James 5:16 says, “Confess your sins to each other.” But in the early years of my marriage, I couldn’t imagine a worse idea. When I sinned I didn’t want anyone to know, especially not my husband!
Then I attended a conference where we confessed our sins before each session up to three times a day. We were squeaky clean by the week’s end. I’d never experienced the incredible freedom of guilt-free living before and I didn’t want to go back to my old ways.
I left the conference grounds high in the Santa Cruz Mountains feeling reluctant to return to my former state of hiding from God. I was afraid that my mountaintop experience would gradually fade. I shared my feelings with a young couple riding in my back seat. I was giving them a ride to the airport, but they gave me so much more. As I drove, they told how they confessed their sins each night with each other and their children. Their words lit a light in my heart, and after I dropped them off, I rushed home to share the idea with my husband.
He agreed to give it a try. Since that faithful day, more than 12 years ago, we have made a time of family confession part of our nightly bedtime routine. This practice has drawn us closer to each other and to God and given us a way of dealing with the inevitable conflicts and sin in our lives in a wholesome, healing way.
Let me share what we do. My husband starts by asking God, “Show me the sin in my life, in thought, word, or deed, by omission or commission.” Sins of omission are the ones we commit when we don’t do something we should do. Sins of commission are the sins we commit when we do something we shouldn’t. After Sam prays, my husband waits for the sweet conviction of the Holy Spirit. While he listens to the Lord, the rest of us intercede silently on his behalf. He confesses any sin that God shows him by saying, “Lord, I confess that as sin, I repent of it, and I ask you to forgive me.” If he needs to ask me or one of the children to forgive him, he asks, then continues.
When he is finished, I say, “Sam, the Lord has heard your confession and takes your sin as far as the east is from the west and remembers it no more” (Psalm 103:12). Or I’ll say, “God has promised in His Word, if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us. He has done that for you now” (I John 1:9).
Then it is my turn. I follow the same format and receive the assurance of forgiveness from my oldest daughter, Anna, and so on down the line. When our youngest, Sarah, was four, she used a drastically simplified format. “Jesus, show me if I did anything wrong today,” she prayed. Then “Sorry, Mommy, sorry, Jesus,” frequently followed by, “Sorry, Sammy, for hitting you.”
Sound easy? It is and the benefits are wonderful, though we have discovered a few potential pitfalls! Let us help you avoid them.
First, don’t be alarmed if God convicts you of something you didn’t know you were doing. Persist in confessing that sin, even when you are tempted to run and hide. When we first started confessing sins as a family, the Lord told me I was blaming my husband for everything that went wrong over and over again. This was a complete surprise to me, though looking back; I wonder how I could have been so blind! Even worse, the Lord convicted me of this sin every night for at least six months!
At first, I argued with God. Gradually I began to see His point. Nightly, I had to ask God-and my husband to forgive me. I began to see that I was in the habit of blasting Sam every time life got difficult. Now I see that God was trying to change me, but at the time, I felt so ashamed of my behavior that I didn’t want to face it. It was easier to blame my husband than take a hard look at myself, confess my sinful behavior, and change. God used our time of confession to teach me to turn to Him when I feel ashamed instead of running and hiding.
Second, take responsibility for your own sin. There may be sin on both sides, but confess your sin anyway. In our home, conflict often results in sinful behavior on both sides. We wish we could respond like Jesus, but we rarely do. My daughter misbehaves and my blood boils. During confession, I must lead the way by confessing my sin-anger-and asking her to forgive me before I expect her to confess her sin. It is a humbling experience.
Third, although it is generally best to name the sin-anger, fear, judgment, unforgiveness, or hatred-parents should not name sexual sins or sins of an addictive nature in front of their children. We don’t want to create an emotionally unhealthy environment by dumping adult-size problems on our little ones. Instead of naming the sin specifically, simply say, “Lord, I confess that sin, I repent of it, and I ask you to forgive me”-and move on.
Fourth, resist the temptation to use the time of confession to confront each other! Parents need to deal with their conflicts away from little ears. This means that when my husband is confessing sin, I need to let the Holy Spirit do the convicting-it’s not my job to point out what he did wrong. If he has hurt my feelings and isn’t aware, I can talk to him later, after the children are in bed.
On the other hand, young children may need to be reminded that they tortured the puppy or hit their baby sister that morning. My two youngest kids often ask, “Do you remember anything, Mom?” because they have learned to love the wonderful feeling to going of sleep guilt-free.
Fifth, respect each other’s privacy. If someone confesses having bad thoughts, resist the temptation to ask, “What were you thinking about?” If something serious comes up that you feel you must discuss, wait for a more appropriate time, when you can be alone, to talk to your child or spouse about those issues.
Sixth, persevere. We often get distracted during our confession time, often, I believe, because taking time to reflect on the day reminds us of other things we need to talk about. Don’t stop confessing because it doesn’t go smoothly at first. Get back on track and persevere until you finish. It will get easier as your time of confession becomes a habit.
Seventh, I do not think that teenage children should be forced to participate in a time of family confession. Our oldest child is eighteen. As she got older, she withdrew quite naturally because she was often out in the evenings. Besides, we never put her to bed anymore, even when she was home! It is natural for teenage children to begin to separate from their families. My older daughter has her own quiet times with God now, usually in the afternoons, and rarely joins our time of family confession. Recently, my husband and I counseled a young couple about to be married. I listened as my husband told them that our time of family confession, “has strengthened our marriage beyond measure.” I chuckled quietly as I thought of the times I had been so livid that I was determined to hang on to my anger. I won’t forgive him, I had thought. Then I came before the Lord, asked Him to show me the sin in my life, and found that I had to forgive Sam. I haven’t yet survived a time of family confession without yielding to love and forgiveness.
It has strengthened our marriage beyond measure. Jesus cried out on the cross, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” When I look to Him, asking Him to show me my sin, my hurts and my anger seem so petty, my sin looms so large. I want to run to Jesus, confessing all to Him and receiving his forgiveness. It is a cleansing and healing balm poured out on my soul.
© Elizabeth Moll Stalcup