Where Pride Dies

In confession we break through to the true fellowship of the Cross of Jesus Christ, in confession we affirm and accept our cross…The old man dies, but it is God who has conquered him. Now we share in the resurrection of Christ and eternal life. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

No, we won’t bring him back. We’ll leave him all alone at home when we go.

And as soon as the words were off my tongue the prick was on my heart. This sister had only asked a simple question: Would I bring her Nicky back when we came over later? I should simply have said Yes. 

Whence came those cutting words?

The Sinful Root

They surprised me- those words with edgy, bitter flavor. Why such sarcasm?

In a word-pride. In two-wounded pride. In three-I felt mistrusted. As Bonhoeffer wrote, The root of all sin is pride. And, The mind and flesh of man are set on fire by pride. And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. 

Joan’s question messed with that. It took my pride to task. I took pride in being competent. Pride in being capable. Pride in being trustworthy.

Not, by the way, that competence or ability or being thought trustworthy are bad things. They’re not. They’re good things. But taking pride in them is a bad thing. And though my friend assured me her question wasn’t borne of distrust, my fragile, wounded ego took it that way. And wounded right back.

The Way Out

Then, via confession, was I ushered to the place of grace. By way of confession was I led to the place of the Cross. Where pride dies and mercy reigns.

Confession in the presence of a brother is the profoundest kind of humiliation. It hurts, it cuts a man down, it is a dreadful blow to pride. To stand there before a brother as a sinner is an ignominy that is almost unbearable. In the confession of concrete sins the old man dies a painful, shameful death before the eyes of a brother. (Life Together, p. 114)

Not that that’s bad, either. Scripture’s plain: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. And, If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. Then, if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. And, Take up your cross and follow me. 

And Bonhoeffer continues,

It was none other than Jesus Christ himself who suffered the scandalous, public death of a sinner in our stead…It is nothing else but our fellowship with Jesus Christ that leads us to the ignominious dying that comes in confession, in order that we may in truth share in his Cross. The Cross of Jesus Christ destroys all pride. We cannot find the Cross of Jesus if we shrink from going to the place where it is to be found, namely, the public death of the sinner. (p. 114)

Easier to Confess to God

And public death- ignominious, embarrassing, shameful death- happens in the place of confession. But we refuse this Cross, this good death of flesh, when we are too ashamed to take on the shameful death of the sinner in confession. 

Confession is humiliating. And especially humiliating when we confess to a living, breathing, fellow saint and sinner. That’s harder for many of us than going straight to the throne of grace. 

Bonhoeffer calls us to ask ourselves,

[W]hether we have not been deceiving ourselves with our confession of sin to God, whether we have not rather been confessing our sins to ourselves and also granting ourselves absolution?…Who can give us the certainty that, in the confession and forgiveness of our sins, we are not dealing with ourselves but with the living God? 

God gives us this certainty through our brother. Our brother breaks the circle of self- deception. 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. In the presence of a brother the sin has to be brought into the light. (p. 116)

Humiliate comes from Latin humiliat, and that means “made humble” or “to bring low.” It’s a inch from humble. And humble yourself under the mighty hand of God. And so this sort of humiliation of confession to a fellow Christian is a good. It’s healing and right- a good thing.

Humbled At The Cross

So the Spirit of Christ led me to the place of the Cross. There I confessed,

Joan, I’m sorry for my sarcastic words. I should have just said “yes.” Would you forgive me? 

Forgiveness is always an undeserved gift. Joan gave me that gift when I confessed. And that kind of humiliating, friend-to-friend confession, said Bonhoeffer, is given to us by God in order that we may be sure of divine forgiveness. And I am sure. I am forgiven.

He who confesses and forsakes his sin finds mercy. I found it, there. In confession, at the cross. Where-in necessarily humiliating fashion- pride dies.

And that is a very good thing.

If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:9
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. 
James 5:16


When Everything Means Nothing

Thank you God for everything in this world.

Such was Gabe’s rush to pizza prayer before dinner last night. I followed up with with some “thanks-for-everything” means “thanks-for-nothing” motherly instruction.  Be specific, boys. God wants to hear the details.  Thank Him for two good times you had today.  

Then, this morning the AM talk show was abuzz with Hillary’s Benghazi “non-apology, apology.” During her interview with Diane Sawyer earlier this week, Clinton took “full responsibility” for the the tragic events at the US Consulate. ( When the host asked Senator Ron Johnson about the apology, he took her to task, claiming that such broad brush regret was no regret at all. 

What, he asked, is she saying she is responsible forShe just wants it all behind her. What about Benghazi does she really take responsibility for? Johnson queried.  For reducing the number of troops in Syria?  For failing to respond to calls for help? What exactly is she taking responsibility for? 

In the span of 12 hours from Gabe’s dinner time grace to the morning talk exchange, I was reminded twice. Be specific. 

Apologies, like thanks, are best well-defined. Sorry for everything is nearly as bad as Sorry if you’re angry, or Sorry if you feel hurt. None are truly healing confessions; for you or the offended. Own up. Specifics means more.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote Life Together in 1938 while sharing his life with twenty-five vicars in an “illegal” seminary on the border of Germany and Poland. The last chapter of the book, “Confession and Communion,” impressed me when I first read it more than a decade ago and shape me still.

Besides telling why it is easier to confess to God rather than a sister or brother, and what’s wrong with self-forgiveness, Bonhoeffer explains why confession of specific sins is so important.

People usually are satisfied when they make a general confession. But one experiences the utter perdition and corruption of human nature, in so far as this ever enters into experience at all, when one sees his own specific sins. Self examination on the basis of all Ten Commandments will therefore be the right preparation for confession.  Otherwise it might happen that one could still be a hypocrite even in confessing to a brother and thus miss the good of the confession.  p. 117

Sorry I lost my temper before church last Sunday.  Sorry I didn’t wait for you to finish your thought before I butted in.  Not, Sorry for everything. 

Specific matter when we give thanks, too. I thank Jim that he got the shirts right out of the dryer before they wrinkled and that he surprised me with my favorite hot-fudge sundae, with chopped nuts.  Not, Thanks for everything, Hon.  

I suspect it means more to God when Gabe thanks him for the fun lunch we ate in Bryce’s treehouse and these yummy chocolate straws than for everything.  In everything give thanks, Paul wrote to the Thessalonian church. Yes! But not in one breath. You know: Count your blessings, name them one by one…

The Sweet Psalmist knew nitty-gritty; he thanked God for enemies stumbling, well-dug pits, forgiveness and answered prayers.  

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart. I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.  Psalm 9:1

Ann Voskamp’s best-selling, One Thousand Gifts, is a probing, reflective description- and prescription-of thanking God in specifics.  

In counting gifts, to one thousand, more, I discover that slapping as sloppy brush of thanksgiving over everything in my life leaves me deeply thankful for very few things in my life….I testify: life-changing gratitude does not fasten to a life unless nailed through with one very specific nail at a time.  p. 57

It’s in naming the details, I think, that we actually magnify the Lord with thanksgiving. Microscopes magnify contours of a finger tip and scales on a hair. Thanking God in specifics makes Him look bigger, magnifies Him, for all who hear the thanks.

So I recount some specific gifts: a warm June breeze and a lovely Luna moth, an honest exchange with quiet son and a sneak-out-of-bed kiss from the other one. I thank God those things. Not for everything, but for those things.

Because I’m learning, In thanks as in confession, everything means nothing.