Tuesday, January 20, 2009

honesty: a question for you

Following on from yesterday's post, I'd love to hear your advice about the following scenarios. They're examples of 3 times honesty about sin was a big feature of conversations I had with other women: a chat with a non-Christian mum, a social morning with Christian friends, and a discussion in a small group.

Scenario 1: playgroup, in the long ago days when I had 2 children.
I was telling a non-Christian mum about the effects of sleep deprivation on my temper. Her reaction? "That makes me feel so much better! It's such a relief to know you do that too! I always thought you were so patient and serene!" (It's funny how mistaken people can be.) I'm not sure how to move from here to the gospel without being preachy, so I keep quiet.

Scenario 2: having a coffee with Christian mums
There's lots of laughter. We're all enjoying a break from the constant demands of children. We ask one another how things are going, chat about our lives, and talk about our struggles. One woman with a young baby confesses that she hasn't read the Bible or prayed for the last 3 months. I tell her that it was the same with my babies: I barely ever prayed or read the Bible. She's relieved.

Scenario 3: women's discussion group
I used to lead regular discussions in a monthly group for mums. The most popular study I ever led was about parenting and anger. There was much horrified laughter as we shared stories of times we had lost our temper with our children. We looked at the Bible, but I'm not sure that's what they took away from the evening.

What do you think? Is it better to be open about our sin, or to shut up about it, in situations like these? How could I have made sure that sharing my sin helped, not harmed, the women who were listening? And finally, can you think of a time when honesty from an older Christian about their sin encouraged you - and another time you found it hindered your godliness? What was the difference between the two?

image is from stock.xchng


William said...

Scenario 1: I do understand some of your circumstances of wanting to do it, yet not proceeding through due to my being afraid of offending the person I'm talking with.

But, in this case, you might actually tell the other mum, what did you do about it and hopefully that will be an example. i guess Titus 2 fits in the bill here.

I don't know too much on Scenario 2&3 that I can comment on.

Many times, I asked God for an open opportunity for the gospel conversation to be brought through in any circumstances during the day.

In this case, I guess the most passive yet also active action is to pray for the group that you are dealing with. Pray for the particular sins that the other person is currently having. And I guess following up on another discussion re that particular sins maybe helpful as well.

I'm sure that I am just repeating the basic thing that Christians ought to do, but that is in itself essential.

Bill Weber said...

Does a law/gospel approach help in these scenarios? For example, in scenario 1, "Well, my real relief comes from knowing that Jesus suffered and died for my sins, even though I have broken his holy laws by my temper."

Scenario 2: "It is good we know that we are all sinners prone to the same temptations. But real relief from breaking God's commands comes not from excusing ourselves, but from going to the cross to find pardon."

Scenario 3: Before leaving tonight let's look at what God's Word says about anger and its sinfulness. It is good to confess our sins to one another, but let's remember that these sins were atoned for at the high cost of Christ's blood.

So, while we are honest, we also maintain the standard of God's law and point to the gospel where we receive pardon as lawbreakers.

Just a thought---what do you think?

Nicole said...

I think sharing sin can be helpful (sometimes) if within a framework of genuine repentance, prayer and change.

I do agree that a lot of the time when we talk about "struggling" with a particular sin, we don't really mean 'struggling' at all - just getting comfortable with it. When we talk in those terms we are modelling unrepentant sinning to each other, but when we talk about the sins we have repented of or are repenting of I think that is a bit like 1 Tim 4:15 ("so that all may see your progress") and can be very helpful.

Heather said...

In most cases I find someone admitting their sin is an encouragement, particularly when it's something I'm struggling with myself. It makes me feel less of a freak, I can see that everyone does not have it all together as I commonly assume and it helps to see how someone has handled it or we could be accountable to each other.

Simone R. said...

Hi Jean.

My first instinct is to tell you that I've had all three of those conversations. But that's exactly what we're talking about, isn't it? Maybe if you're telling me about your sin I need to shut up about mine and let you confess, then talk about what repentance might look like and pray.

I actually can't think of an occasion when an older Xn has shared details of their sin with me in a helpful way. (It's often been done unhelpfully, though). Many times it has been helpful when friends have talked more generally about ongoing struggle, without specifying the exact nature of it.

We have to remember that sin is contagious and tread very carefully.

Thanks for this discussion, Jean. I pray that it will lead us all into more thoughtful and careful speech.


Valori said...

I think sharing our sin and confessing sin is definitely a biblical means of grace in our lives, and it seems your post from yesterday and today have to do with both our motives for doing so and with the actual practice itself. One test for me about whether or not I am confessing my sin with humility is: Am I open and wanting the input and help of others when I do this? This takes faith toward God -- both trust in his justifying work on my behalf no matter what new sin I happen to see and trust in Him to use imperfect Christians like me to bring grace my way.

Also, I think there is a degree to which it is not wrong to understand one another and to be able to empathize. 1 Corinthians 10:13 is a very reassuring verse, as well as Hebrews 4:15 which tells us that Jesus Himself sympathizes with our weakness. But both of these verses show us that there is more to it than understanding and sympathy. We have a faithful God who does give us a way of escape, and we have a throne of grace to turn to in time of need! That's where I believe we should go when we are seeking to lead others in these situations. It really has a lot to do with what we believe about sin and sanctification and especially the power of the gospel, doesn't it?

