Is there something you did in your past that still causes you to cringe, feel shame or guilt?
It’s the thing you’d rather not talk about it. Or maybe, you don’t want anyone to know.
And yet it comes up in your mind. Sometimes it keeps you awake at night.
Today you’re a new creation, but perhaps you still feel the residue of guilt lingering and can’t understand why.
Well, more people deal with the feeling of unresolved sin than you may think.
In my own life, when I used to think about the bad moves I made, the ones that troubled me the most, I found myself wanting to bury them. Hide them. It was better to push it from my mind, right? But there was still a feeling lingering; a feeling that something wasn’t resolved.
Deep down inside I wanted to be free of past mistakes. But how?
Bringing past sin to God—in confession—is a cleansing process. It helps us, by the grace of God, to have freedom from the past.
In a survey from Lifeway Research, 39% of the almost 3000 Christians polled say they confess daily; 27% said they confess several times per week. Keeping a clean slate is important and healthy in our walk with Christ and others.
But there’s something that happens when we take a deep-rooted misdeed that still conjures guilt or shame and bring that to the Lord; taking it out of the dark and into the light. For me, understanding God’s grace in such a personal way touched me forever.
Here’s how this could look for you:
Have Courage: Come Clean with Yourself
Have you ever clarified things to yourself? Doing this helped me know what I was struggling to resolve so I could let it go.
If our role is unclear, we can find ways to justify parts or ignore parts of it. We can end up confessing in words but not in heart. And if our past wrongs are wrapped up in complex situations, we can get distracted with the roles other people played instead of focusing on the choice(s) we made.
Naming what we’ve done allows us to take responsibility for it and practice telling the truth. It brings it out of the dark and into the light. In the process we learn more about ourselves and the fact that we all make mistakes. We’re still worthy of love, and we have the unconditional love of God.
In his book The Journey, Billy Graham writes about a time King David tried to hide a sin he committed and how it affected him:
When King David refused to confess his adultery with Bathsheba and suppressed his feelings of guilt, he paid a price both spiritually and physically: ‘When I kept silent, my bones wasted away. . . . My strength was sapped’ (Psalm 32:3-4). Only when he faced his sin and sought God’s forgiveness did his health return. The Bible says, ‘A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones’ (Proverbs 12:22).
Keeping it inside is like pushing it down and locking it up in the dark of your heart or gut. It sits and festers and maybe grows. And it pains you as it grows.
Bring it out! Open the door and let in the light. It’s a warm light, a cleansing light, a healing light. And your Loving Father waits for you to invite Him inside that space. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).
Experience Grace: Confess Before God
We have judges in this world, and they serve a clear and needed purpose. But God is our eternal judge, and He knows the truth of a situation and the hearts of men and women regardless of the world’s judgments. Do you trust that?
True confession leads to true healing because we stop trying to solve our problem and seek Him to wash us clean. It is turning away from pride and turning toward Him. We are already forgiven, we just need to accept it. James 4:6 says that God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
The day I turned to God for cleansing changed my life forever. I had finally realized there was nothing else that could take away the burdens I carried. It was the moment I realized I was really free.
Jesus tells us, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30).
It is by His grace that we are forgiven. Ephesians says, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” This is a great post on why confession is a good thing.
If we trust God and believe His word, we can stand on His promises, such as these three:
- “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” (Psalm 32:5)
- “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
- “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Proverbs 28:13)
Even after we confess our sin before God, we may feel tempted to believe that’s not enough; that we’re not yet forgiven. I went through this, but don’t look back. God’s grace if a free gift and He gives it to us in love. Ephesians 5:8 says, “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.”
Becoming Transparent: Come Clean with Others
While God’s grace is immediate, the healing inside our hearts and minds can take time.
Maybe you’ve confessed to God and believe you’re forgiven but still feel unsettled, uneasy or unresolved. Do you still feel the need to get something off your chest, or do you feel haunted by your past?
Take baby steps in transparency; talk it over with others you trust. Wise and trusted friends can help us see different perspectives and pray alongside of us.
