Out of the Mouth of Babes: Better Out than In
“Mommy, I want to run away from you again…”
This was the comment that I never expected to hear come out of my son’s mouth as we pulled into the driveway. Yesterday, for the first time ever in our three years of life together (of course, he has only been walking/running for 1.5 years of them), he had run away from me outside when I told him to go up on the porch. At the time of his “great escape,” I had been working with his little brother, and he knew I was occupied. What he did not know is that moms are built with go-go-gadget arms and superhuman speed, and so with littler one in tow, I was still able to grab him and get him before he got away (not so funny then; but now I can smirk a little at the thought). After some pretty intense discipline (we do not play about safety issues), I felt I had made myself clear that running from Mommy, especially when I have instructed you to do the opposite, is never ok.
So, you can imagine my surprise when I heard that sweet little voice say those honest, yet incredibly disobedient words. Apparently, this was a practice makes perfect lesson, and so I settled in for a learning moment and discussion (and made sure my shoes were ready to go just in case). I told him I was thankful for his honesty, we talked about his reasons for wanting to run (it is fun), and we talked about what happened last time he ran (mommy got real upset… yes son, she did). We also talked about how he could make a different choice this time (to walk inside like he knows how to do), and then I encouraged him to show me how he could do it. What started off with the potential to end with tears and discipline as it had once before, ended with a wonderful celebration moment when he successfully walked to the door and waited, chose obedience over disobedience, and felt good inside and out about his decision.
While all ended well, and you may be thinking “thanks Sara… what a great story but what’s the point,” this interaction between mother and son has stuck with me all week to the point that I need to write about it and share it with you. In fact, as I have seen God work before, this writing may be intended specifically for you, so please hang on and see how it unfolds (to be honest, I am curious too LOL 🙂 ).
You see, what has been haunting me all week about this interaction, is the awesome confession that came forth (unprompted mind you) from my little one. While it may have been surprising to me in the moment, it has transformed into an incredibly humbling and inspiring lesson of how we should approach our own lives, and the disobedient/destructive/detrimental thoughts and actions we harbor in our own hearts and minds. That’s right: we were created for confession, and as my son so nicely demonstrated in his obedient walk to the door, it can have amazing positive effects for our lives.
Confession: Better Out than In
In our current society of independence, isolation, and anonymity (thank you technology), things happen everyday that no one knows about. You or I can easily cheat on a test, watch something we know we probably should not, or give false pretenses about who we are and what we are about (yes, this is still a lie) with just the click of a button. And NO ONE knows what we are doing, so the little kid in us feels somewhat justified because if no one sees, it cannot really be as bad as it seems. Plus, if you have not been caught yet, you probably think you can continue with it because what everyone else does not know is not really hurting them. Deep down though, we know the truth on the inside and when this truth does not match up with the thoughts or actions we have on the outside, we begin to operate in a state known as incongruence.
When we begin to experience incongruence, it always leads to distress. Why? Because when our inner and outer are at odds, we cannot enjoy life to the fullest due to the often invisible but monumental struggle taking place within us. Think about the child’s toy of fitting a square block into a round hole: it does not work and you can continue to frustrate yourself by trying to make it work but usually this just ends in tears and damage. The same is true when we are acting like someone we are not; when the outer does not properly align with the inner, we describe these feelings as guilt, shame, and angst, and we cannot settle because who we want to be on the inside does not match who we are being on the outside. The longer these thoughts and behaviors in our lives stay hidden and in the dark and we remain in a state of incongruence, often the bigger it appears to become and the less we seem to be able to stop it. What started as something seemingly small and innocent may grow into something big and ominous, leaving us feeling helpless and powerless.
I have witnessed this time and time again throughout my life as both friend and counselor. It may start with a subtle and passing thought that “hmmm… that co-worker is handsome” even though the thinker is currently married (although not incredibly happy about it) and yes, a passing thought like this can by itself be very innocent and happen to anyone at anytime (even those happily married). Then, “randomly” she and he happen to sit by each other at the next work meeting, and wow, he is also funny. No harm though right, because she is married and took vows and even though it is not what she expected, she has no intentions of being unfaithful. But then they get tasked with the same work project, and now she has to spend the next couple of weeks with him working, and in the process they begin to share pieces of their lives about family and marriage and things in conversation and soon she has moved from innocent thoughts to wondering what it would be like to be on a date with him, or if her husband could just listen like him, or look at her like him, and the second she moves from her initial innocent thought to comparing to her husband or something more, she has taken the first step on a slippery slope of potential infidelity and marital destruction. Her outer (starting to look at her co-worker and her marriage differently as well as her role in both relationships) has started moving away from her true inner (wanting to have a healthy, strong, faithful marriage) and if she is not careful to confess, the incongruence will continue to grow from thoughts into action and the ultimate result: despair and distress.
