Confess your faults

Dear brothers, sisters and friends in the Lord,

James 5:16 encourages us to “Confess your faults one to another and pray for one-another”.

Such a practice originally designed to encourage self-examination and promote mutual support can actually take a lot of trust and courage to attempt. This applies to both the person confessing a fault or difficulty and the one to whom such confession is made. It also depends on what one is admitting to. Telling someone you went to a movie instead of visiting Aunt Maude – while it may cause you to feel guilty and disappoint Aunt Maude – is not quite the same as confessing that you struggle with the temptation to log on to unsavoury and explicit Internet sites or have feelings of same-sex attraction. Or that you battle a strong compulsion to cross-dress, or an addiction to crystal meth.

It should be noted here that we are making a distinction between the person who sincerely struggles with an addiction or behaviour that they know is against God’s will, as opposed to someone seeking support to normalise or justify their actions. We know God is aware of everything we do and think. He knows our struggles and how sincere we are in trying to overcome them. But how safe would it be to confess them to a brother or sister? Would they give you a hearing? Would they listen to you before condemning you outright? Would they insist you immediately give up all church responsibilities? Worse – would they tell the whole ecclesia? Would they listen, but avoid you from then on? The risks of confession are high. And what if we are the one to whom confession is made? Do we recoil in shock? Moralise? Reject them? After all, Christ also tells us that if our brother (or sister) sins we should rebuke him/her (and forgive them if they repent). Luke 17:3. How do we deal with information that may be very much outside our own experience and/or level of expertise? Do we stand there with our mouth open, wondering what to say? Conservative religious bodies don’t necessarily deal well with issues outside their conventionally constructed and accepted norms. Not only can we have trouble understanding perspectives removed from our own experience, but even when we desire to reach out, we can feel helpless as to what to do. We may suggest referral to someone with more training. There is a risk, however, that mainstream services will not necessarily understand or sympathise with a Christian perspective. On the other hand, in a small community. those with adequate psychological or behavioural qualifications are in short supply. They are often already inundated with requests for help and may not be available to advise everyone who needs it. This doesn’t mean we should stop trying to obtain appropriate help where it is warranted, but there might be some things we can do in the first instance to encourage and support the person ourselves.Firstly we can recognise and appreciate the courage it may have taken for them to confide in us. We can listen without reeling back in horror. We don’t have to condone or agree with what they are doing in order to try and understand the struggle they are going through. The fact that they are struggling is an indication that they are not happy with their actions and position before God. We can listen to what they have to say initially without judgement. We can agree to be there for them if they want to talk, and to support them to access professional help if they wish to do so. We can keep in touch and show an interest in how they are dealing with their difficulty over time.

And we can pray with them, and for them. It may be useful to form small prayer groups who regularly meet to connect with one-another’s lives and pray for one-another’s problems. While this would require a high level of trust and confidentiality, over time, such a response may very well encourage us all to be more open. It could increase our understanding of some of the difficulties people are facing in their Christian walk. With God’s help we could perhaps lessen individual isolation by combining forces to seek help in a spirit of mutual love and cooperation.

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