Bring Your Worst Fears to Reality and be Free: Part Four

Doctrine, Wisdom, and Example)

Thus far I have appealed to the mind and to the heart for why the addict needs to bring his secret shame to light through confession. I have shared how my own self-delusions prevented me from confessing for a time and how I was saved after I finally broke through them.

My testimony would be incomplete, however, if I did not bring up what the words of scripture have said upon the matter. It is not only good philosophy and psychology to confess, it is good religion.

And it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing: - Leviticus 5:5

He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy. - Proverbs 28:13

And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes: And I prayed unto the Lord my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God...we have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thy judgments: - Daniel 3:3-5

In Leviticus, the book of the law, the Israelites were commanded to confess. It was one of the key steps towards forgiveness, and it was meant to be understood that cleansing would not occur until this ritual had been observed. Thus, by doctrine itself we are shown that we must confess.

Then, in the book of Proverbs we are told that he who does not confess shall not prosper. The book of Proverbs is not a statue of law like Leviticus. It is a collection of wisdoms observed from Solomon’s life experience. Thus, by the words of wise counsel we are again told that we must confess.

And finally, in the book of Daniel, we see the prophet in a moment of personal spiritual practice. Daniel is not performing a formal ritual or giving an address to others, he is being compelled by his own conscience in a personal act. Something in his heart just tells him that he needs to be “confessing my sin and the sin of my people” (verse 20). Thus, by the example of righteous people we also see that we must confess.

By doctrine, by wisdom, and by example, the scriptures make clear that the sinner who wishes to be clean must make their confession.

“But,” one might say, “couldn’t this only mean confession to God? Do the scriptures really say that I have to bring imperfect human beings into the matter? I’ll just work things out with God and that should be enough.” Well, let’s see if the scriptures do have anything to say on that matter.

Confession to Others)

Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judæa, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. - Matthew 3:5-6

Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. - James 5:16

Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. - Acts 19:18

Here we have three verses that speak to the need for confession to others is addition to God. The passage in Matthew definitely seems to be suggesting that those who were baptized of John the Baptist were making known to him exactly what wrongs they were having washed away by his baptism. The passages in James and Acts make even more explicit the fact that the early saints were confessing “one to another,” and doing so “openly.”

In my personal experience, the need to confess to another human soul is due to our misconception that our faults make us incapable of being loved by another person. We need to break that illusion, and the only way to do so is to confess to another and see how they respond. Some of the most powerful moments of my life have been sitting in a twelve-step group where I have shared the deepest, most vulnerable parts of myself, and then had my brothers look me in the eye and say “Abe, me too. I’ve been right there myself and I want you to know that I still love you. You may still be in the ugly parts of your journey, but I absolutely respect you for taking this step in the right direction.”

Yes, these are messages that we need to hear from God directly, and at special moments He does say them directly to us. But in my experience, He usually reminds me of these messages through His living angels, the brothers and sisters all around me. When I find a safe place, among godly people, and I make my confession to them, then they are flooded with the love of God and speak to me the words that He gives them.

The Promises of Christ)

We have looked at the words and examples of prophets and apostles, both in the Old Testament and in the New. We have considered my personal experiences as well. But what of the words of Christ, himself? What promises has he made to those who come forward and make confession?

Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it. - Luke 17:33

A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. - Ezekiel 36:26

No doubt these verses have several applications, but one of them is most certainly to this matter of confession. I have already mentioned how the addict tries to hide his shame because he is trying to preserve his sham life. Christ assures us that the preservation of the old will ironically end in its destruction. The only way forward is to give up the old life. Once we shine a light on the secret, then the secret life dies, replaced with one of authenticity. Lose your life of fearful self-management and give birth to a new one of faithful surrender. The stony heart comes out and one of flesh takes its place.

And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. - Luke 9:23 

What a fitting description for the addict who overcomes his fears and rationalizations and embraces confession! To do this he must overcome his every basic nature, the pattern he has lived his whole life by, the very reasoning of his own mind. He must “deny himself,” take up the cross of the thing he dreads most, confession, and follow Jesus into that crucible.

