At this point just about all Americans are aware of the rather unfortunate story of former General David Petraeus. Highly decorated and revered, he recently resigned from his position as CIA Director after revealing he had an affair with his female biographer. It is, among other things, a sad ending to a storied career.
While I’m not privy to all of the details involved, the picture we get is of a lonely and perhaps isolated man who in his time of need let another woman get too close. His was a mistake, no doubt…and one far too many have made.
Rarely, I think, does someone wake up in the morning and say out of the blue, “Well, TODAY I’m going to cheat on my wife.” The path from A to B normally runs a lot longer than that, with many stops along the way. That’s the way it is with a lot of tragic decisions we make. A slow degradation, never arrested or corrected, can result in serious compromise. Would that there was something natural and regularly constituent to our lives that would bring these shadowy things into the light before they consume us.
When it comes to spiritual disciplines, I’ve long been a fan of confession. It is something that I have made use of in my life; I encourage others to do the same. It makes sense biblically (James 5:16), theologically, and practically. Carrying our flaws and mistakes inside of us may seem brave in our heads, but is really rather dangerous. Like cancer cells left untreated, they will eat us alive. Confession, by contrast, is the beginning of the cure. Bringing another person into the fold and laying down our burdens together with them is a powerful experience…and one I recommend.
I have a friend who is a part of the Eastern Orthodox tradition, and I’ve had some conversations with him about their practices of confession. I envy him and my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters for the structural feature that is available and regular confession. For us Protestants who long ago threw out the baby with the bathwater, the logistics of confession can be tough. Our individualizing of faith, while helpful in some areas, has nevertheless had some very detrimental effects in this area.
The truth is we don’t talk about our sins nearly enough, or at all. At least not until it is too late. And that’s a problem.
It has been a while since I’ve “confessed” as I used to, and I was just talking with my wife last night about how I feel I need a “confessor” in my life. I think we all do. Not necessarily a counselor or friend, but definitely a mature fellow believer who can hear our words and deeds, point us to the Scripture, and aid us in the process of working through the call of God on our lives. Why? Because we all falter, we all stumble, and we all need to know that we need not walk in that way alone.
I’m starting to feel that rumblings of a “confession” project within me: perhaps integrated into a course here at Northwest University, a personal experiment, personal research, and/or the design of something I’ve long wanted to do: a youth retreat weekend based entirely around the teaching and experience of confession. Stay tuned in coming weeks for more.
In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts concerning your experiences with confession, suggestions for practical implementation, or suggestions about the best kind of confessor for someone like me (and many others): the ordained minister.