Excerpt from The Making Of An Ordinary Saint
Con­fes­sion is not an act to degrade your­self, but to be set free. —Christy Fos­ter

Sub­mis­sion and fast­ing forced me to exam­ine my need for con­trol. Study brought for­ti­tude. In soli­tude and med­i­ta­tion, I cre­at­ed space for God to speak. When I set aside nois­es and dis­trac­tions, my heart reminds me of its trea­sures but also its loss­es. Echoes of past actions and hurts rever­ber­ate in the still­ness. We can­not enter into silence with­out con­fes­sion. I used to deny past hurts and their calls for lib­er­a­tion, think­ing avoid­ance was an act of strength. But the cloud of regrets that impris­oned me had only one rem­e­dy: for­give­ness. I have come to believe that few things require more brav­ery than fac­ing our­selves and the mess­es we make in this life. Humans need the dis­ci­pline of confession. 

I was raised in a gen­er­a­tion whose lead­ers didn’t apol­o­gize. Strength meant you nev­er said you were sor­ry, even if you were clear­ly wrong. All the great films when I was grow­ing up were based on revenge. The pow­er of a grudge could take an ordi­nary man and trans­form him into a brave fight­ing machine. The mes­sages were always the same: for­give­ness is weak; vengeance epit­o­mizes mas­cu­line strength. Yet the life of Jesus stands in com­plete oppo­si­tion to our cul­tur­al values. 

So many of us only turn to con­fes­sion and for­give­ness when all else fails and it feels like an absolute neces­si­ty. I’m no stranger to the dis­ci­pline of con­fes­sion. I’ve told all my secrets. 

A few years ago I worked through the Twelve Steps as out­lined by Bill Wil­son and Robert Smith in their book Alco­holics Anony­mous.

Step 4 was to make a search­ing and fear­less moral inven­to­ry.” Guid­ed by my spon­sor, I was giv­en sim­ple instruc­tions. Write down every­thing you have ever done wrong in your entire life. Be as thor­ough as pos­si­ble. Leave noth­ing out.” I’ve made enough bad choic­es to have made this a fair­ly ardu­ous task, but the real pain was to come next. 

Step 5: admit­ted to God, to our­selves, and to anoth­er human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” My spon­sor worked on coal min­ing equip­ment in rur­al Ken­tucky. When we need­ed extend­ed time to talk, I would occa­sion­al­ly go along with him to work. Since the dawn of cre­ation, few peo­ple have been deep in the Appalachi­an Moun­tains. Unless they’re unearthing coal, peo­ple don’t go to these for­got­ten places. The roads are dan­ger­ous­ly wind­ing and des­o­late. As his truck gen­tly traced the curvy road, I read my list and told my sto­ries. I went deep into the chasm of my life and mer­ci­less­ly pulled loose every­thing hid­den, expos­ing my dark­ness to day­light, lay­ing it before God, myself, and anoth­er per­son. Lat­er that after­noon I watched as min­ers emerged from their pit, exhaust­ed, cov­ered in soot, and hap­py to be free from the dark­ness. I felt the same. 

Appar­ent­ly, if you apply enough pres­sure to coal, this dark, dusty, ener­gy-packed sub­stance trans­forms into a dia­mond. I’m not sure I would say my mess has become a dia­mond, but I wouldn’t have trad­ed the feel­ing I had that after­noon for a whole bag. 

It’s not that I was real­ly hold­ing any­thing in; I had been in coun­sel­ing for years. But there was some­thing about putting it all out there at once. When my spon­sor leaned over, briefly tak­ing his eyes off the road, and in his thick Appalachi­an drawl whis­pered that I was for­giv­en, a tear rolled down my cheek and a smile burst forth. I felt free. Naked, exposed, accepted. 

Few words are more pow­er­ful­ly dis­arm­ing than I’m sorry.” 

Few words are more lib­er­at­ing than I for­give you.” 

I’ve come to val­ue mak­ing amends; it helps me sleep at night. I’ve watched it save friend­ships and forge my marriage.

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Excerpt­ed from The Mak­ing of an Ordi­nary Saint: My Jour­ney from Frus­tra­tion to Joy with the Spir­i­tu­al Dis­ci­plines by Nathan Fos­ter (Bak­er Books, 2014). pp. 93 – 95 

Originally published September 2014