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.

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 

Text First Published September 2014