all day long; but having a person there to receive our confession is practice for interacting with God when we’re most vulnerable. That is, it teaches us how to pray.