Confession & Forgiveness: The Foundation of All Authentic Relationship

Confession & Forgiveness: The Foundation of All Authentic Relationship

Linda and I are spending
these weeks in August celebrating
our 37th wedding anniversary!
The foundation of all authentic renewal is confession and forgiveness. To confess and ask for forgiveness is to repent.

Prior to my conversion at age 21 I had admitted I was wrong once in my life. I was in the ninth grade. It happened in band class. My teacher was Mr. Rudy Saarinen. Mr. Saarinen was a man I greatly admired. Plus, he was Finnish, like myself. Plus plus, my mother’s Finnish maiden name was Saari. So I felt connected to Mr. Saarinen. He was an excellent teacher, very kind, and very grace-filled.

I played clarinet. I was second-chair clarinet, sometimes third chair, but never first chair. Bill Tarpley was first chair. And deservedly so. He was a far better clarinet player than I was.

If a player wanted to occupy first chair they could offer a challenge. The challenge went like this. The two players went into the instrument room and closed the door so students in the band room could not see them. Then, both players individually played a piece the challenger had picked out. The students would vote for who they thought did the best job. I forget who played first, Bill Tarpley or myself. I do remember that, when Bill played, I found something to be funny and started to laugh, but fought to suppress it. Then Bill tried to suppress laughing but failed. The result was that he laughed into the clarinet mouthpiece and it squawked. The students heard it, and voted that I won the challenge.

We returned to the room. I took first chair; Bill Tarpley was in second chair. I knew this was not right, and felt weird sitting there. I did not deserve first chair. After class I went to Mr. Saarinen and told him what had happened. He thanked me for telling him, and told me I would be moved back into second chair. The way Mr. Saarinen handled this left an impression on me. I felt relieved after confessing to him!

Unfortunately, the next time I was to confess a personal failure was eight years later. Of course during those eight years I experienced many failures and caused a lot of people pain and harm from self-centered decisions I had made. But I never owned up to them, never admitted I was wrong, and never asked for forgiveness from people I had hurt.

Linda and I feel that the foundation of all authentic relationship and spiritual renewal is: confession and forgiveness. We have practiced this many, many times in our 37 years of marriage. It even happened this week. Here’s how you do it.

1. You recognize you have done something wrong to another person. That person may be God. It might be another person.
2. You then go to God, or to that person, and speak these words: “I was wrong for___________. Would you forgive me?” When you do this, never add the word “but…”
3. If the other person is a Jesus-follower, they are to forgive you. To “forgive” means: to cancel the debt. In other words, the forgiving person, in saying “I forgive you,” is also saying “I will not make you pay for what you did to me. your indebtedness to me regarding this issue is cancelled.”
4. The confessing person says: “Thank you.”

If all of this is heartfelt, the results are amazing, to include the restoration of relationship and an open door to renewal. This is so important, so dramatic, that it forms an “either-or.” Either confess, forgive, and be reconciled and restored; or fail to do so, and remain apart. The latter situation is the land of bitterness and unforgiveness. It’s important to understand this “either-or,” to avoid the illusion that these hurting situations will just go away with time.

Eight years after my ninth-grade band experience I again asked for forgiveness. This time it launched me into a life of confessing as needed, receiving forgiveness thankfully, and forgiving others more than I ever had before. I was now a Jesus-follower, and falling in love with Linda. In my previous dating relationships, whenever any conflict happened the relationship fell apart. One night Linda and I were in an argument over something, I remember not what. It was our first serious argument. She did not agree with me about something! I do remember strongly arguing my point. I was a philosophy major who had also taken a class in argumentation and debate, and was even asked by my professor to join the university debate team. I was a powerful arguer!

Then, in the midst of my argument with Linda, I realized, regarding the point of the whole thing, that I was wrong. The thought came to me, from God: “You are wrong; she is right. Admit it.” But I did not admit it, and proceeded to keep arguing. I have the ability to argue a point even when I know I am wrong, and can even make the person who is right begin to question themselves and feel they are the one who is wrong. I was now doing that to Linda. But I could not escape the truth that I was in the wrong. What should I do? I had no experience saying I was wrong. My father never said he was wrong, and in my case the apple did not fall far from the tree. I thought if I admitted I was wrong this would be weakness.

Then I stopped the argument, and said these words: “Linda, you are right, and I am wrong. Would you forgive me for arguing with you even when I knew I was wrong?” Having never really done this before, except in a way with Mr. Saarinen, I braced myself for the worst. After all, why would Linda want to date someone who admitted they were wrong? Or, worse yet, why would she want to date someone who knew they were wrong about something but kept on arguing anyway? Yuck!

Linda said, “I forgive you.” I can’t remember all the details of what happened after that, except I will never forget that I began laughing, and so did she. It all felt like a release to me. Linda forgave me! Even though I acted like a total jerk! That felt very freeing. So freeing, in fact, that I’ve done it with her, and she with me, ever since. We are two flawed, imperfect people, who found in the Real Jesus One who, while hanging on a cross, asked his Father to forgive his persecuters. Only a free person can do that. People who are free, in their spirits, can admit failure and wrongness and confess and forgive one another. Confession and forgiveness are to be an engine of renewal and bitterness-removal that constantly hums in the background, day after day after day, and gives life, renewal, and relationship to all who attend to it.

Joey DeFrancesco (with David Sanborn) at the Monroe Jazz Festival

Joey DeFrancesco (with David Sanborn) at the Monroe Jazz Festival

Our city of Monroe has, every year, an incredible and free (!) Jazz Festival.

