When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away
Through my groaning all day long.
He who conceals his sins does not prosper,
but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:9
Las Vegas is making a killing on the opposite of these verses. Their ad shouts
“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”
inviting people to come to their city and do whatever they want, declaring that since it is so far away, it won’t matter when you go home. As long as it’s a secret and no one knows and it’s far away you can do whatever you want. But unfortunately, it does matter. I teasingly tell my clients,
“What happens in Vegas ends up in Bing’s office.”
It doesn’t matter where in the world you ruin your integrity, it’s still soiled when you get home. I’ve heard confessions of people having affairs in the military in Iraq or on business to Europe or the Far East or Las Vegas and when the spouses find out about the affairs, they are every bit as hurt as if it happened down the street.
A curious thing happens when you confess your secrets: the power of them goes away. Secrets have a way of lying to you. Secrets tell you that you need to keep the secret, that if your loved ones’ found out they would reject you. This power is used by the sexual perpetrator who tells the child that the child cannot tell anyone what happened or the sexual perpetrator would kill or hurt either the child or the parents or both or the parents of the child would reject the child for what the child had done. The bondage is in the secret lie. The shame comes from the secret lie. Ten years later, or twenty, when the victim confesses to her therapist what was done to her, all of a sudden this bondage goes away. The power of the secret dissipates.
This is why therapy works: People are confessing things they have done that they haven’t told anyone else. Or they confess what was done to them in secret. When they admit what they have done or what was done to them, the grip this had on their souls begins to go away.
I should quantify that: If you are the person who has done something wrong (Can we admit that there is “wrong” people?! Come on! Who are we kidding?) as long as the confession is accompanied by repentance the power begins to ebb away. If you confess your sin with the intent of just admitting you are doing it but are planning to continue doing it, confession won’t help you much on the bondage end. You’ll just have the freedom of knowing that everyone knows now that you aren’t pretending to be a nice guy, that you are, indeed, a reprobate and you can glory in your public shame. So the guy who confesses to his wife he’s having an affair because he can’t live with the lie anymore, but he has no intention of stopping the affair, isn’t really confessing in the traditional sense. No, the whole point of confessing is that, ah, I’m not wanting to do this secret anymore. Hello.
Confession, then, if it’s going to work, will need a big dose of shame with it. Shame keeps people from confessing lies, I suppose. They fear the embarrassment of what has been unsaid for so long. But I’m not troubled by shame in the sense that what you did was a bad thing and you feel stupid for doing it and you don’t want to do it again because it ran havoc on on life sort of way. That tells me your conscience is alive. If you can do an evil thing and not have any shame about it, and you tell yourself it is fine and this silly guilt you feel is a psychological game and that the guilt isn’t real, it’s just a societal norm that’s playing with your brain and you can push it down, it’s not really there, there’s no such thing as wrong, and, anyway, if it is wrong for some people it’s because they are shortsighted and are not one of the elite, but I, I’m one of the enlightened one,s that knows no bounds and can do whatever I want without guilt or shame or consequences, well then, gee, ah, you probably need a different therapist, because I’m one of these old-fashioned counselor-types that still believes in the Ten Commandments and objective evil and right and wrong and so if you think you’ll feel persecuted if I appeal to these standards, you may want another therapist who can hold your hand and say “You poor thing.”
But if you believe that what you have done is wrong and that you shouldn’t have done it and you don’t want to do it again and you will do whatever you can to not do it again, then when you confess that you have, indeed, done it, you will experience a relief like no other, a parting of the waters, a lightening of the load, a release of the captives and a freeing of the soul. And this, even if you don’t believe in God! Confession with repentance works, even without God (for awhile).
You don’t have to be a Christian to experience relief when you are drowning and then you somehow get your head above water and breath. Whew! Talk about relief. But, like, I would highly recommend you consider your relationship with God when you confess whatever sin you are confessing because Jesus warned that if you cast out one demon he goes and recruits his buddies and cousins and brothers and sisters and Aunt Susie to storm the gates again, because if you cast out a demon, the house is now empty. The demon and his recruits are also ticked off and very determined. So if you confess a sin and have relief, please know it is short-lived unless you replace it with something else. For most of us, we’re going to need something more to replace it with than basket weaving or macramé.