When you think of a confession what scene comes to mind?
An interrogation room with a street punk sitting in front of two hardened city cops trying to get a confession? The room he's in reeks of stale coffee and cigarette butts. How about a guy with a hood over his head and a knife at his throat? That room has blood stains on filthy walls, flies buzz around the stink and there are various torture tools laying on a rusting, metal table. Does a confessionary in the interior of a sepia toned church with large fresco paintings and a marble floor come to mind? Prayer chants, candles? Afternoon light streaming in through a massive doorway slicing the haze of incense dust? An old priest sits on the other side of a screen?
Would it ever enter your mind this scene might be at a backyard, picnic table in suburbia in front of a struggling drug and alcohol addict? The addict isn't making the confession, a self-righteous, arrogant, proud man lacking love and wisdom is confessing his heart to the addict. The man wants to be forgiven for his coldnes that he showed the addict, he also wants to confess his lifetime of failures and foolish choices to him. It will be the first time the man has ever acknowledged his darkest sins to a family member. This scene is true and the addict was my nephew and I am that man.
What is confession? I define it as a deep need to admit failure to someone who will listen and love, guide to truth and healing. As a Christian, I believe confession needs to flow constantly to God and to others as I admit my sin. (Sin means to miss God's perfect standards.) Then I need to return to that place of failure and overcome the next time. Ture confession with the sole desire to admit failure and seek forgiveness and a new life has the effect of keeping us humble before God. It does what doesn't seem possible, confession brings us closer to God. Everything in our natural thinking wants to excuse our behavior, to blame the situation, people, whatever, and run from God. It's not us, it's them, or that. God wants us to own our failures when they are ours. When we learn about His character and love we run to Him with our failures. We start with God and move toward those we have offended then we purpose our hearts to walk in a new way.
God in His love knows our failures and waits for our hearts to turn to Him for forgiveness. He is willing but we have to come fully convinced of our failures and wanting remedy. When we justify ourselves before God, the flow of confession and the necessary understanding of our shaky ground breaks down. This blocked flow hurts us. We get hard in our hearts, self righteous, proud and lose compassion. We become hypocritical and contemptible. Love and truth dries up.
And He (Jesus) also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt:
Two men went up to pray, one a Pharisee (an expert in the Law of God and considered to be the holy standard bearers of their day) and the other a tax collector ( a Jew collecting taxes for Rome and a moral leper of Jewish society). The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: God, I thank You that I am not like other people, swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I pay tithes of all that I get. But the taxcollector standing some distance away was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, God, be merciful to me, the sinner.
I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.
Luke Chapter 18. 9-14
Drug addiction and alcoholism is a very complex, frustrating, hurting, miserable pain in the heart of society. There are so many people on the streets in our cities passed out, covered in stink and urine or panhandling for money in misery. Clinics and shelters are full to capacity and so are prisons. It can be maddening because it is such a hopeless and horrible situation that keeps growing and widening in misery. When we walk by these people that seem to be everywhere we lose sight that they have families somewhere. These modern day lepers and losers of society are people that are easy to shun because of their choices and we dismiss their suffering because they refuse to get help. We dismiss them because they are way beyond our help and there are places that offer help that they must be refusing. We forget their broken humanity.
Often: enter arrogance and self righteousness. Not knowing, or dismissing, our own struggles and failures we compare our lives to that waste on the street and believe we got it all altogether. And we may actually have a lot of it together but never enough to forget the leper inside of us that we deal with in our own struggles everyday. When we do forget what we are and who we are before God we become a Pharisee at worst and a hypocrite at best.
Two years ago this summer I was visiting home and my family with a very heavy heart. I was going through a very serious time with God as He revealed my spots of leprosy. One night at a picnic table in the backyard of my sister and brother-in-law's house my family eventually moved indoors and left my nephew and I alone as the sun faded away. We swatted and smacked mosquitos as I began to apologise to him for my arrogance and self-righteousness. The bugs didn't matter anymore and we slowly looked up from the perfect lawn and into each others eyes as I confessed my gross, life failures to him.
He shook his head. Not in the cold, pride I had shown him years ago as I poured out my advice about his struggles, but in empathy and love. He shared his wisdom and understanding gained through years of heroin abuse and addiction. He also told me things about what he saw in me that are mine alone to keep. He didn't give advice or tell me about his life, he just listened and loved me and recognized familiar pains, shames and failures. We finished our conversation and before he left that night I hugged him in his mother's kitchen and he hugged me back. Recently I was told he cried all the way home that night. I will never see my loving nephew again because he died this month. His broken life ended in the bathroom of a cheap motel. He was one of many addicts in the area that had died this past summer from heroin overdoses. His story was in the local paper.
Not the story of his accomplishments, his life pains or those that loved him. Not the stories of the abuse he witnessed growing up that his father gave his mother. Not the stories of watching his uncles and aunts shoot heroin when he was only a young boy. They didn't mention his amazing kindness and love to the outcasts and the losers of the streets he helped. The paper didn't mention his incredible gift to bring a room to hysteria with his impressions and crazy stories. They didn't mention his accomplishments becoming a licensed plumber with a union card. They didn't mention that he taught himself guitar and played in local bands. They didn't mention that he loved nature and animals and loved to cook for friends and family. They didn't mention his mother who spent well over a decade praying and pleading and begging God, and her son, to be free from his addiction and pain. They didn't mention his exhausted sister who gave everything she could possibly give to help him and now that he's gone a piece of her heart is misssing. They didn't mention the family that loved him and how their hearts broke when they heard the news. They didn't mention the friends he knew showing up at his mother's doorstep in tears when they heard the news. They didn't mention how much he loved, when he loved others. They didn't mention his heart-broken family that will miss him and that forever there will be a hole there that will never be filled. He fillled our hearts and we will never lose the sound of his laughter when he was straight enough and sound enough to spend time with us. The paper never knew those things and would never tell that story of the dead addict they found. Somewhere, someone only read the story of another junkie who died over the weekend.
My family said good-bye to him Saturday afternoon at a funeral home. He was forty seven years-old and he finally lost his battle to addiction. He lost his battle to a lie that said he could be free from his inner torments with a drug. That lie is what killed him. Different lies want to kill us too, let's be thankful that evil lie of drug addiction isn't pulsing through our veins twenty-four-seven, turning us into pitiful, miserable souls so desperate we will hurt or kill everything good in our lives to get it satisfied.
We cannot imagine that addiction unless we have experienced it. Let us be thankful, seriously thankful for that, and when we meet an addict on the street let's meet them with compassion. Let's try to drop the hard attitude, drop the guilt trip, drop the sermons, drop the coldness and meet them with empathy and love. That's how my nephew met me when he heard my confession. God brought me to the exact person I needed to confess to that night and I will be forever thankful to God that I had that last face to face conversation with my nephew. He forgave me and he loved me.
When he knew me he still loved me. And that is how I will remember him.
God is close the broken-hearted and Christ came for the sick and the lost. He ate and drank with the lepers of society and He loved them. He loved them. We must try to do the same.