How many times have we or someone we know said, “I’m sorry” and expected that to solve world hunger? Saying “I’m sorry” sounds good, but it’s just words. Words mean nothing if there is no change in behavior. No action to back it up.
This is part three in a four part blog series about reconciliation, inspired by Patrick Doyle’s video called How Reconciliation Works. In part one we talked about the first step in the reconciliation process: conviction (HERE). Part two focused on the second step: repentance (HERE). Today we’ll talk about confession.
Confession is owning our sin. It’s being honest and admitting the crappy things we do. Without confession, there can be no reconciliation. I think the key word here is honesty. Think about it. Can you have a healthy relationship where there is lying, covering up, pretending, overlooking, and ignoring? Does that foster intimacy? Of course not. Healthy relationships are grown in the soil of vulnerability and safety. When two people are open and honest, they can get close and experience authentic acceptance and love. Anything less is dysfunctional in some way.
This means that both partners should be able to go to the other one and safely say, “when you did such-and-such, it hurt” or “please don’t do this-and-that anymore, and here’s why it’s a problem for me” or “I really wish _______ problem could change” without experiencing kick back, reviling, blame shifting, excuses, denial, and mocking.
When you are in a loving relationship, the other person may feel defensive at first (this is human nature), but if they care about you, they will be willing to look at the offending behavior and change it most of the time. If only one partner is willing to be respectful and follow through, then it’s likely an unhealthy or even potentially destructive relationship. This is why you may not feel safe, loved, or heard. Because you aren’t.
So the example of confession that Patrick Doyle gave looks like this: “When I lied to you about x, y, and z, I was wrong, and I want to know, will you forgive me for my sin against you?” They can’t say, “I’m sorry for everything I’ve done in our marriage to hurt you.” That’s not confession. That’s not owning specific behavior. Do you think anything is really going to change when they can’t even define what it is they’ve done? Probably not.
Patrick Doyle goes so far as to say he would question their Christianity if they are claiming to be a Christian but are unable to practice confession of sin. He points out that if someone is a Christian, you will see it lived out in “how they handle people, how they own their sin, the insight they have into their hearts.” I’ve heard him repeat this in several videos: the Holy Spirit has two jobs. He convicts us of sin and He comforts. You will see these two things happening in the life of a person who has the Holy Spirit. Anyone can fake the fruits of the Spirit temporarily. But the inability to admit wrong is evil. It is pride, plain and simple.
“…the utmost evil, is Pride….it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.” C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
When someone has truly come clean and confessed and repented, this opens the door for reconciliation. But what if the offended party doesn’t believe the confession and repentance? Patrick says that is sometimes the price the offender has to pay for years of lying, blaming, covering up, minimizing, rationalizing, and refusing to change. If they really “get it,” they will realize the offended party needs time.
The thing is, if you have experienced this kind of relationship with someone, you know how tricky it is to get caught up in the cycle. The destructive person is mean. The offended party says so. The destructive person is meaner. The offended party shuts down. The offense is filed away, unresolved. The destructive person is nice. The offended party warms up and hopes. The destructive person is mean. And around and around and around we go. Where we stop—nobody knows.
Until the offended person decides enough is enough.
If (and that’s a big IF) a destructive person finally sees the cycle for what it is and how they’ve played an abusive role in it, they will understand why the offended party needs to see, over time, whether or not the cycle has really been disrupted. If they insist on immediate reconciliation and empathy from you while not giving you the empathy and time you need, you will know they still don’t get it. Back to square one: the need for conviction.
I know I’m repeating myself in different ways, but this is how we get better. This is how the pieces start to fall into place. We have to see it and hear it and read it over and over and over again, because the deep ruts in our brains keep sliding us back into former ways of thinking. It’s really like we need to be deprogrammed from years of brainwashing. That’s what I’m trying to do here for you. For me.
I chose to separate from my husband a year and a half ago from the time of this writing. I couldn’t catch my breath between “incidents,” and my focus was constantly on recovering emotionally from the latest crazy conversation. I was becoming sarcastic. I was swearing. I was yelling. I was literally going to my bedroom and pulling hair out of my own skull. That is how insane I felt in my relationship. When I began counseling and realized I had choices as an adult woman, it still took me a long time to exercise my right to make my own choices. To choose to get away. To choose to pursue healing and wholeness.
Even then, it has been a long road to healing. I’ve only recently begun to feel a relief from deep, roiling anger over years of injustice. I can now have a conversation with him, and when it starts to go south, I can excuse myself without feeling like I’m going to choke to death in disbelief over the insanity involved. I can hear the accusations and lies and tell myself (and believe myself) that they are just accusations and lies. They aren’t true just because someone else believes them and says them over and over. It doesn’t matter if the whole world believes them. God knows, and I know. Now I know. But I wasn’t able to begin that healing process while I was still living in the middle of the storm. Back then it was just mental and emotional survival. When a person is trying to survive, they aren’t able to be or do much else. And maybe that is part of God’s plan for a while, but I no longer believe that this kind of mind-altering relationship is God’s life-long destiny for anyone. It is a result of sin.
I had a thought yesterday, and this is a good place to share it. Some Christians teach that suffering is something to embrace because it makes you like Jesus. In one sense, this is true. God USES suffering in our lives to burn off dross, sharpen us, bring us nearer to Himself, and so on. But does He really want us to stay stuck in suffering? When we lose someone we love, are we to stay stuck in the grief process? Or are we to walk through it, heal, and come out on the other side a new person? When we become aware of child abuse or sexual abuse, do we say to the people involved, “It’s all good! This will really shape you as you grow older! I’m sorry your parent is abusing you, but that’s God’s choice, and it will all work together for good!” Or do we advocate for them and work to get them out of that abusive relationship where they can be safe?
And what about Christian prisoners? We don’t send them a letter saying, “Hey Bro. Heard you’re in prison. God be with you, you lucky dog. You get to be more like Jesus now! We’d try to help you, but we wouldn’t want to interfere with God’s plan for your life, and that’s obviously unjust imprisonment. Rejoice and be glad in the Lord, you saint, you!” No, we fight to see them freed.
We do what Jesus was sent to do:
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is on Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners;
Some suffering is inevitable, and yes, God uses it to shape us and mature us. We are told to rejoice in these outcomes (Romans 5:3-5). However, other kinds of suffering CAN and MUST be ended. I believe domestic abuse in all of its forms falls under this category, and to the degree Christians rise to the task of exposing evil and turning it out of homes and churches, our homes and families will be healthy, and our world witness will be effective. It doesn’t seem like the church is ready for that yet. I have rarely heard stories of pastors and elders and church members actually seeing things as they are and advocating for the victims. On the other hand, I’ve heard literally hundreds of horrible stories of survivors begging for help and being ignored and blamed. That has been my personal experience as well. But I believe God is doing something right now. I believe He is in the process of exposing the evil in our pews and beds. And children of God, you are part of this work. Your stories need to be heard.
So raise your heads. Raise your voices. Raise the truth. Aslan is on the move.