For people who regularly profess the importance of confession, the church doesn’t teach much about how to handle it. And guess what? It shows. Most of my friends who are not part of the church cite gossip, judgment, secrecy and hypocrisy as the main reasons they want no part. All my friends in the church have stories about how these things have hurt them or someone they love, and some of them have told me simply hearing the word “confession” makes them tense.
So how do we become capable of handling a confession with the care our family deserves? Chapter 10 of “Celebration of Discipline” by Richard Foster is a good starting point. The first piece of advice he gives for receiving confession is simply to recognize the part you play in the death of Christ. If you see your sins as part of what held him there, you will never be shocked or offended or disgusted by the sins of your brother or sister who do the same. It’s an empathy of pain and guilt, but by engaging it we prevent ourselves from adding shame to the list.
With this perspective, start praying over people. A professor taught me that prayer is less about voicing concerns to God and more about learning to distinguish your will from his. Praying over someone who has confessed is crucial for the transformation of their heart, and in it you stand alongside them before God in whatever they face. It will also begin the process of learning to see others the way he does.
I also want to paraphrase an insight from “The Truth About Leadership” by James Kouzes and Barry Posner, which is that the first truth of leadership is simply this: You matter. When we receive someone’s confession and love them in response, we are telling them they matter and affirming their role as a leader and servant in the kingdom. But in order to tell them they matter, we must first listen in order to know who they truly are, brokenness included.
This leads me to my next point: Learn to listen. Learn to take in a story without cutting in, adding to it or making a point of your own in response. Fight the urge to make yourself seem more relatable, and work on hearing, processing, and waiting three to five seconds after a person stops speaking before you respond. Amazingly, the spirit can use the smallest amount of patience to make known what really needs to be said and what does not. One of the biggest benefits of this is that it beautifully deadens one’s capacity for gossip.
Speaking of gossip — stop it. I realize this is more easily said than done, but we have to try. Whether it’s adding an intriguing detail to a conversation or telling someone in authority about someone else’s mistakes so they can do something about it, you are decimating trust by gossiping. Any time you share someone else’s story without their knowledge or consent, you betray them. Love people by holding them accountable, but realize accountability exists exclusively in relationships. So build relationships; don’t break them.
The last thing I offer is a promise. My number is (501) 581-9270. For at least the rest of the semester, I won’t let a single call or text go unanswered. Consider it a confession hotline. You can keep it anonymous if you want, but know that I’m here if you need to talk. I’m certainly not a licensed counselor, but at the very least, I will listen, tell no one, affirm that you matter and stand beside you in the presence of our Father.