We need to share the pain of life with someone, but what happens when the confessor, the one we are exposing our heart to, goes rogue. We need to be careful with who we share our heart with.
What they thought was being said in private was now being passed around like appetizers at a dinner party. Everyone had a munch and nibble, then passed the plate on for another’s perusal.
They were locked down now. Having exposed their heart, they had got hurt and had made a vow never to be open again.
To love at all is to be vulnerable.
Love anything, and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give it to no one, not even an animal.
Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements.
Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
But something had died within them. It was a willingness to trust and, therefore, to know love and give love. They allowed others to come only as close as they felt safe. Functionality, not intimacy.
All because the person they confided with couldn’t hold their pain, confusion, and mystery. The confessor may have had the occupation where confidentiality was paramount, but they weren’t the person to hold or contain others.
Some observations from a hurt healer.
1. Being a Confessor is not everyone’s calling
We want everyone to be safe containers, ones that don’t leak, but in reality, not everyone is equipped to cope. I think it’s a calling, a specialty known to only a few.
Some aspects of being safe for others can be learned, but for the most, I believe its a gift, even a spiritual gift given by God and enabled and sustained by Spirit (Holy).
I think I have it because it seems that people seem to open up to me. They download, and it doesn’t seem to stick emotionally to me. The things I have heard would possibly scar and traumatize others.
I am always amazed and grateful for counselors, therapists, pastors, and others who have been equipped to know how to contain others’ pain. To let others vomit out their heart and know what to do with it themselves.
If you’re in a role, such as a pastor, and you can’t cope with the vomit, then please find someone who can. It’s not everyone’s calling to hear the deep pain. Learn how to politely and gently support to the degree that you can,
2. Everyone needs a safe confessor
When the pain gets locked up in the soul, it doesn’t make good wine. It makes vinegar. Acid and acrid, the pain eats away at life. Love is lost, and in that ‘airless coffin,’ the soul will suffocate itself.
There are pains we need to ‘get off our chest.’ Interesting little saying, isn’t it. To ‘get something off your chest.’ The chest holds the heart and the lungs. The organs that feed and sustain the flow of life in the body. When we have unshared pain, it can feel like a weight pressing down and constricting our ability to breathe and beat.
I am not sure who said it. It may have been Martin Luther, but I once heard that he said that the greatest loss from the reformation was the loss of the confessional box.
I’m not saying that having a confessional box in the way Roman Catholicism does is ideal, but to have normality to the act of safe confession may allow many of us to breathe easier and live lighter.
3. Forgiving the foolishness
I’ve shared with people some of my hurt and then felt betrayed by them. What was shared in private was told to others.
Then there are those that when we share something deep, it’s treated with disdain and mocking. They may minimize it and scoff.
Problem-solving is another tactic people use. ‘Let me tell you what to do’ when all you want is to be known.
Its foolishness and requires forgiveness. They don’t know what they are doing, and if they do know what they are doing and there is a sense of malicious intent to their actions, then double foolishness is going on.
I am continually brought back to what a wise old confessor told me to do. ‘Lay it at the foot of the cross’.
On the cross, Jesus doesn’t ask for vengeance. He asks for them to be forgiven in their foolishness. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34
It seems like I have a well-worn path to that place. Whenever I feel the bile of hurt rise up, I ask for help to find my way there.
4. Not repeating the same mistake
It’s foolish to keep exposing your heart to unsafe people with the hope of getting a different response.
Yes, I know, in an ideal world others would be able to hear our heart and not go rogue with it, but it’s been a long time since we’ve left the garden (Garden of Eden). That place where nakedness was the norm and love flowed with unconstrained abandonment.
So we are careful with who we share both our darkness and our light with. Not everyone is safe, and not everyone is good. Everyone has an element of foolishness in them.
We test the waters. We watch and observe. There is a prayer for direction to the safe burden bearers. Negotiations take place, and we ask questions.
Trust is built up over time and through shaky experiences, and maybe, just maybe we find a safe confessor.
Quotes to consider
- Just because you forgive someone does not mean you must trust them – that has to be earned back again. David Riddell
- Forgiveness is a choice. You choose not to be held hostage in the present to the injustices that occurred in the past. Shirley Glass
- A man who confesses his sins in the presence of a brother knows that he is no longer alone with himself; he experiences the presence of God in the reality of the other person. Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community
- Opening up your soul to someone, letting them into your spirit, thoughts, fears, future, hopes, dreams… that is being naked. Rob Bell
- Forgiving is not a single event, but a gradual process of increasing compassion and reducing resentment. Shirley Glass
Questions to answer
- What would be the top qualities of a safe confessor?
- When have you truly felt listened to in a deeply safe context?
- Why is it that some people are good containers and others are not?
Image cc: Clem Onojeghuo