Paul communicated this same idea to the Galatians when he wrote “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me:” (Galatians 2:20). Denying ourselves and taking up our cross leads to being “crucified with Christ.” Many the addict has said that he felt like making his confession would kill himself. That sounds like hyperbole until you consider it in this spiritual sense. They were actually right; it would kill them. The carnal them! But in that crucifixion, they discovered Christ living within them. Through and in and of him, they were saved.

For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. - Matthew 11:30

I mentioned in my last post that as terrible as the consequences of confession might seem, they end up being miraculously less than what we expect. First, because almost every addict finds that the world and nature are kinder and more forgiving than they had given them credit for. Their sins had made them cynical, and they had then projected that cynicism onto the world. And secondly, because even when a burden does come, it is tremendously alleviated by the sense of new life within.

And this is exactly what Christ promises us in this verse from Matthew. His yoke and his burden may have some weight, but they are easy and light, certainly far more so than the iron shackles we’ve been dragging around thus far!

***

In the end, I did not make the decision to confess because I was convinced of the promises in these scriptures. I had heard them, and at times they did stir something within me, but I was far beyond faith when I finally gave in to the truth. I did not unveil my shame because I expected salvation, I did it because I was finally willing to accept damnation.

But, as it turns out, these verses make no requirement for the disciple to have the right expectations when he makes his confession. I found out for myself that you can take this step for virtually none of the right reasons, and mercy will still swoop down and make its claim upon you. It was only in hindsight, after I had already had the reality of these promises come true in my life, that I read these verses and realized that I had engaged in a contract with God without ever realizing it. In hindsight I can testify with all my heart that these promises are true. They were true for me, right down to the smallest detail, and they will be true for you!

Bring Your Worst Fears to Reality and be Free: Part Three

I’ll Do it Myself)

At the start of this study, I talked about the lies we tell ourselves about why we cannot reveal the truth to others. Today let’s tear these falsehoods down and see how they keep us a prisoner.

First, let’s consider the idea that “I just need to really try my best and I’ll be able to beat this on my own.” I told myself this story for many years, until finally I had to accept that if I really could take care of my problem by myself, I would have done it by now.

I will always be able to point at my efforts and say that they weren’t good enough to make the desired change, but if I just try harder next time, then it will be enough. There will never be a time where I can’t make that argument, because the only way to prove it wrong is to make the perfect effort and still have it fail. But since I am not perfect, I will never make the perfect effort, so I will never have the empirical proof to discredit the theory.

But at some point, I just had to step back and see that I was running in a hamster wheel. Theories are only as good as the results that you get from them. And if this one has only resulted in me remaining in the same place with no change, then clearly it isn’t a good theory. I had to accept that this wasn’t a philosophy for improvement, it was a philosophy for remaining right in the same place. It was a pernicious sophistry that enabled me to continue my addiction and never get any actual results.

The Shining Knight)

The other reason I had for not telling the truth was the image I was trying to preserve. I felt that I couldn’t let down my wife and kids, my church and neighbors, my friends and coworkers. I knew that bringing forward the truth would send shockwaves through the lives of those that were closest to me, and it would break many of their hearts. I told myself that I didn’t have a right to put these good people through that pain. If I couldn’t save myself, at least I could endure my damnation quietly and let everyone else go unscathed.

Except that I couldn’t do even that! Not all addictions show their destructive effects so obviously, but all of them, without exception, damage lives and relationships. Some do it in sudden, decimating blows, others erode and disintegrate the soul over time, but all of them leave a life that is hollow and broken.

Through great effort I was able to hide the damage and convinced myself and others that we were all doing fine, and I maintained this image for a very, very long time. On the surface I appeared perfectly fine, with everything still held together, but I could not escape the sense of my soul caving in.

