By Amy C. Schifrin
But everybody’s doin’ it, Mom. Everybody’s doin’ it. How many of you have ever said that to a parent? How many of you have ever heard it? We’re always ready to jump off some sort of cliff, to seek some new thrill, to eat some exotic forbidden fruit, to do something that we know is wrong but that we still want to experience. Everybody’s doin’ it.
When we’re kids, we may be trying to impress the kid next door. When we’re teenagers, we think the boundaries were meant for someone else. By the time we’re grown-ups, we’ve learned the game of one-upmanship, and we’ve gotten so much better at deceiving the authorities in our lives.
Somehow, if we get away with breaking the law a little at a time, well, we just think that we can go on doing this — enjoying some guilty pleasure, taking advantage of a younger colleague as we shove our work onto their desk, laughing at someone we think just isn’t as smart, or as attractive, or as cool as we think we are. Everybody’s doing it.
And then there are the things that not everybody’s doing, but a heck of a lot of people are. Gambling away the paycheck that was needed to pay the rent and then yelling at your spouse when she asks where the money is, slapping the whining child when no one else is looking, falsifying the records so that it looks like you’re working when you’re really not, telling your friends a new version of the story where you come out as the aggrieved party when you were really the aggressor. There are thousands of ways in which we are the deceiver, beholden to the one who lies behind all our falsehoods, all our transgressions.
The older we get and the longer we try to hide what we’ve done, the more we will miss of this life. Sin, unconfessed, will kill you. It is as simple as that. As long as we need to project an image of ourselves to those around us that is based in a lie, the sicker we will become.
And I’m not just talking about physical sickness, although at times there is that. I’m talking about the isolation that comes from not being able to trust another living person. I’m taking about the sickness that destroys love, the sickness that causes a someone to act without mercy, the sickness that shows itself in cruelty, in malice, in vindictiveness, and in the wanton destruction of those around us. It’s long been said that the opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is apathy. Not caring what happens to another living human being. Many are the troubles of the wicked. Great troubles remain for the ungodly.
Your house, your yard, your bank account, your gross national product, may look good to those who pass by, but it is all a façade, a slick veneer that keeps you from living the gift of this life that God has given to you for all time. The God who sees all, who knows all, who loves all, and who has mercy on all, suffers great sorrow when we are so turned in upon ourselves, when who we are as human beings wastes away under the weight of sin, when all our life’s energies are thrown into building a wall around ourselves to protect the isolating image that we have done nothing wrong. Holding on and acting as if you could bury your pain will put you in the grave. Simply said, it will eat you alive.
Yet God, in his radiant and luminous mercy, keeps giving us a way to put to death all that binds us to such a living death. Then I acknowledged my sin unto you. I did not hide my iniquity. He who made us in his image and likeness gave us a voice, so that we would speak without guile, so that we would speak his truth, a voice that would pray, a voice that would, at last, rejoice. There is something miraculously healing about saying aloud to another trusted human being what it is that we have done and how we have tried to run from the hand of God, that hand that lies heavy upon us, the holy hand that will not let us go.
Then I acknowledged my sin unto you, and I did not hide my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my sins unto the Lord”; and so you forgave the guilt (wickedness) of my sin. As soon as we open our mouths and our first hesitant stammers come out, our hearts are broken open, for to simply begin one’s confession is a sign of trust, a sign that nothing that we do, no matter how stupid or how terrible, can stop God from being God.
Nothing we can do is mightier than his love for us. This is how faith is given to us again and again and yet again. And I’m not talking here about a general confession, as important as that may be, but individual confession and absolution, when we speak aloud what we have done, how our thoughts and actions have hurt others, and how we have destroyed our own lives when we’ve lived as if God were not there.
God has preserved this psalm for us so that the witness of the psalmist would lead us where God has wanted us to go. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the guilt (wickedness) of my sin. Did you hear it? Did you hear the voice of steadfast love, the mercy that seeks to embrace you?
Parched, like the post-surgical patient who is finally given ice chips to soothe their burning throat, that first word, I did it. It was my fault. I lied. It’s not that everybody’s doin’ it. It’s that I did it. I hurt my husband, I destroyed my wife, I molested my sister, I shook my child, I threw away my best friend, by my fault, by my own fault, by my most grievous fault.
This is where the dam breaks and the healing flows, the water bright and pure, the clearest mountain stream. Like a leper washed clean, whose flesh is made soft and beautiful and, most of all, touchable, so our God works such wonders in our hearts as we hold nothing back from him.
Happy (blessed) are those … in whose spirit there is no deceit.
Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart. This is the life God desires for his people. This is the life he is giving you.
The Rev. Dr. Amy C. Schifrin is associate professor of liturgy and homiletics at Trinity School for Ministry, Ambridge, Pennsylvania.