Confess to one another

vulnerabilitySomebody once said “Confess your sins to the Lord and you will be forgiven, confess them to man and you will be laughed at.”

Okay, I know this is not entirely true. But isn’t it how we feel a lot of the time! That if I confess my sin, if I share my feelings, my heart, or my struggles I will be shamed or embarrassed. I think this stems from our growing up years. I know this is true for myself.

I was introduced to God at a young age. I grew up in the Christian Church and with parents that believed in God. However, who I believed God to be was based more off what I saw in others who said they knew Christ. My view of Him was based off what others said about Him, how others responded to Him, and how I personally felt about Him.

The foundation I began to build was one based off disengaged knowledge rather than an intimate knowing of the Father.

At the time, God was a harsh father who pointed out my failures, crossed His arms, and shook His head in disappointment at me. He was sitting on His comfy chair as far away as possible from me and my smelly crap. He applauded when I succeed, but only for a second. There wasn’t time to celebrate, there’s work to do.

For the first 25 years of my life I saw vulnerability as a weakness. Opening up and willingly sharing my faults was absurd!!! I mean yeah, I knew I was a sinner, duh everyone is, but to share exactly what I struggle with and doing so with brutal honesty, that’s for the weak minded who don’t have enough self-discipline to take care of their “issues.” Live in isolation. No one ever told me to do it. It came naturally.

There is this video of me when I was in Kindergarten. My older sister was filming I think. I was getting ready to go to some girl’s birthday party. I remember thinking she was cute. The whole video was my family joking about me and this girl. You know, “no kissy kissy Michael!!” Or “Michael and Katie, sittin’ in a tree!” Blah, blah, blah. You can tell I was embarrassed. I hated that feeling. I remember from that day on, as a six year old, I’m never telling anyone close to me my feelings towards the opposite sex, or for that matter my vulnerable feelings in general. I’ll just get laughed at!

Still today I battle those deeply held beliefs that if I open up, if I am honest I will be rejected, laughed at, or shamed.

Why do we see vulnerability as a weakness?

Playing basketball in front of 24 thousand fans and millions on tv while in college encouraged two things in me to fester: arrogance and a lack of authenticity. I learned to be comfortable in the lime-light, but not necessarily in the light.

The better things are going for us, the more successful we are, the harder it is to share our faults. We assume others are better off not knowing. That couldn’t be further from the truth though.

1 John 1:5-10 MSG

5 This, in essence, is the message we heard from Christ and are passing on to you: God is light, pure light; there’s not a trace of darkness in him. 6-7 If we claim that we experience a shared life with him and continue to stumble around in the dark, we’re obviously lying through our teeth—we’re not living what we claim. But if we walk in the light, God himself being the light, we also experience a shared life with one another, as the sacrificed blood of Jesus, God’s Son, purges all our sin. 8-10 If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. If we claim that we’ve never sinned, we out-and-out contradict God—make a liar out of him. A claim that only shows off our ignorance of God.

You know, I always thought this meant we were to have this general overarching belief that we are sinners! Which I guess is true obviously, but I never grasped the meat of this passage. I believe living in the light is making being vulnerable a way of life. It is confession on a daily, hourly, and for me a lot of times, minute basis.

Don’t you just cringe sometimes though when you hear the word confess? Does anything good ever follow, “I have something to confess to you.” “Oh yes dear, what is it?” (said no wife ever)

I made hiding sin such a pattern in my life, confessing to another became not just hard, but a fear. I remember struggling with thinking I had to “pretty up” my sin before I brought it before God or another. If I’m honest, I still try to do that at times. I’m learning to place more emphasis on the exposure of things and less on fixing them. If my focus is to fix, then disappointment will be an ever present feeling. Shame will dominant my life. But shame loses its power when exposed to the light. So if exposure is the goal, I just have to bring my broken self.

A lot of you either know or heard parts of my story, heard about my bondage to sin and living a lifestyle filled with shame, isolation, sexual immorality, and deception. I had lived in profession of Christ on the outside, but secretly I was a hypocrite.