And this can happen to anyone, anywhere, at anytime in any situation. If you are thinking “not me,” I pray that you are right but in my personal and professional experience, watch out. Maybe you are at the gym instead of work, or a bible study (yes even there), or in a late night chat room. Maybe it is not infidelity but feelings of “man, I wish I could be like her… she is super mom..” or giving in to feelings of insecurity “I am worthless and could never really achieve what I had hoped for..” or self-medicating to try to feel better “I know this does not solve anything, but it is the last time… for real this time…” Any circumstance where our outer experience begins to deviate from our inner truth can lead to incongruence, hurt, and heartache. And until we find a way to get back into alignment, pretty much everything we do will be tainted by the incongruence in or lives.
Fortunately, this is where the beauty of confession and the title of this post truly rings true (and is not just applicable to bodily functions 🙂 ). Confession, as God intended, is the first step in bringing about the congruence, relief, and freedom that so many of us are longing for. It is bringing all the stuff we want to keep hidden into the open, where we can experience the relief of “better out than in.” When we confess, we acknowledge or admit that things are out of alignment or incongruent, and we begin the process of re-aligning so that who we are and who we want to be match up. Confession is so important because it brings the things we have kept hidden, sometimes that absolutely no one knows about, into the light where others (not necessarily everyone; but trusted others [see below for more on this]) can see.
This is usually where I hear a resounding: Wait. You want me to tell someone about this? Are you kidding me?!?
Why? Because while the concept of being congruent, free and at peace sounds beautiful, it also involves overcoming the risks involved with uncovering a secret that may actually hurt more than just us: it may hurt the ones we love most. And while I would love to keep this post mostly happy and upbeat (not sure if that is really happening right now anyway), I also want to keep it honest. Sometimes confession is hard, and sometimes it hurts us and those that are involved, but it ALWAYS is better to do as early and as thoroughly as possible because NO TRUE PEACE, let me say it again, NO TRUE PEACE can happen without it.
***Important Disclaimer: This post, as many others, is directed towards thoughts and actions that are not healthy, but not typically illegal or outwardly harmful to others. If you are struggling with something that is harmful to your self or anyone else or is illegal in any form, I still support confession as the number one response. Unfortunately, as with any confession, there are also consequences that may result (such as legal actions or needed assistance to maintain safety/sobriety) but facing the consequences truly outweighs the captivity of incongruence. If this applies to you, I encourage you to seek a certified professional, such as a counselor or pastor or lawyer or law enforcement, and start there with your confession.***
You cannot work on authentically healing your marriage with something that still needs to be confessed; because the trust that is destroyed when you are caught will do more damage than you are envisioning from a proactive confession. You cannot work authentically on growing a ministry if you are constantly acting out of fear or jealousy or insecurity, because you will be driven by your own selfish needs and building a foundation on hurt and fear rather than strength and truth. Think about it: If I try to build anything using square blocks in round holes, it will be uneven, unstable, and ultimately, ineffective.
So, while the thought of exposing your deepest darkest secrets (potentially much more serious than my son’s wanting to run away from me again) may seem overwhelming or even terrifying to you, the truth of the matter is that once something like this has been exposed to the light, it invites healing, accountability, and empowerment. What once was a burden that may have been controlling you because you are trying to deal with it alone and in the dark and hoping and praying no one finds out, becomes something you begin to deal with one piece at a time with those trusted others are praying for, encouraging, and challenging you to continue. And while it may hurt those around you when it first comes out, resolving that hurt will be the first square block in a square hole that results in a solid foundation for the healing, restoration, and growth that is to come.
I have also been blessed to witness and experience this process as well. I gave you an example from my own life in my last post (yes, I still “heart” my husband) when I confessed my horrible thoughts and feelings of hatred, which did not match my true desires or feelings of my husband and marriage, to a trusted friend for wise counsel. I then also confessed those things to my husband, which I know hurt him deeply, but also allowed both of us to be honest and work on true reconciliation instead of me trying to reconcile while still harboring hate in my heart (not effective). I have had other friends confess to me their own concerns: lapses in judgement regarding members of the opposite gender, issues with maintaining integrity at work or in school, jealousies and insecurities spurred on by various circumstances; all examples that involved themselves as well as others and in which they were crippling under the pressure of their own incongruence but experienced the amazing relief and insight that comes with confession.
It is by no means easy, but as we walk through confession and move towards congruence, our inner and outer worlds can begin to exist in harmony, and the distress that was once tainting our moments is now released and replaced with peace and potential.
So Where Do I Start??
