I'm a bit vain. There, I said it. I like to look pretty, fit, put-together. I’m known for overdressing, matchy-matchy, and accessorizing to the extreme. Then there's the unfortunate matter of my nails. I have picked and bitten them since childhood. Back then, and for decades into adulthood, this was an anxious and obsessive habit due to my inner landscape. Now it's more like the skeletal remains of my former shadow self, graciously fading into eternity. I've sometimes worn artificial nails. They served double-duty: They enabled me to have effortlessly perfect hands, and also hid my bad habit from you and from me. However, I learned there's a high cost to artificial nails. Since I wore the $5 dollar Kiss Press-on kind, I'm not talking about my wallet.
Into the Darkness
Despite their dime-store price, my press-on nails looked darn good. So good, I believe I single-handedly started a run on Kiss nails in my zip code. I like the short French style--elegant, neutral. They even have them for toenails (truth) and yes, I've tried those, too. Sadly, even while they seem fabulous, after a spell, there's a problem. Suffocating, dark and airless, poisoned by glue and plastic, my own nails suffered.
At first, it was just dryness. They were still growing beneath their acrylic shroud, but mysterious white lines appeared. Unwilling to part with my indulgence, I kept right on wearing them.
"How bad can this be?” I rationalized, unwilling to surrender their perfect appearance.
Eventually my repressed cuticles protested, too, bunched up like a shriveled old accordion. I could tell my nails were also thinning something awful, little flakes pealing away like shards of bagged coconut.
My justifications got more desperate. "If I wear them forever, I'll never have to deal with or even see my damaged nails."
Finally, both my thumbs developed strange depressions coupled with a mossy green spot I knew had to be some kind of fungus. Gross!
Sufficiently alarmed, I surrendered. "OK, darn it! I'll get rid of the nails already!"
Sin (PC alternatives: Bad habits, wrongs, defects, failings) is like that. We can sometimes indulge and cover it up for a good spell, rationalizing and justifying beyond imagining, and then it comes to light. One way or another.
In a less fatal sense, my nail issues call to mind Oscar Wilde's ageless classic The Picture of Dorian Gray, brilliantly brought to the screen in 1945, with a modern-day 2009 retelling co-starring Colin Firth. In it, young and handsome Dorian makes an unholy bargain with the devil, trading his soul for unfading youth and beauty. While Dorian remains agelessly handsome for decades, his portrait captures every sin-filled year.
Goaded by an older, cynical Lord Henry Wotton (played by Firth), Dorian indulges in a narcissistic, hedonist lifestyle, committing increasingly heinous crimes. He ignores or pushes through pangs of conscience to the ever-deeper destruction of his soul, revealed only in the portrait's grotesque disfigurement over time.
Eventually, Dorian's dark secrets torment him, and he resolves to do right, only to find his lofty aim is a self-serving ruse. Even his efforts to do right are fueled largely by a desire to appear good rather than be good. Desperate for relief, he decides to confess all, convinced that only coming clean will absolve him of his guilt.
Ultimately, Dorian’s ego wouldn't abide the vulnerability of self-disclosure, so he decides to destroy the evidence of his sin, the painting. In doing so, he ends up killing himself, while the painting is restored to its youthful beauty.
You're Only as Sick as Your Secrets
In recovery circles, it's said that, "you're only as sick as your secrets." Stuffing our struggles or sins--whatever they are--leads to soul sickness. The Twelve Steps include step 5, the initial confession of a "fearless moral inventory," and step 10, which calls for ongoing confession to guard against and to remedy harm. While most 12 step programs are designed to address addictions, the reality is the model is a tidy distillation of The Gospel, designed for all humans, not just those whose sin is socially abhorrent or physically fatal.
Our maladaptive measures for coping with or concealing our failings or feelings can be more or less socially acceptable. Clinical busyness, ambition, overeating, religious score-keeping, exercise, acquisition, and other activities can all be means of avoiding what really ails us. Moreover, sin isn't only the outright indulgence, it can be the repressed feelings that eventually poison us and others.
While the sin itself injures, the secret really makes us miserable, compromises relationships, and risks destroying us, like rotting nailbeds or symbolic portraits.
What is Sin Anyway?
The word "sin" makes some people bristle but "a rose by any other name is still a rose." In recovery, people use "defect of character" to describe our human imperfections. A defect is something flawed, less than perfect. In archery, the term "sin" captures this idea as "missing the mark." That's an apt way to describe it. Whether you miss the bullseye by a lot or a little, you still missed perfection.