I was addicted to sex and porn and the affirmation of the opposite sex to meet my every need. In 2012 I confessed to Bryana (my wife) and others everything I could think of that was hidden. I thought it would ruin my marriage, destroy friendships, and humiliate me to the point of death. I literally felt at the time that taking my life might be the better option than to expose the worst of me!

My back was against the wall, it was like confessing was my only option. I was desperate. Not only was I desperate, I was tired of the pretentious, fake life I was living. I didn’t even realize until the weight was gone how heavy it was.

It was at this moment, humiliated and on my knees, that the level of desperation outweighed the need to keep up on appearances!

I guess you could call it a gift. I was gifted the feeling and the potential of losing everything. I lost the respect of others. I lost my job. I lost the future I wanted. I lost friends. And I was on the brink of losing my wife and kids.

Why confess though? What’s so powerful about confession? I know for myself the power was in the stripping away of pride and the development of intimate relationships. Confessing sin, confessing a lifestyle, a thought pattern, emotions, faults, quirks, it forces us into a place of humility, a place to be molded and shaped by God. Secondly, ironically enough, it strengthens the bond of friendships.

“Nothing so much brings one person in contact with another as the confession of sin. When a friend tells us of his success, he stands at a distance from our heart; when he tells of his guilt with tears, he is very near.” –Fulton Sheen

What is the overarching reason we struggle to confess to others? Is it because I am thinking “what will others think of me?” Is it about losing control? Is it because I believe “my sin struggle” is the worst? Or could it be a struggle to trust another individual, which most likely comes from a place of being wounded and hurt?

How can I better involve others in this process of my struggles?

I struggle to confess for multiple reasons, but the main one has to be that I am ultimately fearful of another person having an unfavorable view of me!! I believe I can control their opinion of me, which is absolutely bogus. Because no matter how hard I try, freaking people still judge, criticize and disagree with me. I have no clue why people would ever disagree with me.

I’ve learned though, that contrary to my default, I will not be abandoned if I am honest. I believe one of the enemy’s greatest ploys is to convince us to live in isolation. Proverbs 18:1 says “whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.” Bonhoeffer tells it like this, “whoever is alone in his sin is utterly alone.”

It takes courage to be open. I believe confession is the beginning of healing. It is the ultimate expression of humility and helplessness.

We are all seeking something out of relationships whether we know it or not. We desire love. We yearn for affirmation. We’d die for worth. We need significance. But the irony is that when we wear masks, only our masks receive the love, affirmation, worth and significance we want so badly from God and others. I am a work in progress for sure, but I am learning to let my true self be seen. It’s weird, because as I do this I feel the most satisfied. Yeah, it’s uncomfortable at times. I’d rather tell Bryana or my close buddies that I ain’t strugglin’ at all, that I haven’t been better. The reality is quite the opposite more often than not though.

Again, here’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer on confession and community:

“In confession there takes place a breakthrough to community. Sin wants to be alone with people. It takes them away from the community. The more lonely people become, the more destructive the power of sin over them. The more deeply they become entangled in it, the more unholy is their loneliness. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of what is left unsaid sin poisons the whole being of a person. This can happen in the midst of a pious community. In confession the light of the gospel breaks into the darkness and closed isolation of the heart. Sin must be brought into the light. What is unspoken is said openly and confessed. All that is secret and hidden comes to light. It is a hard struggle until the sin crosses one’s lips in confession. But God breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron. Since the confession of sin is made in the presence of another Christian, the last stronghold of self-justification is abandoned. The sinner surrenders, giving up all evil, giving the sinner’s heart to God and finding the forgiveness of all one’s sin in the community of Jesus Christ and other Christians. Sin that has been spoken and confessed has lost all of its power. It has been revealed and judged as sin. It can no longer tear apart the community.”

If I could encourage us in one area, it would be to make a daily practice of letting go of who we think we are supposed to be and allow others in on who we really are.

I still crave affirmation and attention from others, but I am learning to first be filled by Christ. To wait patiently for the worth and value He places on my life.

Psalm 51:17 says “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

I want to be known, not as the guy who has it altogether, but as the one who is altogether broken before God.

