I am just as guilty of sustaining and perpetuating this nasty myth as the next person. There has been (far) too many times when, either in fear or anger, I don’t share how I feel with the person who has hurt me. I wait; subconsciously hoping that they will realize what they have done and come to me, apologizing for everything—all without me needing to honestly initiate the tough conversation. Let’s be serious: THIS NEVER HAPPENS. Instead, the person unknowingly goes on—sometimes continuing in the act that hurts/angers me—and I just suffer more and more, becoming resentful until I explode, or worse, implode. Eventually, in time and with the experience-acquired wisdom of others, I have come to realize and accept the need for honest and open conversation. This doesn’t mean I don’t fall back into that easy trap, but it does help me to be more aware and encouraging to the need for honesty and openness with others. Only when we come to a place where we can open ourselves to one another honestly, can we facilitate the necessary—dare I say, critical—mutual confession, forgiveness, and repentance for relationships and communities to learn and grow together in Christ, the Crucified and Risen One. Each of us—pastors and parishioners, parents and children, family and friends—must participate in this for it to work. No one is above or exempt from it—not me, not you.
If no one else has ever responded to this (which I highly doubt), let me be the first to say: 9 times out of 10, I don’t know when you are [fill in the blank: angry, upset, etc.] with me (and that’s giving myself good odds). My mind-reading skills have not quite come in yet, and frankly, unless you explicitly tell me how you feel, I’m still growing (and always will be) in my (slow) non-verbal interpretive skills. If I have ever said or done something that has upset, angered, confused, or otherwise bothered you: TELL ME. Give me an opportunity to listen and sincerely apologize to you. Chances are I had no intent, nor idea I affected you in such a manner. As your pastor, I am not above reproach. As a fellow child of God, I am just as sinful as you (or anyone else—hopefully this doesn’t come as a shocker) AND equally in need of regular confession and forgiveness. As Lutherans, we hold Confession and Forgiveness to be fundamental to our faith and relationships with God and one another—this is why we begin with it each week during worship. Each Sunday, we not only corporately confess our wrongdoings and receive God’s full, unmerited forgiveness for our entire sins; but in doing this part of the liturgy, we practice an aspect of Christian living that we are to carry out (beyond the four walls of the church) into our daily lives with others. Confession and Forgiveness should be a regular practice that we share with others both when we are hurt and when we, ourselves, are the perpetrator against someone else.
Nowhere in the gospels (that I’m aware of) does Jesus say: “If someone hurts you, keep it a secret from them until they read your mind and repent their sins.” Yet, Jesus does say: “If your brother [or sister] sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the brother [or sister] listens to you, you have regained that one” (Matthew 18:15). This, however, cannot and should not be held separate from what Jesus says a little further, in response to Peter’s question regarding how often a person should forgive another: “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy times seven” (18:22). We are called by Christ to be both honest and open with others about how they have hurt us, and ready and willing to forgive them—without limit. When we do this, we both demonstrate for others God’s love for us in Christ Jesus, and we nurture our relationships in the forgiveness we are called to share in as disciples of the Crucified and Risen One. How do we take Jesus’ words—of open and honest reproving, and ceaseless forgiving—and as a community, corporately and individually, practice confession and forgiveness both within our churches on Sunday morning and in ALL aspects of our daily living each and every day? Filled with the Holy Spirit, may you have courage to break this myth and live in the fullness of Jesus Christ that leads us all to honest and open relationships, founded in God’s love and forgiveness.