This will date me, I'm sure, but when I was in my twenties, many people I knew were impacted by something called Basic Youth Institute. Now I didn't go to Basic Youth (though Beve did, I think...it was in his pre-me life), but I was impacted by it never-the-less. At some point during a Basic Youth Conference, the conversation turned to Confession. Attendees were encouraged to call or talk to the people in their lives whom they needed to forgive, or whom they needed forgiveness from. Sounds like a very wise thing, doesn't it?
Maybe in theory. I was living in Eugene, Oregon back then, and wasn't in a whole lot of contact with people from high school or my years at WSU. Out of the blue one night, I got a phone call from someone I'd known in high school. He asked for forgiveness for having held some things against me for at least half a dozen years. I was more than a little startled, but told him I forgave him, and asked him to forgive me for whatever I'd done (he didn't tell me what that was )that had caused his reaction. Then the next night someone I knew even less called me, to confess that he'd never really liked me while I was at WSU, and he asked me to forgive him for those uncharitable feelings. The second phone call was even more disconcerting, as you might guess. Of course I told this guy that I forgave him, but for the next several weeks, those two phone calls preyed on my mind. What kind of person was I to have engendered such strong negative reactions in these two people? And what about the countless others who might be out there, also holding things against me while I walked blythely through life, assuming others liked me--or at least didn't hate me.
I've been thinking of this for the last couple of weeks, because at church the sermon series has been about confession. Owning and confessing our sin to God, and to those we have hurt. One week, it was about 'forgiving others as Christ forgave you.' Now I'm a big proponent of forgiveness. It's paramount in our discipleship with Christ, of course. And I'm stunned by the enormity of God's forgiveness, which is both thorough and previous. That is, complete and two thousand years before we even knew we'd need it.
I understand that we have a responsibility in our own forgiveness, we must live in the joy of repentance. For some people that might sound funny--'the joy of repentance'--but I believe that real repentance reaps a harvest of joy. Actually facing God, admitting who I am in all my sinfulness (and trust me, I can say with Paul, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst." 1 Timothy 1: 15), letting go of that sin to turn, pick up my mat and walk the other way, this brings amazing freedom.
But (so you knew there was a 'but' coming, didn't you?) I think we have to be very careful about calling up virtual strangers in order to confess things they don't actually need to know. Now certainly we must take responsibility for--confess!--those sins we commit against those people we are actually in relationship with, like the Beve and my kids. "Don't let the sun go down in your anger," Paul tells us. I don't always do this, unfortunately. Beve goes to bed pretty early these days, so I could use that as an excuse, but the truth is, sometimes I hold on to things. As I said (and I'm not proud of this), I'm chief among sinners. However, I also know that once I've actually talked to Beve, something loosens in me. And you know the worst thing? Sometimes, when I'm angry at Beve, he has the gall to ask for forgiveness too soon, when I haven't finished brooding yet. How annoying is that?
But that's within the community of my marriage, where the most hurts (and the most joy!) tend to reside. Beyond those walls, however, it's a different story. We must be cautious about how we approach people. We must be sure that step is what God wants for us, and won't reap a different harvest than we hope for.
After those two boys confessed to me, I was confused and even hurt. It took me a while to let go, to actually do what I'd told them I'd do--forgive them. I haven't forgotten it, obviously, but it's such a powerful lesson to me. Offer my confession first to the One whom I've really sinned against. And ultimately, all sin is against Him. No matter what we call them--mistakes, blunders, errors, bad steps--sin is sin, and we all do it. "If we say we have no sin, we lie and the truth is not in us." Sin is acting without considering Him. So, confess and repent, and allow His forgiveness to work in and through us. Pick up your mat and walk without the crippled legs of sin. How often do we do this? Well, how often do you sin? If you're like me, you can't get through an hour without some kind of action that doesn't put Him first. He'll wash you with hyssop, and make you clean (IIf you have stutter in confession, try reading Psalm 51; it has everything you need to say!).