Friday night and I found myself in the basement of the church I pastor at a Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting. There were young faces, old faces, scared, nervous, hard and tired faces filled the fluorescent room that doubles as a preschool. I sat trying to be invisible. I didn’t really belong there, I was simply observing.
The next hour I heard stories celebrating 30, 60, 90 days of sobriety. I heard stories of revelations, family visitations, new jobs, and even the irony of wanting to spend a Friday night in a church basement. I was overwhelmed by the stories of relapse, of loss, and guilt. I heard a young mother say she wanted to want to quit, but she was not ready. I heard more confession in one night than my entire life.
What overwhelmed me most were not the stories, but that the stories were shared. I couldn’t help but think “why doesn’t this happen more often?” No matter the heartbreak, no matter the sense of failure, everyone felt free to share. Sometimes their voices shook, other times tears and sobbing interrupted their testimony, and even anger could be seen in others. Nonetheless, people shared deep dark truths. Even in a poorly lit church basement, I saw relief on the faces of those who shared. I saw lightness, as if they were able to put down a heavy load for the first time all week. Everyone who shared were greeted with words of affirmation, pats on the back, and hugs. Not once did someone try to fix their problem or shame them. They were free to share because they were supported, and heard.
I was so touched by this experience. I kept wondering why this doesn’t happen more often. Everyone in that room was free to share, they were free to mess up, they were free to not have it all together, and they were free to try again. The affirmations they received were a cutting of cords and unshackling of chains. Those listening refused to allow their brother and sister be shackled to the brokenness of the past. They refused to allow each person who shared to remain locked in defeat. They were heard, they were loved, and they were set free.
The ancient church was built on this tradition of confession. James, the leader of the early church, says,
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).
Since this experience I have been blessed to meet weekly with a group of people who share our brokenness, our shortcomings, and our triumphs. Some of us are addicts, some are not, but we all struggle with the imprisoning power of our own fallenness. Our confession keeps us free to try again, it keeps us free to grow. It was hard at first. It took time to trust each other. After doing it for a year, we have changed. I can say that this group of friends have become some of the most spiritually life-giving people you could ever find. I believe it is because through confession we have experienced freedom.
My oldest daughter and I love hard-boil eggs, and we eat them nearly every morning. Eggs are full of protein and they fill you up. Yet, no matter how you eat the eggs, you have to break them first. Eggs are not good until they are broken. I know I am like that. My pride and ego have to be broken to really get to the good stuff of who God made me to be. I often spend time during the day meditating what to do, and what not to do. Because a shell in your scrambled eggs, is never good.
The Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs: Boil water, then put the eggs in (making sure they are completely covered in water). Bring back to a boil and cook for 2 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit for 15-20 minutes. Cool them down with cold water, place in the fridge, and take out whenever. Not only will they be easy to crack, but the yolks will be a glorious bright yellow.
Little Richard’s “Freedom Blues” from the album The Rill Thing
God of freedom, I know you want to set us free. I like to try to control my narrative, how people see me. I like to look perfect. I don’t like to open up. But the more I hold on, the more I see that I’m chained down. I confess I don’t want to confess. Help me trust you, help me find others to trust, help me confess, so that I may be free. Amen.
Give it a try. Find someone you can confess to. Don’t try to fix each other, don’t extend advice, don’t tell people they should have known better, don’t even tell them that it will be ok. Simply confess, listen, and pray. It will be hard at first and it will require a building of trust. Push yourselves to share more each week. Share not only what you have done, but what has been done to you, how has life affected you, what do you feel, what do you struggle with. Talk about the past, the present, the future. Listen. Pray. Then do it again.