It was at one of those things I first heard her, a room brimming with hungry women waiting to be fed and wanting to get full–not the same things at all. We finished an indistinguishable plate of relatively good conference food (or bad, depending on whether or not your glass was half full or empty) when she bounded to the stage.
This speaker was one of those, a firecracker whose fuse was already lit with Holy fire, her reputation well-known. She was no up-and-comer, she was already there, that imaginary place where you’ve already arrived, a destination bequeathed by popular vote. I couldn’t wait to hear this friend of friends.
She delivered what her reputation promised–a great speaker who knew her God well. The stage gloved her like second skin and she held the audience captive. We were one in the Spirit.
She teased us just a little about what the Lord was leading her to speak, which was not what she had planned at all. It was a tug o’ war, and she didn’t want to, she told us, but she believed it was what He wanted, and how could she disobey?
So, she launched a God-fueled grenade.
Confess to our neighbor, our table-mate, our sister:
our deepest, darkest besetting sin…
whatever it is that ensnares us the way Peter Piper twists the tongue…
the baggage we’ve been dragging so long our arms are stretched like a willow’s branch…
the secret we’ve never told a soul.
It was at this point the room divided in half by an invisible line; I couldn’t (and still can’t) see any middle ground.
For some, it was appointment Divine, breath of Heaven exhaling life, impetus for healing, balm for bloody wounds. It was Kingdom come, freedom from oppression, rebirth for the sinner.
Later, I had dear friends tell me, although terrified, they were liberated by their confession; yes, a mess, but free.
And then there was me, the liar.
Oh, I prayed with the friend seated next to me, alright, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt more full of bullshit.
I hated myself, thought less of myself, condemned myself for not telling the truth.
Later, thinking back on the night, I was angry and conflicted.
The speaker’s had been a careless act, reckless, dangerous even, and potentially harmful for some. The retreat was not a safe haven. Depending on whether you sat among trusted, life-long friends or new, met-that-night acquaintances, there were no guarantees that our secrets were safe.
Another friend told me she had sat next to the wife of a pillar in her church; a well-known leader. My friend lied, too, because she knew the reputation of her friend, and she was not safe.
I was conflicted because confession is good and scripture has much to say about it –
Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he whoconfesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. ~ Proverebs 28:13 ESV
If we confess our sins, he isfaithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. ~ 1 John 1:9 ESV
I fell in love with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s writing, in part because of his magnificent exploration of confession in community.
I still have great regard for the speaker, who is, no doubt, studied in the Word, accomplished in service, devoted to others and expressive in love for God. I’ll even go so far as to say she knows much, much more than I when it comes to matters of faith. I’m convinced she meant well and believed the message was God inspired–and maybe it was; I talked to others who were captives set free.
It has been a long, long while since I was entrenched in a faith community; more so because of circumstance than desire. But I know in the past I’ve thrown around phrases like “What the Lord is teaching me” or “it’s clear what the Bible says” (I love what Rachel Evans had to say about the latter). I hope what I learned from that experience is not soon forgotten: to steward carefully what God prompts me to share with others, and to pray earnestly for wisdom to see what might otherwise be missed.
Maybe then I’ll avoid making liars out of sinners.