Confession is not always as simple as it was for my 3 year old (it helps that this is one of his first real times, it was a proactive confession and not after the fact, and it [thank you Jesus] went well). Many of us as adults have had years, sometimes decades even, to cultivate incongruences that are dark and ugly and have been holding us captive under their weight. However, there is no time like the present to move towards congruence, and I promise you, while it may appear to get worst before it gets better (confessions are always scary and difficult), the benefits of congruence and living in the light far outweigh the oppression of the darkness. Here are a few tips to get started and begin working towards your own congruent relief. I truly believe you will be excited with the outcome, even if the process is difficult and involves some initial tears and hurt:
- Confess to Self and God: As with any sin or issue in our lives, the first step is acknowledging to ourselves that there is actually a problem. However, most of us get this step down without an issue, because we know from the beginning that something was wrong, that the thought or action was not helpful or healthy, but it still stays in the dark because confession to self allows understanding without accountability. Fortunately, along with confessing to ourselves, we can partner this step with also confessing to God, and starting the process of admitting to someone outside of ourselves the truth of the matter, which invites outer responsibility, acknowledgement, and accountability. And the wonderful part about confession to God before anyone else is that there is no surprise because He already knowns, there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1) only recognition of truth and grace, and in our confession, He is quick to forgive and purify us (1 John 1:9). In confessing to God, we get to begin again with a clean slate, and invite in the empowering of HIs Holy Spirit to be with us at all times to say “no” to whatever we had confessed and say “yes” to the better truth that awaits us.
- Confess to Someone Else: After confessing to ourselves and to God, we need to take the hardest step of finding another person to confess to as well. Notice I implied one person, although 2 or 3 is acceptable but I would not extend it beyond this in most cases (unless there is something that is affecting a large group of people, such as a pastor in need of confessing to his congregation; but that is for another post). The reason for keeping it small is to guard yourself in terms of who gets to speak truth into your life as well as to manage your own vulnerability in sharing something so intimate about yourself. This confession should only take place with a TRUSTED person or persons, so as not to tempt anyone for gossip or in turn, add damage to you as you are in the process of healing. Depending on the nature of the confession, this may be a close and trusted friend (like it was for me) or it may need to be a counselor or pastor (which I have also sought out and utilized for confession in the past). Whomever you choose, the goal of this confession to another human is to acknowledge out loud what you have been dealing with, process it out (just like my son and I did) including your and their current feelings and thoughts, brainstorm together a plan of moving forward toward congruence, and then inviting this person or persons to hold you accountable to walk out the plan you have established. It is amazing the life-change that can result, and that I have seen time and time again, when we let trusted others know those deep, dark things, and then purpose together to walk in the light!
- Confess and then seek Congruence: After you have confessed to your self, God, and someone else, the next step is to begin the re-alignment process. If my son had just stopped at letting me know what he was thinking, but continued to operate in that same line of thinking, he would have ended up in the same place as the first time he ran: in tears and being disciplined. For some of us, this is the way that we learn and it takes us a few times of confessing and doing it again and confessing and doing it again before the next step of congruence really starts to take hold. However, do not be discouraged; congruence is always within reach! We move towards congruence when we look at what we have confessed and determine to step in the other direction. In essence, we follow my son’s example and choose to show how we can walk in obedience and make it to the front porch (not run away again). The best way to begin working towards this is to take a moment and write out (yes WRITE or TYPE so it is in written form and not just floating around in your head) what you want for yourself on the inside. Things like “I want to be pure in my internet usage” or “I want to be content in my own circumstances” or ” I want to be sober from [insert your confession here]” or “I want to be faithful to my spouse in my heart and mind as well as my body” or “I want to uphold my integrity both within and outside of the [classroom, workplace, etc.].” You might even find scripture or quotes that affirm these statements and provide added encouragement and motivation to actually pursue them. These written declarations then give us the guidance and direction in which we can re-align our thoughts and actions. When you begin to think or do something in opposition (remember square block in round hole), it is time to stop, evaluate, confess if needed, and try again.
This week, I encourage you to take some time for soul-searching and see if anything prompting confession surfaces. If you are thinking it “might be” something, odds are that it is, and a safe rather than sorry approach is what I typically take when this happens.
For some of us, congruence is out current state of living, and those around them can see it through the inner joy and peace that seems to overflow into others. If this is you, I ask that you would spend some time praying for those that are not currently enjoying congruence as I am sure quite a few people in your own circle could come to mind.
Some of us, like my son, have little things that pop up here and there that when confessed, help us to learn and grow and continue to operate in the light without too much difficulty. If this is you, enjoy the ease of the confession process and use it to its fullest before something small becomes a bigger concern.
And still for others of us, this will be a life-changing, earth-shifting process where we finally have the courage to expose our deepest, darkest secret to the light, overcome any potential risks, and dive deep into the pursuit of congruence that will ultimately lead to wholeness and harmony within.
Whatever your situation, I pray that we will all heed the wisdom of a small child just being honest with his mommy and take it to heart that it is totally worth it to seek healing, congruence and peace. I promise you, as even my son innocently recognized, these things are always better out than in. ♥