I knew that every relationship that appeared happy and fulfilled on the outside was, in fact, predicated upon a lie, and therefore hollow. My wife thought she loved me, my friends thought they respected me, but they didn’t know the genuine me so how could they really? They loved and respected a façade because I hadn’t even given them the chance to decide what they thought of the real me. So, there were no authentic relationships in my life. The ties I was afraid of severing weren’t really there to begin with. All the things I was afraid to lose I’d never even had in the first place.

My Story)

I kept my addiction a secret, and I rationalized doing so by telling myself that I would fix it by myself. I felt that I couldn’t break the “knight in shining armor” image that my family and friends had of me. My plan was to overcome my lust and pornography addiction on my own, and then, many years later, tell my family of my past with the reassurance that at this point in life I really was the person that they had always believed me to be. It was a plan as doomed to failure as it was dismissive of the feelings and autonomy of those around me.

When I was twenty-six, I realized that I had been addicted to lust in some form or another for twenty years, and I had been living a lie in my marriage for over five. At this point, I had to admit that I just wasn’t getting any better on my own. I had tried, I had really, really tried, but it simply was not working, and to continue saying that after twenty years of failure it was now about to start working was insanity.

Nor could I continue to believe that I was preserving relationships by living the lie. Things had been difficult for my wife and I for a while, and I knew the reasons why, but she was confused in the dark. She didn’t know why I was detached and unable to be fully present, she didn’t know why I was struggling to focus at work and had lost my job, she didn’t know why I was so absorbed with my selfish interests and constantly depressed. She didn’t know what the reason behind any of this was, but it was taking its toll on me and her and the relationship even so.

And so, on one particularly strained day, it finally occurred to me that I was destroying the marriage whether I told my wife the truth or not. I wasn’t saving anything by hiding the harmful things I had done; I was just dragging out the destruction in a more torturous manner.

Finally, I didn’t want to do this to my wife anymore, or to myself, or to the marriage. Finally, I accepted that even if telling the truth meant destroying everything in my life it would still be better than what was happening now. At that moment, the greatest kindness I could do to my loved ones would be to stop stringing them along and give them a chance to make what they still could out of the rest of their lives. It was the greatest kindness I could do for myself as well.

So, I confessed. I wrote a letter while my wife was away, admitting to what had been going on behind her back. I left it just inside the entrance of our home, and then I got in my car and drove as far away as I could. I knew I had to get far enough during this rare moment of commitment, so that I wouldn’t be able to turn around and get back to the house and hide the letter before she had already seen it.

And then, just like that, I wasn’t lying anymore. Just like that I was living in the truth. Perhaps it was an ugly truth, but it was the truth. And not one day since have I regretted that decision. The future was made uncertain, my relationships were made tenuous, but I never once questioned whether it was worth it.

As it turned out, after some rocky periods everything stabilized. My wife and I rekindled our marriage, I regained my children’s trust, I kept my new job, and I came back into the good graces of my church. But even if I hadn’t, I can truly and honestly say it would have been a small price to pay for the regaining of my soul.

Bring Your Worst Fears to Reality and be Free: Part Two

The Conflicted Soul)

In my last post I examined the reason why the addict doesn’t dare admit his secret shame, which is that doing so might jeopardize all the things he feels he cannot lose. His family, his job, his church, maybe even his ability to live outside of prison, he cannot stand to give up any of these things, and so he will accept a pretend life instead.

The addict tells himself that he doesn’t need to choose between confession and living a cursed life, he assures himself that he will overcome this behavior on his own. No one will need to know about it, and he’ll still figure it out. But year after year passes and he still hasn’t made the change, and through all the years his conscience keeps bringing to his mind that he really must confess.

So, which is he to listen to? The calculating, rationalizing brain that assures him healthy living is nothing more than mind over matter? Or the aching, broken heart that insists that somehow, someway, confession is the only road to healing?

Well, if he is content to have his life continue just the same as it has always been, then he can continue to listen to the same rationalizations that he always has, but if he ever wants to have a different outcome than every time before, then he must be willing to take a step that he has never dared before. At some point he has to make the leap from his head to his heart. He must accept the possibility of losing all the things he holds most dear as the price for his salvation.

