I recently had to make a “Seven A’s Confession” to a dear friend. Like all real confessions, it was embarrassing. I was frustrated with myself for blowing it. Again. I felt bad about hurting someone I care about. Talking it out for real took time and effort and emotion, three things that neither of us really had extra margin in this month. But she is a real friend and it was a real hurt, so (thank God!) we did the right thing, the loving thing, and had that uncomfortable—but ultimately GOOD—conversation. And I was, as always, amazed at how genuine and balming true forgiveness from a true friend can be. It really is like a breath of Heaven! A waft of that which is good, lovely, pure, other-worldly, best.
I did try to make it clear, however, that even as grateful as I was for her beautiful “Four Promises of Forgiveness”, and as much as I REALLY wanted to stand up from that conversation with a clean heart and no gap of hurt between us, I was also keenly aware that the way I had hurt her can sometimes be a bad pattern for me.
(It has to do with me not being as careful in my speech and tone with my dearest friends (and family!) especially when I am spent. Exhausted. Introvert-peopled-out-FRIED. And scared. That’s really GOT to become my RED FLAG of warning:
*** CAREFUL TARA!! CAREFUL TARA!! You are tired and peopled-out and SCARED. THIS IS WHEN YOU ARE MOST LIKELY TO NOT BE GENTLE AND LOVING IN TONE!! ***
Hmmmm. If only I could emblazon that somewhere in flashing lights in front of my eyes. Or, I suppose, if only I would grow up and learn to listen to that Still Small Voice of the Holy Spirit leading me in repentance and faith.)
In any case, even as I made confession and (gratefully!) received her forgiveness, I also expressed to her that I was aware that this can be a repeating pattern for me and THUS. I would make EVERY effort to never repeat this pattern towards her again. My heart’s desire, my fervent prayer was to never repeat this pattern with her (or anyone!) ever again. But if I did, I wanted her to know that bringing this incident up and talking with me about again would NOT violate the “Four Promises.” In fact, I was INVITING her to bring this incident up and talk with me about it again becauset hat is how seriously I take my confession. I am genuinely sorry and genuinely repentant—that means I want to change.
Plus, I truly don’t believe that bringing it up again would violate “The Four Promises” because, just as Judy Dabler and I explain in “Peacemaking Women”, I think the heart of “The Four Promises” can be described like this:
- I will not dwell on this incident.
- I will not bring this incident up again and use it against you.
- I will not talk to others about this incident.
- I will not allow this incident to stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.
- I will not dwell on or ruminate on this incident. Instead, when I become aware that thoughts about this incident pop into my mind, I will take them captive and commit them to Christ.
- I will not use this incident against you to cause you hurt, shame, or fear. Instead, I will only bring this incident up when it is necessary for our healing and growth.
- I will not gossip to others about this incident. Instead, I will only bring it up to others when it is necessary to ask for their assistance for God’s glory and our good.
- I will not avoid you or neglect our relationship. Instead, I will pray, allow time, and faithfully labor toward our continued reconciliation and the true restoration of our relationship.
In this situation, just like in so many parenting situations, it is necessary to bring a past incident up for healing and growth because they are part of a pattern or habit and just bringing up the one, current, presenting issue won’t REALLY address the depth of the problem. That’s why I invited my friend to (be gentle please! but also be bold and) bring it up again if she needed to do so.
I should note that I had a similar situation like this years and years ago wherein someone confronted me about a habitual/pattern weakness/sin in my life and he used examples that he had “forgiven” me for. Ouch! I remember those conversations as being some of the most graceless, hopeless, burdensome conversations of my young life. I remember thinking:
- Why are you bringing this up again?! I thought you said I was FORGIVEN!?
- Will I NEVER get to grow in your eyes? Do I never get to CHANGE? Or will you forever view me through the lens of my failures / immaturities / weaknesses from two, five, and ten years ago?
- Wow! You sure don’t know what forgiveness means.
The thing is? I have a completely different view of that conversation now. I wouldn’t think those thoughts any longer. Instead, I would focus on how my confession / repentance was really very shallow and lacking. I would stop pointing a finger outward at him and point lots more fingers inward at myself—specifically, my truly awful habitual, repeated patterns that were hurting people. I would invite him to talk with me about these patterns and bring them up again because I would know that is the ONLY way I could possibly change. (Because I need Galatians 6 rescue! I need Matthew 18 help from my brothers and sisters in Christ!) And also? I would want him to know that I sincerely, truly repentant and whatever he needed to hear from me to help to communicate that and live in line with that confessed repentance? Well. Bring it on. I was the one confessing. He was the one forgiving. The burden was on ME to pay the price and do whatever it took to communicate sincerity, rebuild relationship and and trust, and help him to forgive me.
It’s a difficult thing to nuance, though, isn’t it? Especially with our children.
The FREEDOM of FORGIVENESS is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children (and they can give us too):
“Forgiving each other just as the Lord has forgiven you …” Colossians 3:13
The weightlessness of leaving a painful discipline and confession/forgiveness time with a (REAL!) fresh start and clear / clean / OPEN hearts toward one another? Running back onto the playground—the day not ruined? Recovering out of the grouchy, ungrateful response to a disappointing stocking stuffer—all of Christmas not ruined? Actually getting to experience a taste of the fresh breath of God in the forgiving, warm breath of a friend who doesn’t give up on us but who makes the time in a crushingly busy week to come to our home, sit on our Golden-Retriever-Fur-Covered-Floor, talk, listen, pray, and forgive? This is the ideal. This is the goal.
I just think that habitual patterns may require that loving, grace-filled breath to sometimes look a little different. And that the onus is on the confessor (not the forgiver) to invite that ongoing part of the reconciliation and restoration process.
‘Course, I could be wrong! I’d love to hear your thoughts if any of you’d like to share them. (You can always contact me directly if you still don’t feel comfortable de-lurking.)
Praying for grace and forgiveness for all of us today,