"Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results." James 5:16
When I was in elementary school, my little sister, Marsha, and I would walk to the bus stop together. It wasn't far from our house, down the front yard in our hill, and across our neighbor's yard to a side street. Marsha is four years younger than me; so, as the older sibling, I was, of course, in charge.
One chilly morning, as we waited for the bus, I noticed that Marsha had brought a poster with her. I asked what it was, and she showed me. It was her project, which she had completed all by herself. She was so proud. But I was horrified. It looked, well, it looked like something a very young child would do, all by herself. It had spelling errors. The lines were written crookedly, and it wasn't very neat. As the daughter of a perfectionist and somewhat of a perfectionist myself, I just knew that Marsha should not turn in that poster. And I knew that it was my responsibility to take it away from her. So, Marsha and I began to argue.
I reached out to grab the poster as Marsha ran from me in a circle on the slick asphalt, and she fell. Marsha hit her head, and it began to bleed. I started to walk her back to the house, but then the bus came; so I did what any responsible young girl would do. I sent Marsha back to the house alone so that I wouldn't miss the bus.
Now, there are a few things you need to know before I proceed. First of all, our grandmother was at the house; so there was an adult waiting for Marsha when she got there. Second, Marsha proclaimed (and still proclaims) that I pushed her. Third, I have no idea whatever happened to that stupid poster. Fourth, this is still a source of comical disagreement between us. Marsha maintains that she was pushed. I (with the better memory of course) contend that she fell.
Who is right? In the end, I don't think it really matters because, as bad as I hate to admit it, I was wrong. I may have not pushed Marsha, but I was responsible for her fall. I was responsible for her injury. And I was the one who abandoned her in her time of need. In all the years of arguing (even jokingly) about that incident, I am not sure that I ever admitted that simple fact. So, Marsha, here you go. I'm sorry that I degraded something you had worked hard to complete. I'm sorry that I caused you to fall and hurt yourself, and I'm sorry that I abandoned you in your time of need.
Why has it taken me so many years to apologize? Why is it so hard to admit something so profoundly simple? Why is it so hard for us to acknowledge our own sin? It's not a secret, you know. We are all sinners. We all make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes are truly accidental, but sometimes we mess up intentionally. We do things that we know (if we take time to think about it) will hurt others or even ourselves. Yet we try to act as if we don't.
Oh, don't get me wrong. I know that most of us will readily say that we aren't perfect. We will readily give lip service to our own sinful nature. But seriously, when push comes to shove (no pun intended), we really don't like to admit our own failures. It's much easier to keep our sins a secret. After all, who wants to air their dirty laundry, right?
Now, I'm not an advocate of public (i.e. social media) confessions, but you might be surprised to know that there is a time and a place to confess our sins...not only to God but also to one another. Why? Why in the world would anyone willingly do that?
James 5:16 tells us. "Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results."
Prior to this James does speak of physical healing, but he also speaks of the forgiveness of sin. So, I believe that when he says "pray for each other that you may be healed" he isn't just talking about healing from physical ailments. I believe he is also referring to the healing that must come after sin, the restoration with God and with our fellow man, the peace in our soul that comes from forgiveness, and sometimes even very practical help and healing that comes when we are picking up the pieces of broken lives. So, when we confess our sins to one another, when we share our faults and failures, our trials and our temptations, we are not only opening ourselves up to healing, but we are also giving the Lord opportunity to use us in the lives of other people.
One of my favorite quotes is from Emily Colson, who wrote Dancing with Max, her true story of life as a single mother with an autistic son. In it she writes this "...perfect isn't approachable. It isn't even likable. A friend once told me that he wasn't comfortable talking to me when he thought my life looked perfect because his life was filled with cracks and flaws."
Often I think that I have to appear perfect, in control, shall I dare to say sinless, in order to be a good witness for Christ. I mean, seriously, who would believe anything I had to say about Jesus if they knew the ins and outs of my life? What if they knew my deepest darkest secrets, the things I have done or thought that no one else (but God) knows about me? How many times have I thought those very things. How many times have I said,
I can’t write. There is nothing I have to say that anyone would want to read.
I can’t host that Bible study. It’s hypocritical to invite people to my home to study God’s word when last night all hell was breaking loose in my family.
I can’t be a mentor to those girls. I was a depressed teenager. I never fit in. I still consider myself a social outcast.
I can’t because I have messed up.
I can’t because I am not perfect.
I can’t because I am not in control.
It’s a lie from Satan. And it’s a lie that I think many of us fall prey to every single day. How many times in the last few years have I discovered that a couple I knew have divorced, and I never even realized they were struggling? In the last week alone, several “secrets” have come out regarding people I know, and I am heartbroken. Of course, I am heartbroken over the sins that have been revealed, but I am also devastated that people I care about deeply have and are facing terrible battles alone, that I haven’t been there to comfort them, help them, encourage them, or even pray for or with them. It truly makes my soul ache.
But then, I think, how many times have I done the very same thing?
No, we can’t and shouldn’t share everything with everyone. And I understand that sometimes situations involve other people and can’t be shared without their permission. But the truth is, we often share nothing with no one for no reason except our own pride. We would rather suffer through this life alone, afraid, struggling, battling all by ourselves than to admit our own failures, to confess our own sins, or to acknowledge the difficult and often embarrassing circumstances of our lives. I am just as guilty as anyone—if not more so.
It’s a ploy of the devil to keep us isolated. Not only are we robbing ourselves of valuable comfort, help, encouragement and accountability, but we are also robbing others of our testimonies. Just like Emily Colton’s friend said, no matter what we think, no one really wants to be around someone who appears perfect.
Galatians 6:2 says, “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.”
It takes vulnerability. It takes a certain amount of risk, but in the end it’s what we need to do. You can’t share a burden you don’t know about, and neither can I.
We all know we aren’t perfect. So, let’s stop pretending. Let’s admit our own sinfulness, first to God, and then to each other. Let’s take responsibility for our mistakes, but let’s also use those mistakes to help others. Let’s help people know that Christ isn’t waiting for us to get it all together before we come to Him. He’s waiting for us to come to Him just as we are so He can help us get it all together. And let’s remember that very often He uses people, just like you and me, to do just that.
-This is a reprint of an older blog.