Two Encouragements)

To the soul that is on the cusp of throwing in with the heart and making confession, may I offer two reassurances. The first is that the things you fear most may not actually occur. Our nature is to think up absolute worst-case scenarios, to assume that every turn that can go wrong will go wrong. Negative outcomes that seem a certainty, in truth are usually only possibilities.

Of course, I cannot promise you that every worst fear in your head won’t come true. Even if the most severe repercussions have only a small likelihood of coming true, one should accept that it might still be possible. That being said, I can tell you that I still have never met the addict who had things go even remotely as bad as they had anticipated. Certainly, there have been choppy waters and losses, but never the total capsizing that most of us envision.

The other reassurance is that even if the losses are dire, even if every bad thing in your imagination did come true, there will be interwoven with it a peaceful contentment that you probably have not accounted for. You will have a peaceful contentment that soothes every loss and pain so that they are never as terrible as you had imagined.

That contentment comes from the fact that now, for the first time in who knows how many years, you are your real self again. I cannot overstate just how much of a relief you feel when you bring forward the truth and are finally back to being your own self. You feel a way that you had forgotten you could feel like. It is like getting out of a bath and putting on fresh clothes. You feel warm and comfortable and clean and safe. You feel reassured that whatever comes, it will be alright, because you have you again, and that more than makes up for whatever else you have no longer.

I promise you that you will find greater joy being yourself in a miserable place than to be a fraud in comfortable surroundings.

And this is not all. The very things you fear to lose by telling the truth you probably don’t even have anymore, anyway. I will examine that concept more in my next post, but for now I’ll simply say that you truly have little to nothing to actually lose, but you do have everything to gain. See what the analyzing, calculating mind makes of that arithmetic!

Bring Your Worst Fears to Reality and be Free: Part One

The Reasons to Lie)

The addict is a curious creature, utterly appalled at his inexcusable behavior, yet also in complete denial about it. Before acting out he minimizes the severity of the deed, reassuring himself that just this once won’t make a difference and he can quit whenever he wants. Immediately afterwards he experiences terrible self-loathing, promising himself that he will never do it again.

Now and again, during those shameful after-effects where he most strongly wishes to be free of his vice, the thought might occur to him that he needs to tell someone what is going on. If he is married, he might feel that he needs to tell his wife. If he is religious, he might feel that he needs to confess to a leader. If he has broken laws, he might feel that he needs to turn himself in to the police. If none of the above, there is still confession to those that have been hurt, professional therapists, or close friends. There is always someone that the addict could turn to…if they had the courage.

And it is this matter of courage where the addict struggles. For no sooner does the thought to confess rise up then it is forced right back down. He might fight the urge down through minimizing:

“Oh I don’t need to do anything as drastic as that! I just need to really try my best and I’ll be able to take care of it.”

Or he might come up with some reason why he can’t:

“I would tell my wife the truth…but it would break her. I just can’t put her through that pain, she doesn’t deserve it.”

Or, if he’s being more honest, he just isn’t willing to face the fear:

“If I tell, I’ll lose everyone and everything. I can’t lose my marriage. I can’t lose my kids. I can’t lose my church. I can’t lose my job. I can’t and won’t do it.”

The Mind’s Fear, the Heart’s Hope)

This fear is the real reason why the addict doesn’t confess. If he could have solved it on his own, he would have done it by now, and he doesn’t protect anyone but himself by living under a false image. The only reason that stands up to scrutiny is that he isn’t willing to lose the things that he has.

Is that selfish? Yes, but it is also human nature. We are terrified of losing our surrounding structure and that’s not always a bad thing. A healthy dose of fear keeps us from doing things that jeopardize our lives and well-being. The problem is that the addict’s fear is keeping him in a behavior that is destroying all the things that he doesn’t want to lose anyway.

He isn’t present at work, he isn’t working on his faith, and he isn’t faithful in his marriage. The things he is afraid of losing he is slowly gutting of their original virtue until they become an unfulfilling career, a hollow faith, and a sham marriage. So, in his self-interest, he is ironically destroying his own self-interest.

