Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Confession & Forgiveness: The Foundation of All Authentic Relationship

The River Raisin, Monroe County

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. 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.

On the day I challenged Bill Tarpley I remember that, when it was Bill's turn to play, I found something unny and started to laugh. I fought to suppress it, but failed. Bill tried to suppress laughing but failed. The result was he laughed into the clarinet mouthpiece and it squawked. The students heard Bill squawk. They voted that I won the challenge.

I took first chair. Bill Tarpley occupied 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. But I never owned up to my behavior, never admitted I was wrong, and never asked for forgiveness from people I had hurt. Then I became a Jesus-follower, and was also falling in love with Linda.

One night Linda and I were in an argument over something, I remember not what. It was our first argument. She did not agree with me about something. How was that possible? I remember strongly arguing my point. I was a philosophy major who had also taken a class in argumentation and debate. I was even asked by my debating 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 in confessing. 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 felt like a release for 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 an engine of renewal and bitterness-removal that constantly hum in the background, day after day after day, giving life, renewal, and relationship to all who walk in it.

The foundation of all authentic relationship and spiritual renewal is confession and forgiveness. We have practiced this many, many times in our forty-three of marriage. 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..." when you confess never defend yourself.
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 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 launched me into a life of confessing as needed, receiving forgiveness thankfully, and forgiving others more than I ever had before.