Confession: Leaders in Lent
By Ruth Haley Barton–Transforming Center
Joshua 5:9-12, Psalm 32, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
“Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord…’” Psalm 32:5
I have many big dreams, but there is one dream I have harbored for a long time—a smaller, more tender dream that I rarely speak about because it seems so impossible. It is the dream that we as pastors and leaders would lead the way in practicing confession. That we would take the initiative, not only in making general, corporate confessions (like the one we offered last week) but also in offering the more personal ones. Confessions that start with inner repentance—like the prodigal son experienced when he came to his senses in the pig pen—and that culminate in confessing our sins to one another so that we may be healed.
Truth is, we’re not so good at that!
We prefer to live in the illusion that the relational break downs, the divisions, the unresolved issues among us are someone else’s fault. Even if we do have an inkling that something is not quite right in our own thoughts, reactions, and behavior patterns—that perhaps we might have had a part to play in situations that went badly or ended badly—we are hard pressed to identify exactly what our part was. We resist taking responsibility for our sins and negative patterns because shame and denial run too deep.
True confession, however, requires naming our sin out loud to ourselves, to God, and to the person (s) we have offended. It involves the willingness to do what we can to make things right.
Finding Our Confession
Wouldn’t it be something if, during this Lenten season, we asked God to help us make “a searching and fearless moral inventory” of ourselves? What if we actually confessed as sin our bad behaviors toward others—both in our current relationships and in our past relationships? What if during this season we wrote notes, made phone calls, and had face to face meetings in which we acknowledged our sins to one another and sought forgiveness for sins past and present?
I cannot imagine a more powerful force for good in this world than for us as leaders to confess our sins to God and to one to another so that grace can flow more freely among us. I can only imagine the homecomings there might be in our relationships with God and with each other as we acknowledge the ways we have wounded our own life, the lives of others and the life of the world. But given the depth of our denial, we may need God to help us find our confession—that true truth that will set us (and others!) free. So, let us pray together…
God help us find our confession;
The truth within us which is hidden from
The beauty or the ugliness we see elsewhere
But never in ourselves;
The stowaway which has been smuggled
Into the dark side of the heart,
Which puts the heart off balance and causes
Which wearies and confuses us,
Which tips us in false directions and inclines
us to destruction,
The load which is not carried squarely
Because it is carried in ignorance.
God help us find our confession.
Help us across the boundary of our understanding.
Lead us into the darkness that we may find
what lies concealed;
That we may confess it towards the light;
That we may carry our truth in the centre
of our heart;
That we may carry our cross wisely
And bring harmony into our life and world.