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Losing Keys and Shame-free Confession (Days 13 & 14)

Losing keys, for our author, is an experience of apocalyptic proportions. Yes, in an earth-shattering sense—her States of Searching for Lost Objects will be all too familiar for most of us. But she also means apocalyptic in its literal sense: an unveiling or uncovering.

In my anger, grumbling, self-berating, cursing, doubt, and despair [the Stages!], I glimpsed, for a few minutes, how tightly I cling to control and how little control I actually have. And in the absence of control, feeling stuck and stressed, those parts of me that I prefer to keep hidden were momentarily unveiled. (52)

I was speaking with someone recently who noted that his actions during a tense moment with a loved one betrayed him. I think he meant that he let himself down with his actions, but there’s also a sense in which his actions in the moment unmasked the feelings and thoughts that were always already there. They betrayed a truth about him.

Unveiling and unmasking are not particularly pleasant experiences, at least in the context of our own shortcomings. And in keeping with this chapter’s focus, I’m not talking about the monumental failures, but rather the inevitably daily evidences that I am not fully the grounded, loving person I long to be—husband, friend, co-worker, pastor, neighbor.

I think Tish is right that these “ordinary” failures are usually triggered by corresponding ordinary frustrations.

There are people who face profound agony every day: chronic pain, heart-wrenching loss, desperation. In my own life there have been seasons of deep sorrow. But this is not that. This is the roadside ditch of broken things and lost objects, the potholes of gloom and unwanted interruptions. (53)

And I’m drawn to her suggestion that “[t]hese moments are an opportunity for formation, for sanctification” (54). Now I know “opportunity” is often a euphemistic way of trying to put a good spin on something (“This quiz is an opportunity to show what you’ve learned…”), but here I think there’s some substance to it:

These moments are an opportunity to practice a profound spiritual third way, which avoids two familiar temptations—self-condemnation and self-justification (59). The former tears self down, which is not Good News. The latter heaps on excuses, mostly to avoid the former—but isn’t Good News, either.

The third way is repentance, or confession. Confession deals in honesty and realistic assessment—but never in shame or tearing down. That’s the tricky part, to learn how to admit I’ve failed while not considering myself a failure, to learn how to admit wrongs done without mixing it up with my value or worth.[^1] Confession has as its aim forgiveness and grace—which is very Good News.

I’m thinking this may be a practice I’ll borrow from this book—to see the exasperating, unveiling interruptions of my day as “opportunities” to exercise a bit of shame-free, honest assessment and confession. And if the use of the word “opportunity” doesn’t make me smile, maybe the experience of Grace will.

[^1]: As Pastor Chris has been preaching in the most recent sermon series, “Shame says I am bad; guilt says I did bad. Shame has no place in the Gospel. Guilt can be our teacher.”

Eating Sacred Meals (Days 15 & 16)

Dungeon or Temple? (Days 11 & 12)