When a preacher made me a liar

by Robin Dance

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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.

*Photo courtesy of by rottnapples, Creative Commons via Flikr.

16 Responses to “When a preacher made me a liar”

  1. Mary DeMuth February 13, 2014 at 8:35 am #

    Robin, I love this. While I so very much agree about the power of community and sharing our struggles with one another, I would have felt very similar to what you felt. Community is something that happens over years, with safe people who applaud your heart. To confess to a stranger sitting next to me would feel artificial somehow. After all, how would that person be able to follow up? And wouldn’t it be safer (in a weird way) to say my sin to a stranger, then depart, having a false sense of “I am such a good confessor?” Or to lie, then feel guilty about it.

    I’m so grateful for this post because I am a speaker, and I am worried beyond words that I will misuse that position. Jesus, help me be so very connected to YOU that I keep my audience fully in mind.

    • Robin Dance February 13, 2014 at 9:12 am #

      Mary,

      I’m doing a lot of squirming right now because I DO trust the speaker sincerely felt prompted to go this direction; BUT…while I confessed heart-sins to the girls with me, I could NOT go to those deep places in that setting.

      And you know what? Your last two lines matter so much to me! Every speaker has great potential for influence when they speak, and it’s GOOD to consider motive and consequence–the other side of words spoken. Thanks, too, for raising some questions I hadn’t even thought of.

      • Mary DeMuth February 13, 2014 at 9:35 am #

        I have no doubt the speaker has an amazing heart, and it’s impossible to know/discern motivation. The issue is, “Was this the right setting” for something like this.

  2. Jessica February 13, 2014 at 8:45 am #

    I would’ve been right there with you. Seriously.

    • Robin Dance February 13, 2014 at 9:13 am #

      Jessica,

      I envy those who COULD go there! For them, this was experience glorious.

  3. Kristin Potler February 13, 2014 at 9:00 am #

    The scriptures also tell us to guard our hearts. There’s a right and safe time to confess. The awesome thing about the spirit is He can use a situation to move and heal for one person and the same situation to teach discernment to another. It’s learning to listen for ourselves and trust that He’s big enough and kind enough to meet us right where we are.

    • Robin Dance February 13, 2014 at 9:16 am #

      Kristin,

      Funny, the thought I had in response to your comment–God already knows I’m a sinner–HE knows my sins, confessed or held tightly–so what’s the big deal for one more lie for a sinner?

      Oy…

      Seriously, though, this experience was affecting; in a good way. I’m thankful for important lessons learned when I least expect it.

  4. Jennifer February 13, 2014 at 9:01 am #

    Agree with Mary. There is a time and a place. I would even suggest that this is a kind of emotional kettle set to boil. When we share and confess the TRUTH that we hide, we don’t just get up and walk away. There is often a ton of work to do to get moving forward again. I also, too, am a cynical woman. Why would she know more about faith than you? Because people know her name? Meh.

    • Robin Dance February 13, 2014 at 9:30 am #

      Jennifer,

      What felt irresponsible to me was life-changing for others so I don’t want to minimize how the Lord used this time of confession for them. And because I know where my faith-struggles have been, it’s easy to imagine that just about every Christian speaker knows more than me :).

      But I suppose that’s not fair for either one of us :).

  5. Alece Ronzino February 13, 2014 at 9:43 am #

    So many thoughts and memories and emotions stirred by your words here, but the only words I can seem to muster in response is simply…

    YES. THIS.

  6. Victoria February 13, 2014 at 10:12 am #

    Wouldn’t another option be to be honest with your partner and tell her you just didn’t feel comfortable sharing?

  7. the Blah Blah Blahger February 13, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    I would have done the Irish Goodbye so fast, no one would have even seen it. How terrifying. Yes, I know the Lord was at work there, as obviously, your seatmate found glorious relief, but man…I don’t think I could have done it!

  8. Diana Trautwein February 13, 2014 at 5:01 pm #

    I have to say that this makes me seriously skeptical at least, and mildly furious at worst. I think this is a mis-use of platform power and a terrible disservice to people in that room who struggle to find safe places for anything even approaching confession. There is a reason that the sacramental confession of the Catholic church happens in a dark booth where you don’t even make much eye contact. It is a sacred time and truly should not happen in a primarily public setting. I realize that this seemed to help many in the room and I’m trying to make room for that truth. But I’ve been in a room when I felt the (much lauded, very famous) speaker hugely overstepped and ended up making a room full of pastors feel absolutely terrible about themselves. Most of the pastors I know struggle hard with their own frailties and sins, so this felt invasive and inappropriate to me. Your brilliantly written account feels the same way. I’m sorry, Robin.

  9. Bethany Bassett February 14, 2014 at 8:34 am #

    This scenario sounds terrifying close to the kind of forced intimacy that took place in my uber-fundamentalist community growing up. The first word that comes to mind for me is “unsafe.” Being coerced into sharing on an intense emotional level can wreak havoc on the soul… and all the more so in a public setting where declining to participate would make a scene. I’m so sorry you were put in a position that made you choose between unsafe soul-baring and feeling like a bullshitter. Surely there could have been better ways for the speaker to have gotten her point across–encouraging conference participants to open up to a trusted friend later, for instance. Thanks for sharing despite your conflicted feelings; this is definitely worth a discussion for those of us learning how to do community!

  10. Trisha February 16, 2014 at 12:53 am #

    Private sins are between you and God alone. How can anything good come from confessing them to someone, unless you’re asking their forgiveness because you directly hurt them? I’d have just walked out. I don’t want to know your sins, and you sure don’t need to know mine. :-)

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  1. Linking you to fierce women writers on the web | Carly Gelsinger - February 14, 2014

    […] loved this piece: When a Preacher Made Me a Liar by Robin Dance, because it brought back so many memories of women’s retreats or small groups […]

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