They say confession is good for the soul.
That's what "they" say.
It's true. Confession is good. It is right. It is holy. It is needed.
It is most difficult.
Why? Because it is revealing, embarrassing, and requires transparency and humility.
The Prayer Request In Disguise
I have often, in public, in sermons, and in private conversations chastised those who use "prayer requests" as little more than a time to share a bit of juicy gossip. Anyone who has been part of a local church understands how easy this occurs. The Sunday School (Life Group, Small Group, Bible Study Group, etc.) leader stands before the class and asks "Does anyone have any prayer requests today?"
It's an innocent and good question, but sometimes the answers are not really prayer requests. Beyond the listing of those loved ones and friends who are ill, in the hospital, facing difficulties, inevitably there will be a "prayer request" that sounds like a caring announcement, but may just be a bit of gossip in disguise.
It is actually pretty easy to fall into this trap of "sharing" something that is not verified, unfounded, or may cause harm...as a pseudo-prayer request for the group.
The Sinfulness of Gossip
Paul addresses the sin of lawlessness that characterizes the natural man. In his listing of examples and identifiers, the gossiper is mentioned.
They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. - Romans 1:29-31 (ESV)
The context is harsh, speaking of God's wrath on the unrighteous. As a Christian, however, the falling back into actions and thoughts far from godliness remain. The seriousness of all sin must be contended with, even that of gossip. I say "even that" because often we wrongly grade sin on a sliding scale and gossip is at times placed in the "not that serious of a sin" category.
This being said, I must confess.
I will not use names and will actually attempt to be very general in certain descriptions here so as not to bring shame or undue focus on others when the sin in question is mine. Hopefully, I will do this justice.
A number of weeks ago I was contacted by a Christian friend who heard from another that I had shared a "prayer request" that really wasn't. The conversation in question had occurred over a year prior so I had to work to remember it clearly (this comes with age I guess.) The individual who had shared my comments formerly worked for me and our church. As I recall, I had shared a bit of information that I had not verified about this other friend. I was concerned. I had heard "through the grapevine" about the instance in question and shared with this leader as a point of prayer, but also in a moment of frustration.
Here's the problem.
I never actually confirmed with the party in question regarding the issue at hand. This friend lived outside my town, did not attend my church, was not someone I kept up with regularly, but was (is) someone I call a sibling in Christ and love.
However, my sharing of the story was not in love. It was nothing more than gossip disguised as a "prayer request." I know that now. I actually knew it then. But...well, no buts about it. I sinned.
The Needed Confrontation
When I was confronted about this from the friend in question, my heartbeat sped up. I began to feel a rush of frustration, guilt, and even for about a half second thought how I could spin this as acceptable. Seriously - about a half second. Thankfully, I did not go there. In my response, I did what I knew I must, but was actually a bit uncertain, maybe even a bit afraid of what would come. I confessed. This exchange was via message (though face-to-face is always better, in this case it allowed me to say clearly what must be said.) These messages do not disappear, so here are the words I responded with (with names and specifics deleted):
Thank you for the message. I haven’t talked with ____ in almost a year other than [one unrelated occasion.] As for [the story in question] I did hear of stories from ________. As for what was shared, I should have kept that rumor (which it is) to myself and left it alone. Actually should have just forgotten or ignored it. I apologize for sharing what I had heard with ____. While I don’t remember the exact conversation, I am not denying it. Wrong to talk with ____ about such. I am sorry. Disappointing for certain. Likely nothing can rectify that.
There was more in this conversation. It is embarrassing and humiliating. You know, I'm a pastor. Pastors are supposed to lead by example, right? Some would say "Well, this is not that big of a deal." To that I say, "It is HUGE and unacceptable."
My Imperfections Revealed
This posting is not a practice of self-flagellation. I fear that others who have confided in me in counseling sessions may think their stories are now fodder for "prayer request" time. Rest assured they are not. We as a pastoral staff do share prayer requests, real ones. We do talk through how best to minister to those in need. Yet, the confidences shared with us that are not in the category of "Legally Required to Report to Authorities" remain confident.
And...I know some are saying "How can I believe that when you have confessed to gossiping in this case?" I don't know. I just pray that you do.
Why Tell This?
Earlier today I received a message from another Christian friend. This is not unheard of, and was encouraging. Yet, in the message was a question that stated "I have heard from others that you said ______ about _______."
Oh man. I thought this was done.
It wasn't. I had omitted a biblical command that if left undone would actually allow bitterness, anger, and maybe even hatred to develop. The more who heard of my sin, the more who would be so greatly saddened and angry, and justified in not only disliking me more, but to a greater extent God's church and those whom dare go by the title "Pastor."
So, I confess today...
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. - James 5:16 (ESV)
I confess to you, my "one anothers." Some would say that I should address this to the church I pastor alone. I understand that, but those "players" in this story are not members of our church. They're members of God's universal church and serve elsewhere. Therefore, this becomes a public confession - for the glory of God and the good of his church.
I responded to today's message quickly and stated what I have shared in this post. I stated that I confessed and repented to this other Christian. I stated that the other Christian responded with "I accept and you are forgiven."
Thankfully, today's messenger affirmed this and received it as well.
It was a timely message that was sent to ensure no bitter root would grow regarding me. For that I am extremely grateful.
When this message arrived today, it became clear that this story is being shared. Not the forgiveness part, but the gossip part. It may be that others are gossiping about gossip? I don't know.
What I do know is that I have sinned. I have confessed to my Lord and repented. I have asked forgiveness from my fellow Christian.
To ignore or just "let it be" sounds good, but in truth would allow the sin to grow, bitterness to swell, and relationships between brothers and sisters in Christ to suffer.
And, God would not be glorified. He cannot be when his children fall back to exhibit the sins that defined them prior to salvation.
Forgiveness Is Freeing
When this fellow Christian forgave me, it was as if a weight had been removed from my shoulders. I had caused harm. I did not deserve forgiveness. I had even sinned by disguising it as spiritual, Christian even.
I know biblical forgiveness is transactional. It is not automatic. It is something offered freely when payback or restitution is not an option. This was offered. I was freed from this.
What a great picture and reminder of the ultimate forgiveness offered through Christ! I know the story of the gospel. You likely do as well, but at times, we need a clear reminder of how much we do not deserve God's forgiveness. That's grace.
To offer forgiveness to those who have caused you harm is not natural. Only God can enable that.
To received forgiveness when you know it is not deserved is humbling, and a beautiful moment.
I ask that you will forgive me as well.
P.S. I really hate airing my dirty laundry, but they say "confession is good for the soul." I think it's more that righteousness and grace overwhelm the sin that exists. To others, learn from my mistake (sin) and don't spread "prayer requests."