In my early 20s I was going through a tough time; it was a situation I didn’t expect many people to understand. One Sunday I went to mass at a Catholic church and afterward started walking toward the rectory. I wasn’t sure where to go or who to talk to or what to say. A priest saw me in the courtyard and asked if I needed help. I told him I needed someone to talk to, and he invited me in to a small sitting room. He offered me tea. There we sat and talked heart to heart–not in a confessional, but in chairs. It comforted me to share what I had harbored in my heart, alone, for so long. It lifted a burden just talking about it with someone before the Lord, and I gained an entirely new perspective.
Maybe things weren’t as bad as I thought.
Years later when I started attending women’s Bible studies at a non-denominational Christian church, the intimacy of a small group made it easy to open up and share. Many times I shared things with the other ladies in tears and never felt ashamed… their nonjudgmental listening, prayer, hugs and encouragement helped me heal in the loving arms of sisters in the church. Slowly I became more transparent in my life in general, which felt freeing.
German Lutheran pastor, theologian and anti-Nazi dissident Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his book Life Together:
Confession in the presence of a brother is the profoundest kind of humiliation. It hurts, it cuts a man down, it is a dreadful blow to pride…In the deep mental and physical pain of humiliation before a brother – which means, before God – we experience the Cross of Jesus as our rescue and salvation. The old man dies, but it is God who has conquered him. Now we share in the resurrection of Christ and eternal life.
Becoming transparent helps us stay in the light and not return to old dark hiding places. James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
Move Forward in Faith
Is there more to it for you?
Usually confession is where it ends. And when it does, it’s time to move forward.
Yet sometimes when we experience God’s grace His spirit stirs us to move in it; we may yearn to take another step. We may desire to do what we can to make a situation right, to say we’re sorry in person, to make amends or to admit a truth.
During my freshman year in college I spoke to a girl in a mean and hurtful way. Almost 20 years had passed, but the memory still hurt my heart. I wanted to apologize, but I didn’t know how. I hadn’t known her well at the time and didn’t think I’d ever see her again.
One day on Facebook I noticed we had a friend in common. While it felt awkward and even a little embarrassing, I messaged our mutual friend and asked if some day she’d relay a long-overdue apology for me. I didn’t go into detail, but I trusted the heartfelt apology would be understood. As soon as I hit send on the message, I thought, Ok God, I don’t know what will happen or how long this will take, but there’s no fear in perfect love. Our mutual friend messaged me back in 15 minutes that she relayed the message, and the situation had been long forgotten. Fifteen minutes! Wow, after all those years it was done in 15 minutes. Praise God for that peace.
Some situations work out like that and others don’t.
Attempting to make amends will look different for each of us in each situation. Sometimes people aren’t reachable, situations cannot be returned to or forgiveness isn’t extended. Moving on and trusting in God’s mercy, grace and forgiveness is key. If you have a desire to reach out and say you’re sorry, don’t hold back, no matter how much time has passed or how pointless it may seem. If it’s in your heart and you have an opportunity, take it.
And if you ever feel tempted to give up, read this.
How Will You Use Your Experience?
To “come clean” means to make a full disclosure; to confess. It’s earlier version, dating back hundreds of years is “to make a clean breast of it.” As humans, we have a natural desire to return to innocence, to be free of what burdens our conscience and feel healthy inside our hearts. Like the old French proverb says, “There’s no pillow softer than a clear conscience.”
As Christians, we know this means repenting of our sins and having pure hearts before the Lord. We can pray Psalm51:10, which says, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
If you are tired of carrying around the weight of past mistakes, bad choices and wrongdoings, take it to the Lord. Watch Him do something new in your life. I did it. I know so many people today with changed lives because they accepted the grace of our Lord as payment for their debt. It started with taking personal responsibility, bringing it before the Lord and opening up to others.
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).
The person who is forgiven much loves much.
Now, accept where you are today. It’s time to move forward with a new knowledge of life you wouldn’t have had before that experience. Take heart and use what you’ve learned to help others. And may God bless you for your courage.