If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven…” John 20:23 (NIV)
In October 1914, Thomas Mott Osborne entered Auburn Prison in upstate New York, and like all the other prisoners, issued a set of prison grays, and led to a cell, four feet wide by seven and a half feet tall. The only difference between prisoner number 33,333x and the other 1,229 inmates was the issue of freedom. On his command, he could leave the prison anytime he wanted.
After his appointment to the Governor’s State Commission on Prison Reform, Osborne made it his mission to live as one of the inmates, study their experience, and emerge as their advocate. He voluntarily laid aside his freedom to experience life behind bars. He slept in a dank, drafty cell just like theirs. He ate their food and worked like they did. He even endured their most dreaded punishment, a night in “the box.” While he could order his own release at any time, he was nevertheless confined. He wrote,
“I am a prisoner, locked, double locked. By no human possibility, by no act of my own, can I throw open the iron grating which shuts me from the world into this small stone vault. I am a voluntary prisoner, it is true; nevertheless even a voluntary prisoner can’t unlock the door to his own cell.”
When I read that I wondered how many ways am I a voluntary prisoner of my own pathologies. Issues of narcissism, of self-medication, of willful blindness to the truth about myself, others, and the ways of the world. The truth is that while I may be much harder on myself than you will ever be, you can see my blind spots where, by definition, I can’t even get a good glimpse.
Talking to God about it is one thing but sharing my sin with someone else…no way. Why can’t I just tell my sins to God and leave it like that? Why do I have to drag someone else into this? Well, you can. But I think part of the reason it is vital to have a trusted spiritual friend is, like Mr. Osborne who was a volunteer in prison, we need someone else to open the door to self-revelation. And beyond that, because it is the way God chooses to communicate forgiveness.
God has given us our brothers and sisters to be Christ’s ambassadors and make God’s presence and forgiveness real to us. It is through the voice of our brothers and sisters that the word of forgiveness is heard and takes root in our lives.
When you risk honesty with one trusted person you will be amazed at the freedom that invades your life.
I am only as sick as my secrets. If you feel like there is a steel door between you and joy and wholeness, find a trusted spiritual friend soon so you can know what it is like to lay your burden down. There is nothing like telling someone trustworthy all your darkness. Remember what Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free!”
Who is a good candidate to help me out of my self-imposed imprisonment? Somebody you trust and who can keep a confidence. Someone who understands the value of what you’re doing and will respect the weight of your confession. Someone mature enough that they won’t be shocked. Someone who knows God well enough that they can reflect His forgiveness to you.
I love what Jesus’ half-brother said at the end of his practical little letter about the reciprocating nature of relational healing, “Admit your faults to one another and pray for each other so that you may be healed…” James 5:16
My wife and I watched the Netflix original film The Two Popes starring Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict and Jonathan Price as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (later Pope Francis). Towards the end of the film, Pope Benedict asked his eventual successor to hear his confession. They went through the specific rituals and rites of proper Catholic confession and absolution then Pope Benedict said to Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio in almost a whisper, “Thank you.”
In many ways, the film described how one man helped another man out of the confinement of his role as the Pope of Rome. I loved the story.
The truth is I can’t find my way out of my confinement without you. I need you or someone like you and you need me, or someone like me.
And we both need Jesus to set us free. Remember, even a voluntary prisoner can’t unlock the door to his own cell.