It’s easy to read the New Testament without paying due attention to its mutual aspect. We read the “You” without realising that it’s a plural “you”
That has an important consequence. We are often in danger of thinking that our spiritual journey is a matter of solitary striving, like a marathon, and forget that it’s really a group endeavour, like a family outing.
In the marathon, it’s really all down to you and to your grit and determination to succeed. In the family outing, we have to take time to see that the little ones are happy and safe and that Granny doesn’t get too tired.
Because we’re in it together.
According to a commentary I was reading, this is part of the background context of that passage in 1 John 1: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.”
The idea crops up again in James 5:16: “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
Now obviously there’s the individual aspect of coming to the Lord, repenting, and deciding, praying and enjoying an everyday walk with Him, but that’s not the area that gets minimised.
The business of sharing our lives simply cannot be reduced to an hour or two with semi-strangers on a Sunday morning. We cannot put on our “Sunday Best” smiles and expect any kind of real communication.
So James says: “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
It sounds to be a distinctly uncomfortable procedure.
It has three components. 1. A mutual sharing of our dark sides, our shame, our guilt and the horrors of our past lives. A time for reality to kick in.
2. A mutual caring through prayer – how can you really pray for someone that you hardly know?
And 3. A healing. The healing may be physical, but it may also be psychical, emotional, relational – in fact I would expect it to be all of those.
When I try to pretend that my past never happened, it’s like photoshopping my image so that no one will see the Real Me. I am presenting a glossy, airbrushed lie for people to admire. The truth is however that no one is helped or healed by a lie.
The real story that I have to tell is a story of wounds and hurts that have been mended. In Brendan Manning’s wonderful line: “In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.”
My mess becomes my message.
Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means.
But there’s a warning. Jesus told us to beware of casting our “pearls before swine” lest they “turn and rend you.” If we share our shame story with the wrong person, they can easily become one more piece of flying debris in an already dangerous storm.
Here’s Brené Brown:
“Our stories are not meant for everyone. Hearing them is a privilege, and we should always ask ourselves this before we share: “Who has earned the right to hear my story?” If we have one or two people in our lives who can sit with us and hold space for our shame stories, and love us for our strengths and struggles, we are incredibly lucky. If we have a friend, or small group of friends, or family who embraces our imperfections, vulnerabilities, and power, and fills us with a sense of belonging, we are incredibly lucky.”
And that “small group of friends…family” is a description of the kind of church we seek to build together.