While the Bible does list literally hundreds of sins to which we humans like to assign a value, God doesn't differentiate sin. Most of us sin somewhere between minor vanities and opium dens (James 2:10).
In our post-Christian society, we've taken great liberties redefining what's "bad" and "good," straying far afield from God's standard. What constitutes sin has changed with the fashions since forever, and we humans seek to redefine and rank sins according to our particular preferences.
God simplifies scoring considerably by asserting that we're all equally flawed and equally in need of forgiveness (Romans 3:23).
Yet, without recognizing God's standard and acknowledging its simple reality, many of us avoid feeling the weight of our failings to repent and in turn, to receive God's help and liberating gift of grace: Jesus. Other folks make this a "one and done" proposition. That is, they claim that once we confess our need for Jesus, we're free and clear. Sure, we’ll land in heaven but suffer and inflict ongoing injuries and miss out on daily grace, plus.
But the Bible and real-life experience both suggest that remaining ever mindful of our grateful need for Christ is what enables us to live in grace and harmony. Repentance.
What is Repentance?
Jesus Himself famously said, "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand" (Matthew 4:17). Inherent to confession is repentance:
re·pent - feel or express sincere regret or remorse about one's wrongdoing or sin.
In fact, the impulse to confess can result directly from repentance. Repentance can arise spontaneously from the seed of conscience that tells us something is just not right. That internal niggling which says, "I done wrong." Other times, it arises only when we've suffered consequences for our wrongdoing. Once the cost of our sin outweighs the perceived benefits, we become willing to change. But even then, we're faced with a dilemma.
In an ideal world, the repentance would in turn enable us to quit whatever it is once and for all. Yet, most of us struggle mightily with permanently changing our bad habits big or small; some we take to our grave. God offers an all-inclusive solution for our permanent state of humanity: Jesus.
Both confessing our sins and confessing Jesus as the remedy and the pathway to change, freedom, and reconciliation with God, others, and ourselves.
7 Benefits: Confession is Good for the Soul.
The Bible has a lot to say about confession, both confessing our sin and confessing Christ as the solution; not only to God, but to others, too. We're all invited to ongoing confession. Why? Surely, an all-knowing God doesn't need us to tell Him our wrongdoings, so why confess to Him--or anyone else for that matter? And if we've already accepted Christ, aren't we basically "sin free?" Several verses outline just a few benefits of ongoing confession:
God assures us that if we confess our sins, He'll forgive and change us. (1 John 1:9).
Confession restores healthy relationship with God, ourselves, and with each other (1 John 1:5-10).
Admitting our need for Christ's atoning work grants us eternal life (Romans 10:9-10).
Confessing to trusted others brings healing (James 5:16).
Seeing the truth about ourselves clears our conscience and sets us free (John 8:32).
Receiving God's forgiveness helps us to forgive others (Ephesians 4:32)
Knowing what we've been forgiven can lead to love and gratitude (Luke 7:47)
Bottom line: Ongoing confession is truly beneficial in a practical, everyday way.
While confession isn't a requirement for God's love, as with any relationship, honesty and correcting wrongs is vital to healthy intimacy.
Confession is also the obvious basis for asking for help to change. Awareness of the problem is the first step.
Nor is ongoing confession intended as an instrument of torture or shame. JESUS bore all that on the cross. But the discomfort and shame that comes with stuffing our secret reveals its destructive power.
Brené Brown‘s Ted Talk on the subject sheds light.
Into the Healing Light
However painful or "ego puncturing" confession is, it's a vehicle for healing. God's motive is always love. He never brings anything to light to hurt us, but rather, to heal, free, and bless us.
God invites us all into a loving, intimate relationship with Him. A relationship--like any after all--that benefits from the loving light of honesty. There's sweet healing in the light of confession. It's for us.
Regardless, God loves us. With or without confession, artificial nails, ghoulish portraits, or the many other visible and invisible signs of our waywardness. Romans 5:8 assures us:
But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Finally brought into the light, my injured nails are making a full recovery. So is my ego. In this moment, I'm ok with my less than perfect nails, but confess I'm unwilling to commit to never wearing artificial nails again. I'm asking God for help with it all.
Love, peace, joy & grace,
Are you burdened by unconfessed sin? Consider writing Jesus a letter about it and reading it to someone you trust. Pray for help!