Last night we heard incredible guitarist Chuck Loeb.

Then, David Sanborn (the phenomenal saxophonist)… and… what a surprise… the world’s greatest jazz organist… Joey DeFrancesco. Oh my, I have never heard Hammond B3 playing like that in my life. What a virtuoso. The ease with which he plays, the drama and energy, and the raw speed that is, perhaps, incomparable. If you think this is an exaggeration listen to, e.g., DeFrancesco’s “Goodfellas” (which he wrote for the movie). Prepare for your jaw to drop.

It was a beautiful, awe-inspiring evening of music with somewhere between 5-10 thousand people there.

Life’s Not a Road But a Series of Rabbit Trails

Life’s Not a Road But a Series of Rabbit Trails


I am fascinated with Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows. As I read it I think of students in my philosophy classes who freak out when I disallow texting and laptops in class. I think of “relationships” that are texting-based. I think of the many young people I meet who have lost the ability to think deeply because their physical brains are incapable of doing so. Note: the students in my class whose brains desire to link and link in a frenzy of constant distractedness are not rebellious. Instead, they know not what they do. They cannot but be distracted. “Distraction” is the epiphenomenon of their neural framework.

Carr writes: “Research continues to show that people who read linear text comprehend more, remember more, and learn more than those who read text peppered with links.” (Kindle, 2,175-86) Because of the physical brain’s neuroplasticity, if you constantly read texts peppered with links life will be, for you, an endless series of links.

I think of a married couple I recently counseled. They communicated their conflict via texting. One of them insisted that I counsel them via text messages. They told me they were incapable of talking face to face. I told them I would not do this, and commanded the couple to talk in person rather than via texting. In the midst of this the thought did come to me to start a texting-based marital counseling “center.”

We are becoming the shallow people. The fine arts of meditation and contemplation are being erased from our long-term collective neural memory. Life, for many, is an experiential series of links and tweets and distractions and rabbit trails. Rather than there being a road in life, life is rabbit trails. Distraction, to be distracted, is the norm, the safe cognitive place.

The Need

(Road next to Payne Theological Seminary campus.)

The Need

I received the gift of a Bela Fleck dvd, inserted into the player, and sat down to watch, in awe. I was not prepared to be awed, but I was. I had thought I was a guitar player!

I began playing guitar when I was five years old. I did a two year degree in music theory on my way to, I envisioned, a full-time musical career. I taught guitar in the music studio owned by Rick Nielsen’s father in my hometown of Rockford, Illinois. I’ve written songs, published them, had them recorded by other artists, played on tv, practiced a million hours and given tons of lessons. But I cannot play like Bela Fleck. As I watched him I thought, “I am a man of unclean guitar playing.” I am in need.

So are you. We’re all a bunch of very needy people. My fellow musician and songwriter David once wrote, “Yet I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me. You are my help and my deliverer; O my God, do not delay.” We all need guidance. We all need direction. We all need help, in this life. It is a good thing to recognize one’s neediness, for this realization puts one in position to be guided, directed, and helped. Only the needy know they need a shepherd. Only those who realize their need for guidance can be guided.

In a moment of God-inspired musical genius David wrote the first line to arguably the greatest worship song ever written. Out of his neediness David wrote, “The LORD is my shepherd.” All of David’s own talents were not enough. As brilliant as King David was, his own intelligence did not suffice. As courageous as he was, he still struggled with fear. David, the greatest King and leader Israel ever had, knew that he needed himself to be led. He needed a shepherd. And for that, David chose well.

In the seminary classes I teach on spiritual formation I send my students out for times of prayer, using Psalm 23 as their meditative focus. I instruct them: “When God speaks to you, write it down.” My experience is that God doesn’t let 40% of them get past verse 1. God asks them the question: “Am I really your shepherd?” That is the foundational question for all spiritual formation, transformation, renewal, and restoration. The answer to that question determines whether a person’s life and ministry will be authentic or inauthentic, relevant or irrelevant. This is because unless the Lord builds the house, we labor in vain; unless we are shepherded by God, we’re shepherded by some other god (like self; others; money; sex; power). The key question of the spiritual life is, as Henri Nouwen said: Who do you belong to?

The necessary precondition for authentic, relevant God-leadership is: being-led. To lead is to be led. To be led one must heart-recognize one’s great neediness. This is, spiritually, a very good place to be. How do we come to understand this?

I don’t think you can force this idea on people. I believe that the heart-recognition of personal neediness is given to people as a revelation. You cannot command this for other people. It’s a revelation, a wakeup call, that God desires us all to have, but which all do not see. If one consistently abides in God’s presence, God himself will show you this. It will be like me, popping in the dvd, thinking I’ve got my guitar-playing in a powerful place, watching Bela Fleck begin to play, and then comes the revelation of personal guitar-neediness. If I was thinking that I didn’t need more instruction to play like that, that I didn’t need help and shepherding to play like that, such a thought has been, like a bubble, burst.

In the spiritual life neediness is cool, self-reliance sucks. If I really wanted to play like Bela Fleck I’d need Bela Fleck to shepherd me. If I really want to be used by God I need to be constantly shepherded by God. Pray for a revelation of personal neediness. God wants to reveal this to you. He will, as you spend time with him. Your spiritual life and effectiveness for the sake of God and his Kingdom is at stake.