The Presbyterian minister over at Politickal has written a post (Good for the Soul) [note: this link is now broken] taking its cue from my “Garbage Day” analogy for dealing with the need for confession and taking out our spiritual garbage. In addition, my wife sent me an email wondering if it would be profitable for husbands and wives to confess to one another, which sparked the substance of this posting. How does one go about finding someone with whom to share your sin or to put it in “Catholic” parlance, finding a confessor?
I told my wife that I thought it would be difficult, if not destructive, for husbands and wives to be each other’s confessors. There are numerous reasons for this and I want to share three.
1. Delicate nature of marital intimacy. Let’s take just one area, sexual temptation. I have known men who have tried to talk to their wives about their sexual temptations (not sins, just ongoing temptations) and it almost destroyed their marriages. On the one hand I believe you need to have a relatively transparent relationship with your spouse, but you have to go much further with a confessor and it is a rare marriage that can handle that kind of continuous soul searching.
2. Men and women are very different. One of the ongoing truisms of life is that understanding women is for men like learning unified field theory: it sounds interesting but you can count on your hand those who can actually do it. I imagine for many women, understanding men and their husbands is similarly difficult. That said, I am not saying we shouldn’t try to understand our wives or help them to understand us; I just feel the added pressure of making them our confessor would complicate that process beyond all reason.
Instead I believe that men, at least outside the use of the sacramental office, should find men confessors and women should find women. At no time should we cross those boundaries when dealing person to person, since that creates a level of intimacy and vulnerability that unmarried men and women should just not enter into. The exception would have to be within the sacramental office. One of my favorite Anglicans, John Stott, was at one time the Queen’s Confessor. I am not sure of the mechanics of that office but I believe you can see the intelligence of the historic Catholic confessional which puts a wooden wall and a bit of anonymity between the two people involved.
3. It frees the future. One of the biggest burdens a person can have is knowing another’s sin. The need for confidentiality in some cases is extreme and a very real burden. There are some weights a marriage just doesn’t need to carry, especially as time goes on and the burden builds up. Yes, as I said before, I am not talking about the honest give and take and the necessary transparency needed within a marriage. Confession is much more.
So, who should be your confessor, since usually when it is not a sacramental situation it is a two-way relationship? For me it has always been a friend. However, sometimes the burden of knowing what I know has impacted the friendship. Some people find it hard to continue to be around someone who knows the worst about them. In a way, their presence is a reminder of your failure and I believe at least one of my friendships has suffered dramatically over the years from that burden.
The other elephant in the room is confidentiality. Will that person keep what you have told them to themselves? While trust is paramount, reliability and maturity also come into play, since in many ways you hold the reputation and sometimes even the livelihood of someone in your hands. It is a rare person whom I can trust to take my sins to their grave and to have someone trust me with that responsibility is something I don’t always look forward to.
As you can see from the limited context of this posting, confessing your sins to each other is a daunting task, demanding, humbling, and fraught with possible peril. Yet, the Scriptures demand we do it. Talk about a can of Christian worms…
Update: Don’t forget to look at the original posting and also to visit the commentary on this by Politickal [this link no longer exists]. To all of you coming from Christian Carnival LXVIII (68), hosted by Kentucky Packrat, welcome and special blessings on your effort to find a personal confessor.
While you are here, please look around and let me know what you think. Click here to go to the current posting.