Dear Keith, I am having real trouble.  Some time ago I heard you speak about honesty and realized that I have been phony all my life.  So I decided to change my ways and began to confess to everyone exactly what I feel regarding them and life.  My husband was horrified at some of my past actions (which I confessed) and now we are not speaking.  I am telling the truth, compulsively, in fact.  But everything is cratering.  Please send suggestions!

I am not sure what you heard me say when you heard me speak about confessional honesty, but let me tell you what I intended to say.  In the first place, confession of old sins may be healthy and not harm anyone.  But there are ways in which thoughtless confession can be very destructive to a relationship.  Compulsive confession is a bit like vomiting on someone—it may make the confessor feel good—but it doesn’t do much for the recipient.

Some years ago I spoke about the lack of honesty in my own life at a church group meeting.  After the meeting an older man came up and said very thoughtfully, “You really spoke to my condition.  I’ve been dishonest for years and I’m going to change.”  He seemed to be deeply moved about his decision.

About a month later I got a call and as soon as I picked up I heard two hostile words from the other end of the line: “You bastard!”  I was dumbfounded.  “Who is this?”  I had to ask.  It was the man from the meeting.  He had gone home and confessed to his wife (among other things) that he had often committed adultery over the years.  (A fact she had never suspected.)

“Now,” the voice said, “she’s under the care of a psychiatrist in a mental hospital.  Got any more ideas about Christian honesty, Keith?!”

As a result of that encounter I realized, in a way I’ll never forget, that raw honesty is not the highest value in the Christian life and in fact that “honesty” can be a very selfish thing, or even a way to clobber people under the guise of being a good and honest Christian.  The highest values for Christians are love and concern, and it may be that one may have to confess some things to God before his pastor or a close Christian brother or sister… and not his or her mate (even though there are things which one can confess to his mate in time which will not destroy the relationship).  Alcoholics Anonymous has a marvelous plan to the effect that one confesses his sins to a third party he trusts (not the party he has harmed), and makes restitution to the offended party except when making restitution would hurt that person or someone else.

So although I believe in the therapeutic value of confession before a trusted fellow Christian, I try to be careful not to hurt other people just to “get it off my chest.”  And I’ve made plenty of painful mistakes even trying to follow that rule.

Dear Lord, thank you for James’ explanation of why I am to confess my sins—so I can be in helpful and healing relationships with you and with others in my life.  Help me to be more loving and sensitive to the feelings of other people with regard to my confessions, so as not to needlessly hurt them just so that I can feel better or “keep the rules.”  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed.

James 5:16, The Message

Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.

John 13:35, The Message

God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us.

1 John 4: 17-18, The Message

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