We are a little over half way through the Lenten season. This is the time of year designated by the church calendar set aside as a time of searching our hearts (Psalm 139) in preparation for celebrating Easter. It’s about not only discovering and confronting the sin that has subtly crept in to our lives over the last year but is to be, in response to that revelation, a time of repentance and personal and corporate confession as well. As we become more finely attuned to what is really going on in our lives spiritually, we are given the invitation to repent and practically deal with the suspect attitudes and behaviors in a very real way that brings about a renewal of our hearts.
When I first mentioned the idea to one of my ladies’ spiritual formation small group of holding a special Lenten service with corporate confession as one of the elements, I could sense their immediate uneasiness. I understood their anxiety. Confession, especially corporate confession, is difficult not only because we are so unfamiliar with its practice but because we are really committed to looking like good moral people. And yet, Scripture is replete with the calling of people to confession, personal and corporate (Lev. 16:21; 26:40; 1 Sam. 7:6; Neh. 9; Psm. 32:5; Mt. 3:6; Acts 19:18). 1 John 1:9 states, “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Without confession there is no forgiveness. It is for our healing as a nation and as a people.
As a group, however, we are committed to living out the Christian life, not just embracing deeply a held belief system (“Of course, I think confession is a good thing.”). So we decided, albeit a little reluctantly, we were all in. We spent a few weeks walking through the process of self-examination. This is not a search for a secular and autonomous self-understanding but a commitment to not run from the truth about ourselves. It’s being willing to face the internal chaos going on often unnoticed or undetected inside our hearts and being willing to name those things that we might offer them to God and receive the healing we need. Along with David, we prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! See if there be any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps.139:23, 24). A friend recently wrote, “I am grateful for this practice, because it breaks off any temptation or tendency to give ourselves permission to live at surface level.” When practiced rightly, self-examination ultimately leads to humility. When we finally set aside the distractions or our own denial and see ourselves as we really are in the safety of God’s love, it leads us to a restful reliance on God, instead of ourselves, for healing and wholeness.
I was pleasantly surprised when everyone showed up the night of the service. It would have been easy to call last minute and come up with an excuse to bow out. But they didn’t. After an opening prayer, a song, and a brief devotion of confession, one by one each began to step forward and make her confession. It was a sacred moment as each confessed to the rest, their unchecked pride, their unchallenged bitterness, their deep rooted unforgiveness. And one by one each received the embrace of community. That’s the thing. When everyone is willing to admit their sin, there is no judgment, just embrace.
Then we prayed for each other. With the expectation that God heard our confessions, we prayed sincerely, individually and boldly for the healing of our hearts. These are the instructions and astounding promise we receive from James 5:16, “Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed.” This is not a common practice among us but perhaps it’s a beginning. And perhaps we will begin to live more fully into being whole people in the context of authentic community. After a time of communion and a closing prayer, we went out for ice cream.
Without Lent I am not sure if we would ever get around to looking deeply at the ways we have wandered from God or the sin, like dust, that has settled in to our hearts and simply become a part of the landscape of our lives. I for one am grateful to be reminded to live more deeply and openly in God’s presence and in the presence of the real people he has given me and find the invitation to wholeness is found in and with them.