The Restoration of Confession

“[A]nd My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” —2 Chronicles 7:14

[D]irt, soot, and grime can build up on both sides of [stained] glass from pollution, smoke, and oxidation. In churches the traditional burning of incense or candles can eventually deposit carbon layers. These deposits can substantially reduce the transmitted light and make an originally bright window muted and lifeless.[i]—Neal A. Vogel

Six months after I became a mother, my own mother passed away from congestive heart disease. She was only fifty-four, and I was only nineteen. Her illness took her quickly, and there was no time for the kind of healing conversations that might have reduced my regret after she was gone.

After she died, Dad decided to sell the house and move into a small apartment. As we were helping him prepare for his move, my brother and I were cleaning the attic and musing over some of our finds. I still have two—a silver sugar bowl and a veneered dresser that sits in my dining room. But our most fascinating treasure was inside the top drawer of the otherwise empty dresser—a letter Dad had written to his future mother-in-law, Mother Miller, as he called her.

He was writing from California where he was waiting to deploy to the uncertainty of the South Pacific during World War II. He wrote of his sense of “blank thrill”—a combination of “the feeling of the unknown and also adventure.” He discussed how much he enjoyed the navy and how glad he was to be with the men beside him. He expressed his eagerness to return to those he loved after the war. “Back home, I have a wonderful collection of friends; good ones. You and your family come first, Nan of this group being first. She means everything in life for me—and to think about her and the two of us together after the war makes all this worthwhile.”

Dad wrote of three things that gave him a sense of security. First was his assurance in the men he was with: “in our commanders and the reason we are going, also we will be successful in our detail.” The second was his friends at home and “the strength my love for Nan gives me and hers for me.” His third source of strength was his “faith and trust in God.” The first two addressed “my worldly cares, the last, my spiritual … I can leave tomorrow satisfied completely in everything I live for. Not a question in my mind of a thing left undone, or a word unkindly said, not righted, not a care.” The letter was dated August 10, 1942, eight months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Years later I mentioned the letter to him. “I was saying goodbye” was his response, “just in case.”

The part of the letter that has always stuck with me is that he left “no word unkindly said, not righted.” He had done all he could to make everything right with everyone he was leaving behind. He might have been able to convince himself that he didn’t have time to fix things with everyone or that whatever he had done wrong was not a big deal. Instead, “just in case,” he had made things right.

I spent many years dwelling on the sins of my husband before I fully acknowledged my own. I told myself that his sins were of greater magnitude than mine and the cause for justifiable bitterness. My own sins were tiny, long ago, easily explained away as the result of immaturity and, therefore, easily forgiven. Year by year conviction peeled back layers of self-justification and excuses. I marveled that so many years after the poor decisions I made, the consequences of my sin had such weight.

I can look back now and see that God redeemed and restored much that my sin could have destroyed forever.

* * * * *

Up close and personal, the other person’s sins always seem bigger than our own. We don’t see the judgmental beam in our own eye for the speck in theirs. Inevitably, hindsight comes closer to 20/20. As the image of the window becomes clearer, so does the reflection of ourselves in it.

Time gives us the objectivity to see two sides where before we could only see one. We realize that we too are not without sin. We have no stones to throw. We can give forgiveness and ask for it too. The perspective of time gives us the opportunity to repent of sins that might seem long ago and far away. Only Christ, through our true repentance, can wash them away.

Repentance is how we start to restore the image of the Bride, not in a public relations sense, but in a biblical one. And repentance begins with the faithful.

Why the faithful? Isn’t repentance something for the unbelieving population to grasp—those we perceive are messing up the world and dragging our culture into a downward spiral? Yes, it’s something they need to do to become part of the Bride, part of the picture. But the kind of repentance that can turn the world around is for us. It’s for his people already in the church.

I didn’t come to this idea on my own. I’d been praying for our nation to turn back to God, but in my mind that always involved something someone else needed to do. I’ll pray. I’ll watch. I’ll work when I can. I’ll cheer when it happens.