Nicole said...

Simone, I can see what you mean about the specifics of the sin being sometimes unhelpful, but I do think that at other times the specifics of the sin (and how the person is struggling with it, or overcame it) can be very helpful. Otherwise we can imply that our theology of sin and repentance and forgiveness is just a theoretical abstraction and not a lived truth.

I have had many conversations like scenario 2 which I have found very UNhelpful, but I have had a couple of friends who shared with me how they fought through the struggle and managed to read get their Bible reading and prayer back on track - those conversations were very helpful. I could see that they found it hard too, but they managed to do it - which kind of gave me no excuse and motivated me to try harder!

I do think the mutuality of James 5:16 is important (though of course the mutuality is not always in the same conversation - as you say, sometimes when it's my turn to confess I need you to shut up about your sin and focus on helping me to pray about mine!!)

Simone R. said...

Yes Nicole, but your friends weren't dwelling on the details of their sin so much as a solution they found. Which is different. You were not let off the hook!

I've blogged more on this this morning.

That's an interesting verse in James. I need to do more thinking about it. Notable, though, how prayer so tied up in confession. Any confession at all without prayer would be pointless.

Jean said...

Thanks everyone - and keep those comments coming - I love listening in on your conversations and to-ing and fro-ing with one another, it helps me clarify my own thoughts and encourages me as a Christian: and hopefully you, too.

Thanks, William. It's a great opportunity to talk, as you say, about how God is changing me, and also about his grace. A wonderful gospel opportunity, really, if only I'd seized it! I hope I will next time.

Thanks to those of you (Bill, Valori) who directed us back to the cross. Of course! If honest confession is anything, it's an opportunity to remind people of the grace we have in Christ.

Thanks, Valori, for the reminder that we need to be open to someone else actually encouraging and challenging us. I guess you can tell when you're not being open to their feedback by how you react when they give you encouragement and helpful advice, and you feel a bit resentful ("advice? I wanted sympathy!"). I am praying to be less proud, and more open to others' criticism and encouragement.

Thanks, Heather. I agree: sin can be a very lonely place when we feel we're the only one struggling (isn't it wonderful that Jesus knows what it's like to be tempted in "every way" as we are - Heb. 4:15?!). And mutual accountability can be very helpful.

Thanks, Simone and Nicole, for continuing a fascinating discussion. Simone, I was just reading something in John Piper's "A Godward Life" where he shared his sin, how God helps him with it, and really encouraged me this morning - very timely! I might share it on this blog today or tomorrow so you can see what you think. I do think an older Christian sharing their struggles can be helpful when they tell me how God is changing them, and direct me to the cross. But I also agree that a pastor standing there, telling me the specifics of his sin, or an older woman sharing the details of an argument with their husband, could be profoundly unhelpful! It depends how it's done, and whether they point me in the direction of God's word.

Nicole, I agree - sharing my struggles and how God is changing me, including the details when helpful and appropriate, can be helpful, as long as I'm pointing people in the right direction, and not "normalising" sin or getting "comfortable" with it. I like what you say - that this needs to be done in a "framework of genuine repentance, prayer and change" - and of grace, too!

I think it's also important to remember we're human. When there is no one it's appropriate to share our struggles with, we can go to God in prayer and find in him a loving and sympathetic Father. But he also gave us each other, and the wonderful human gifts of friendship and Christian fellowship. Good gifts, if we use them to encourage and support each other!

sandra j said...

One of the things which first stood out & I really valued about Honoria when becoming friends with her was that she didn't excuse sin (in me, her, or others) - in conversation or any other way. This kind of attitude in a friend is all too rare, and enormously valuable... since I think we tend to see ourselves through our friends' eyes quite a bit.

[I suppose, like in everything, how you talk about sin & what you emphasise should be shaped by what the person you're talking to needs most... eg. I rarely doubt my standing with God, but need reminders of the seriousness of my sin; but someone with a tenderer conscience than me, who's already feeling burdened by their sin, may need more assurance of God's unconditional love & grace... I guess the gospel is the answer to both: truly, "these sins were atoned for at the high cost of Christ's blood".]

Liz said...

I must confess that I don't have time right now to read all the comments. So sorry if I repeat what someone else has said.

In Scenario #2 I think what was shared was ok but incomplete. To be truly encouraging I think you should add about what made you get back to a regular quiet time (such as really missing it, noticing a negative change in your behaviour etc) and what you found worked for you as we all know it's hard when babies are small. You could also talk about how much you realised you missed it once you got back to it and make the focus more on encouraging the other mum to get back to it.

Simone R. said...

Hi Jean. Did a comment I wrote this morning get lost somewhere? Or am I imagining that I posted it? s

Jean said...

There you go, Simone, sorry about that! I had a friend and her kids over and your comment got missed somehow in all the chaos ... Sorry!

Liz, I agree, that's excellent advice. Do you think there's ever a situation where you shouldn't go on to the "advice" stage - where someone just needs sympathy for a bit? I suspect there might be!

Jean said...

The discussion continues at Simone's blog.

Jean said...

Oops ... haven't responded yet ... Sandra, thanks for telling us about Honoria, what an inspiration!

Liz, I think that suggestion is very helpful.

Thanks everyone for your responses, they've been both challenging and encouraging. With God's help, I'll certainly be more careful now about how I speak about my sin with others.