by David Sisler

The woman identified herself as a 23-year-old college graduate, single, and, for the last seven years, a believer in Jesus Christ. Her email is from "Hotmail," one of those great inventions called "an anonymous provider," so I do not know where she lives. And since I am going to call her "Darcey," a name different from the one with which she signed her letter to me, her identity is protected.

Darcey wrote, "A few weeks ago I met a 25-year-old man who seemed interested in going out with me. I didn't ask him if he was a Christian or not, I just gave him my number. When he called me on the phone he expressed very openly his interest in me. Later on in the conversation he confessed he was married, but he told me he wanted to see me anyway.

"I can't pretend I'm innocent. I had been neglecting my personal relationship with God, but I knew the consequences of my actions when I said, ‘Yes.' We met a few days later, went to a motel and had sex. Afterwards I felt emotionally numb."

Darcey told her best friend at church what she had done. Her friend urged her to go to her pastor and confess, but she could not bring herself to be that intimate with anyone else. Surfing the Internet, she found my column, "True Love Waits," which appeared in this newspaper on February 6, 1999. She reached out to a stranger, with the cry, "Please help!"

I have a real problem with the friend's advice to run from one confessional to another, especially when the friend told Darcey, "I won't tell anyone else, if you ask me not to tell." A friend who asks to be put under an obligation to silence would be small comfort to me. Trust that dares the confessional should be automatically returned.

Many talebearers hide behind the appearance of doing good when they say, "So and so told me such and such in confidence, and I am telling you only so you will pray." To violate a confidence in this fashion is unscrupulous gossip. Sadly, some people have a burning desire to see a friend humiliated further and to have that friend's reputation damaged in the eyes of someone else. There is a self-righteous satisfaction in the retelling, because there is usually an inflection in the telling that says, "I would never do such a horrible thing."

St. Benedict suggests that continually asking God to forgive us as we forgive others warns us away from the vice of self-righteousness, and also a lack of love. Genuine concern may prompt us to request prayer for an individual's spiritual struggle, but our prayer partner has absolutely no need to know the specifics of the situation. If you have been so trusted, keep your mouth shut when other people are around. God has no trouble hearing your silence.

Benedict's advice is reminiscent of Paul's challenge to a church in Asia: "Dear brothers, if a Christian is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help him back onto the right path, remembering that next time it might be one of you who is in the wrong."

I think I may have a small understanding of the Roman Catholic confessional. There must be great comfort in speaking to the darkness and hearing the silence answer back with compassion. I told Darcey, "Far greater than the joy of a human voice, is the voice of Jesus. If Jesus spoke out loud to you right now, I think he would tell you what he told the woman who was caught in the act of adultery, ‘Leave the sin behind you, and forgiven by my grace, sin no more.'"

Confession must also look beyond the immediateness of the act which cries out for forgiveness. One of the greatest recorded confessions is from the life of David, Israel's celebrated king. David was sexually unfaithful and committed adultery with a married woman. When the prophet Nathan confronted him with the revelation of what he had done, David repented with great anguish and cried out, "Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight." Ultimately, all sin is against God.

Neither Darcey, nor you, nor I can undo what we have done. I told Darcey, "Physically, you can never be a virgin again. That is obvious. But, spiritually, you can be a virgin again. There is an old saying which is not in Scripture, but it has biblical weight — ‘confession is good for the soul.' You have confessed your sins; now confess his grace and live like a virgin."


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 8/14/99

Copyright 1999 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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