At brunch one day, my longtime friend, Renee, dropped a brick of truth on my head. “He calls his own people to repentance—my people … called by my Name.”

That is me.

That is us.

….

Confession, they say, is good for the soul. When we let others see who we truly are, they can be transparent with us. We can become companions who mentor and disciple each other. Mentoring helps us find a new path in life. Discipling includes bearing one another’s burdens, and confession is part of that. Discipling helps us navigate our new path in faith that grows as it goes.

Christ is the Great Forgiver and the Great Physician who cleans the glass. The repentant church in accord radiates the image of the window in vivid clarity.

* * * * *

 “I wish,” Scrooge muttered, putting his hand in his pocket, and looking about him, after drying his eyes with his cuff: “but it’s too late now.”

“What is the matter?” asked the Spirit.

“Nothing,” said Scrooge. “Nothing. There was a boy singing a Christmas Carol at my door last night. I should like to have given him something: that’s all.”[i]

—Charles Dickens


[i] Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Stave Two (London: Chapman and Hall, 1846), Project Gutenberg, released August 11, 2004, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/46/46-h/46-h.htm.

Excerpted from Restoring the Shattered: Illustrating Christ’s Love Through the Church in One Accord–in paperback January 22, 2019.


[i] Neal A. Vogel and Rolf Achilles, “The Preservation and Repair of Historic Stained and Leaded Glass,” National Park Service, Technical Preservation Services, October 2007, https://www.nps.gov/tps/how-to-preserve/briefs/33-stained-leaded-glass.htm.

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Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. Restoring the Shattered is published through Morgan James Publishing with whom I do share a material connection. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

34 Replies to “The Restoration of Confession”

  1. I really enjoyed your blog. The story of the letter really caught my attention. If only we could live every day of our lives like the letter, always seeking to correct wrongs in case tomorrow never comes. I appreciate your thoughts.

  2. I had a time where God pointed out my own over-concentration on my husband’s sins and my justification of my own. He has righted the focus and I’ve found much more joy in standing before Him in humble repentance than in arrogant condemnation of my poor man. I’m also far more thankful for my husband than ever before!

    Good stuff here, Nancy!

  3. Okay, I’m speechless. I’m just going to say Amen to all of this especially that He calls “us” his people to repentance. And now I also have a picture of that speck of dust I’m trying to fix with a log in my eye. Oooh, something like. Awesome reminders and you’re making me face the truth is such a wonderful and gentle way.

  4. Really beautiful & powerful.

    19 must’ve been a tough year – so young with a new baby & your mom passing 🙁

    And yes – repentance is for us all! I used to think repentance meant – “feel bad for your sin,” but as I’ve researched it, I now understand it to mean more like “free your mind / change your perspective.” We don’t see clearly now. We are in the process of being renewed & our vision being made more in tune to God’s perspective.

    Like your metaphor – we are stained glass being cleaned from inside the building – so that we shine more brightly.

  5. When I think about all the wrongs I’ve done to different people, the list is incredibly long. I cannot make those right, in your dad’s words. Thankfully, God is gracious. I’ll let him change me so that if I can make amends I will, but a changed life is my way of restoring things I’ve broken.

  6. This was beautiful to read, Nancy! It’s so easy to hold onto bitterness because we don’t really understand our own humanity. The humanity that means we could die any day. This was a great reminder to always forgive and live each day like it’s my last!

  7. Confession is such a gift. In it is freedom for us, and as you say, for others to then be authentic with us. It’s so counter-culture and yet so needed. The world tells us to cover up what we did wrong, or that it wasn’t a big deal or wrong at all. Confession declares the truth, and our weakness and turns our hearts to God as we trust His forgiveness and power to repent and do the next right thing. Thanks for your thoughts on this!

    1. Thank you, Elaine. So often, I’ve tormented myself over something I was trying to rationalize. Then we I finally apologized, I found grace and chided myself for making such a big deal of my own pride. God bless!

