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Life Together, part 3: Confessing

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.

      —James 5:16

Some parts of the Bible are hard for me to understand. This passage is not. The instruction is clear, the reason is clear. But I still resist putting it into practice, for several reasons which sound good until I scrutinize them.

I want to be liked and respected. I want people to think I’m caring, competent  and wholehearted.  I feel embarrassed letting people see my garden when I’m behind on the weeding, let alone seeing my resentments and confusions and shortcomings. I’d rather keep the focus on the things I’m good at.

But when I’m with others who seem to be constantly striving to make a good impression, anxiously talking up their gifts and successes, I often feel uncomfortable and wonder what they’re trying to hide. Occasionally I am initially impressed and form a glowing impression of those people, and then I am extremely disappointed when I see the flaws they’ve been concealing.

I want people to respect the unusual choices I’ve made. I think many of us who choose to live outside the consumer society sometimes feel beleaguered and defensive. I’m afraid that if I own my weaknesses and doubts others will be confirmed in their idea that my chosen life is crazy.

But I know when other people talk only about the good points of their position my mind keeps supplying the downsides, and when they admit the things they struggle with I am more apt to see the strength and goodness in the way they’ve chosen.

I know confession can be done wrongly. It can be exhibitionistic, almost boasting of  misdeeds.  It can be manipulative, trying to push the other person to say nice things about me to counteract my self-deprecation.

Most things can be done wrongly. This doesn’t remove their value and importance.

When I confess my sins and struggles—anxiety, misplaced priorities, mixed motives, sloth, carelessness—it helps me to grow in faithfulness. It forces me to confront my faults and try again to overcome them. It frees me from wasting time and energy on an impressive façade. It creates an opportunity for my brothers and sisters to share their own struggles, learnings and suggestions.  It allows them to pray for me so that I may be healed.

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