Thus, when it comes to hiding one’s addiction, we can immediately comprehend its root. The desire to hide comes from within the addict. It comes from the fear of losing himself. But now contrast this with the recurring notion that keeps returning to the addict that he should confess. Where on earth does that thought come from?

If hiding is about self-preservation, exposing is suicidal! As we have shown, excessive self-preservation can erode what the addict already has, but exposing his secrets seems that it will surely blow it all away! What possible reason would an addict’s mind have to conjure up an idea that is so against himself?

And the answer is: none. Because it isn’t about intellectual reasons. Any addict who appraises the idea of confession will realize that it did not come with a reason, it came with a feeling. The idea did not come from their analyzing, rationalizing, efficiency-focused brain, it came from the heart. Might it destroy the addict? Yes, that is a distinct possibility. But it just feels right even so. It feels like it might be just the thing to save the aching soul. Why? The addict might not have any idea why, but it just feels true in their heart.

Thus, hiding is to preserve yourself, but confession is to save yourself.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 45:24

24 So he sent his brethren away, and they departed: and he said unto them, See that ye fall not out by the way.

I think Joseph’s final parting words to his brothers could have all manner of different meanings. What is his intention by saying “see that ye fall not out by the way?”

At first glance, this seems like Joseph might be telling them not to fall out of line. They’ve been historically untrustworthy, but now he could be warning them to not cross him again. However, the original Hebrew phrase behind “fall out” is “ragaz,” which means “to tremble,” or “be agitated,” or “to argue.” So perhaps he is actually reiterating that they should not persecute themselves for their past treatment of him, nor blame each other for what happened.

Or maybe he realizes that they are about to have a very difficult conversation with their father. There’s no way for them to tell him that Joseph is still alive in Egypt, without also confessing their involvement in his being there. They will have to admit that they lied to his face about Joseph all these years. So, Joseph might be trying to calm them down before that painful confession.

And maybe what Joseph means by his counsel is a little of all these things. Perhaps he is saying “a lot has happened here, and a lot is still to happen, and a lot of it is going to be painful. But please, hold fast, and do not lose yourselves along the way.” Good advice for all of us, who finally bring to light our secret shame, and begin the long and difficult journey back to our Father.

Dealing With Failure- Daniel 9:4-6, 10-11

And I prayed unto the Lord my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments;
We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thy judgments:
Neither have we hearkened unto thy servants the prophets, which spake in thy name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.
Neither have we obeyed the voice of the Lord our God, to walk in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets.
Yea, all Israel have transgressed thy law, even by departing, that they might not obey thy voice; therefore the curse is poured upon us, and the oath that is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, because we have sinned against him.

COMMENTARY

And I prayed unto the Lord my God, and made my confession
I have just considered how I can respond to my daily failures by surrendering to God and inviting His strength instead of relying on my own. And like Daniel I have found that one of the first steps to doing that is to make a full and honest confession to Him.
Yes, He already knows everything that has transpired. He know perfectly well how I have failed and let myself down. But still taking the time to recall it has had a very purifying effect on me. It feels like taking it out and laying it all on the altar before Him. Anything I’m not ready to put out there He isn’t going to be able to heal.

We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled
Neither have we hearkened unto thy servants the prophets
Neither have we obeyed the voice of the Lord our God, to walk in his laws
Yea, all Israel have transgressed thy law

And now consider the wonderful example of specificity in Daniel’s prayer. He does not merely say “we sinned, forgive us,” he calls out that they rebelled against God…and did not listen to his prophets…and broke Gods laws. Israel needs reconciliation for all of these parts, not just one, and so he elaborates them all.
And so I have tried to be very thorough in my confession to God as well. And honestly, sometimes that has meant saying “this is what I did God…and to tell you the truth, I don’t feel as heartbroken about it as I think I should. I’m sorry, I just don’t….So could you help me to feel more? I think that’s what I really need right now.” A prayer as honest as that is far more likely to be answered!