  8. Thank you for your post. Confession is hard yet necessary. About a year and a half ago my wife Anne and I began to make this a regular part of our devotion and prayer time. At first going into it we thought that we were doing fine with our sins. But as we continued the practice we began to notice patterns and the reoccurrence of sin. The practice became humbling. Yet our spiritual formation has strengthened and our relationship has as well. Although hard it is so important.

  9. So much wisdom in this post, Nancy. So much of it hit deep inside of me. You’re so right that we see our own sins as small. My pastor says we judge others by their actions but ourselves by our intentions.

    The letter your father wrote…what an amazing man. Thank you for sharing that story.

  10. Thanks for your thoughtful post and your sharing about your father’s letter. It seems to me that confession is not generally made as great priority in churches as it once was. And I think in a world that tends to strives for perfection, accomplishments, and shiny images confessing that we have sinned or fallen short in some way can often seem rather frightening, intimidating or embarrassing to admit . I also think that when we don’t make confessional prayer a priority in our prayer life – we tend to underestimate how often we do fall short. When my husband and I began to make confession a part of our prayer life two years ago, after a professor had talked about confessional prayer in one of my spiritual formation classes in seminary, we initially thought we would not have that much to confess. Because we do strive to be faithful and good and moral people. But the longer we included regular confession in our prayer life we started to notice how often we were sinning every day – by judging, criticizing, complaining, worshipping something or someone other than God, envying someone, coveting something, feeling prideful, or being anxious or afraid rather than relying on our faith…. We also discovered that there were patterns or themes in our behaviour, sins that kept cropping up and we repeated with greater frequency. This then allowed us to ask God for forgiveness, insight, discernment, and strength around where we were weakest. It allowed us to repent, make changes, and make good where we had hurt someone. Regular confession and repentance is incredibly powerful in so many ways. For not only do we learn to recognize, face and deal with our own sin, this process places us in an honest, authentic, transparent relationship with God, others and ourselves. It keeps us humble, allows us access to God’s love, compassion and healing power, helps to create a deep gratitude for God’s abundant grace, forgiveness and steadfast love, and it instils hope and joy in that even though we sin and struggle, with God’s help we can find restoration and redemption. Thanks for the post.

    1. That’s fabulous, Anne. Our church does weekly Communion. Our old church did not. My husband and I find that the shorter time between requires us to keep our accounts short. Confession helps our relationships stay strong. But most of all, it is the key to our relationship with God. As you say, it keeps us humble and keeps us close to Him. Thanks and God bless!

  11. The letter really struck me. It made me think “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry…” (Ephesians 4:26). We must deal with our stuff before our stuff deals with us, so to speak. Our stuff can harm us as well as relationships.

    I can remember the day, as a senior in high school, when my grandmother (who lived with us at the time) and I had an argument. It was morning, I was rushing here and there trying to get my books together before my ride came to pick me up for school. My grandmother and I were arguing. I ran out the front door angry, got to the car, then the Spirit of God said to me inaudibly, “Go back and give your grandmother a hug and say you’re sorry.” At first I didn’t want to, but I did do it.

    I’m so glad, because that day when I came home from school, I walked into her bedroom to get an envelope to mail a letter. I turned to see her lying in her bed, blue in her face. She had died in her sleep from a heart attack.

    I would have had to live with not reconciling with her the rest of my life if I had not gone back that morning to say I’m sorry, hug her and tell her I loved her.

    It’s important to forgive and make things right as soon as possible. Sorry for the long comment. Your post is so good!

    1. Thank you, Marcie, for the long comment. What a powerful story! So glad you obeyed the Spirit’s prompting. And I love this: “We must deal with our stuff before our stuff deals with us, so to speak. Our stuff can harm us as well as relationships.” Thank you and God bless!

  12. Powerful piece, Nancy. I love the letter from your dad so much. So intriguing when you consider his situation at the time. Honorable and respectable.

    And this line, wow. “As the image of the window becomes clearer, so does the reflection of ourselves in it.” It is easy to point fingers or to surmise others sins as greater than our own. Loved what your friend said and your story in praying for our nation to turn back to God–others. Yet, repentance starts with God’s people…with His house. Revival has its beginnings there too.

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