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Pointing out potholes

With confession we can help others learn from our sinful experiences

Pointing out potholes

Illustration by Krieg Barrie

There was a woman who came to her pastor and confessed that she was having dreams about him. By the end of the year they were in a full-blown adulterous relationship.

God says, “Confess your sins to one another” (James 5:16). I don’t know how far He wants us to go with this. From what I understand of God, His purpose for confession is that it be free of ulterior motives.

We should not confess in order to fish obsessively for reassurance. (“I’m the worst person in the world.” “No you’re not.”) We should not seek to impress people with our Technicolor sinful past while supposedly trying to convert them. (“I was the biggest drug dealer in Philadelphia—a thousand dollars a day.”) We should not slander another under the cloak of coming clean with our own iniquities. (“I sinned in anger against my father last night after he cursed me out when I politely exhorted him to stop cheating on his taxes.”)

I believe God’s purposes in “confess your sins to one another” are something like this: First and most obviously, we confess to the person we have sinned against. (“I’m sorry I stole your stapler. Please forgive me.”) We confess so that the church congregation won’t be bathed in an aura of unreality where everyone is afraid he’s the only person who has ever thrown his computer against the wall. We confess in order to help others by apprising them of potholes along the road of life that we ourselves have steered into, and that we would spare them.

As a young woman I thought the silent treatment would foster in my husband the attentiveness I considered my due. It did not.

It is this last motive that prompts me today. As a 65-year-old woman I desire to warn those coming up behind me about certain choices that look like wisdom at the time but that have all hell to pay. (While driving yesterday, I saw a schoolboy smoking a cigarette to the evident admiration of his companion. I wanted to stop and warn him it’s a trap. I should have.)

I confess that as a young woman I thought the silent treatment would foster in my husband the attentiveness I considered my due. It did not. Not only did it not, but I found that choice hardened into habit, and habit into character, and that I could scarcely quit it even when I wanted to. (“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?”—Romans 6:16)

Hell came calling decades later, the day I thought we were having a pleasant family meal in a restaurant and my son said, “You and Dad fought the whole time I was growing up.” I hadn’t thought he had noticed that. But here it tarnished his childhood. Back then I thought I could pull off punishing my husband while raising my children in the Christian faith.

May I go for two, while we’re at it? A second besetting past sin I confess is laziness and indulgence in entertaining all manner of ungodly, repetitive, and unproductive thought patterns without ever once in 30 years stopping to ask myself: “Is this a godly use of my mind? Are not these demonic thoughts? Oughtn’t I to stop and pray to ask God to take them away? Oughtn’t I to apply effort to resist them?”

These are two top-tier failings of my life. (No, I’m not “fishing.” See paragraph 3.) But what is interesting to me, and I hope to you, is that there is a sin under the sin in both cases. It is the sin of unbelief.

My problem was not ignorance, for I have always liked the Bible and enjoyed reading it. I knew what God says about love and forgiveness and not holding grudges. I knew what He says about fighting the good fight and taking captive every thought and demolishing all wrong mental case-building. I just believed my way was superior at obtaining what I wanted out of life.

God’s Word yet cries from the housetops: “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. … choose life, that you and your offspring may live” (Deuteronomy 30:15, 19).

The power is already yours in Christ.


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  • Lucy B
    Posted: Sat, 05/06/2017 08:57 pm

    Thank you! I'm getting married in two months and will heed your advice. 

  •  Xion's picture
    Posted: Sun, 05/07/2017 02:14 am

    Nicely said!  My wife and I fought every Sunday morning because I needed to get to church on time to teach Sunday School.  She had a relaxed California view of time that didn't work well in a New England fundamentalist culture.  Neither of our kids, having become adults now, have much interest in the church.  My wife and I are now both relaxed Californians and I look back on those days and cringe.  Every church experience in their delicate childhood was filled with turmoil, trying to conform to a cruel taskmaster.  We are all still very close, which I am thankful for, yet I am sad that they are not interested much in the things of God.  I view this as my greatest failure.

  • Linda Bronkar
    Posted: Sun, 05/07/2017 11:24 pm

    When I open my WORLD magazine, I always look first for Andree Seu Peterson's articles. I always find them insightful, but this one hit especially close to home. I read it out loud to our whole family.

    "...there is a sin under the sin in both cases. It is the sin of unbelief."

    "I just believed my way was superior at obtaining what I wanted out of life."

    I am posting those quotes in my kitchen. Thank you, Mrs. Peterson.

  • Pangea608
    Posted: Mon, 05/08/2017 12:00 pm

    Your words resonate with truth:

    I believe God help my unbelief.

    Mark 9:24