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.