-Michael

Don’t be deceived

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” -Sir Walter Scott

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You say you’re in control, but what you do behind closed doors speaks a different story. Hey man how’s your purity? “Oh good, good,” you say. “You know, like, I’m trying to ‘bounce’ my eyes.” Yeah, okay. ‘In control’ is one of those terms we use liberally. What does it actually mean…to you? In control is not appearing to be pure, but in reality you just looked at porn last night (side note, some of you may justify what you looked at not as porn because of ‘this’ reason or ‘that,’ but whatever you want to call it, it has the same damn…ing effects). In control is not showing fake vulnerability, sharing how lust has definitely been a struggle, when you have been secretly having an affair or visiting prostitutes or strip clubs or bikini baristas or massage parlors for a happy ending. We feel most in control when we think we can manage or manipulate one’s opinion about us. We share to the point we are comfortable in being labeled. I think that shows your deepest belief, your deepest motivation, the driving force for your life. My friend, let us put off the façade and the masks we so habitually wear. Can we change the definition of being “put-together?” What if the new normal within the Christian community was admitting the messiness within us, and the crazy person was the one that was always just fine with no problems whatsoever? Don’t be deceived about your current state. Be brutally honest with yourself, with our gracious Father, and with a few select others. Figure out the real reason you want to appear so grandiose to others and start admitting it. Your hidden life, and if you’re a man reading this you MOST LIKELY have a hidden life sexually to one degree or another, has to be brought to the light. Don’t be deceived, you will never, seriously, never experience freedom if not. If you decide to keep those parts of you in the dark forever, then that will reveal what you are truly living for. There is no on the fence, you have to choose. The web is sticky!

 

-Michael

 

 

When the mask is removed

I couldn’t bear to look at my wife’s face. She was sitting on the couch adjacent from me with tears falling from her eyes into a puddle in the palm of her hands.This was the moment I’d feared for who knows how long. I was sharing the darkest parts of myself to the woman I’d been married to for five years. I somehow thought I was doing her a favor all this time by sparing her the pain of my hidden life, but actually I was only adding black powder to the bomb that was imminently going to blow up. The world we knew was about to be forever changed. The exposure of disastrous lies made me think this was about to be the death of me. And in so many ways it was. It was the death of dreams I had, the death of certain friendships, the death of an image I tried tireless to uphold, and not least the death of a lifestyle.

I always thought it was my appearance that mattered. Now it’s my shattered appearance that draws me to Jesus. As I write, so many emotions are overwhelming my heart. It’s weird because I never was that guy that wore his emotions on his sleeve. I was too tough for that. I was a real man, ya know? It all changed when reality really, I mean really, dawned on me that I was a completely broken, needy person, that was behind the bars of sin. It was humiliation of a shattered appearance that brought me to my knees. In May of 2012, the walls I’d built up, the fortress I’d created, the masks I wore, it all fell. As I sat in front of my wife confessing, I thought for sure our marriage was over. Behind the mask was a man who spent ten years relying on pornography to meet his deepest need. A constant let down. A man that had been married for five years and had multiple affairs. A man that visited strip clubs. A lying, manipulative, secretive, self-seeking man that thought he had it all together. A man that went to church and professed Christ outwardly, but inwardly was a prisoner to sexual sin. A man whose identity was wrapped up in playing basketball at the University of Kentucky.84158576 My appearance was in tact, but inside I was a mess.

I quickly learned growing up that people liked me more when I was successful in sports. They talked to me more, smiled at me, patted me on the back and told me I was really going to be something someday. I mattered most when I was the best and everyone was talking about it. Not narcissistic at all right? I mattered when my performance was above the standard. I desired deeply to matter and I knew how to achieve it.

I didn’t know it then but I was structuring my life to have significance based on what others thought of me. So I learned to manipulate and manage my persona to appear worthy of one’s praise. I was faking an image so I could be valuable to another. Living behind this mask I learned to impress, but no one ever told me that impressing is not the same as connecting. Yet connecting is what I yearned for. I wanted to be important and affirmed because of me, not simply for what I could do. Impressing others kept others at arm’s length, sometimes miles away. Connecting meant being known by another individual.

As I continued to grow up, I feared being known because I felt the real me was sick, weak, perverted and worthless. On the inside I believed the most shameful parts of my life would define me if they were ever exposed. On the outside I played an Oscar-winning role as the confident hero. I saw porn for the first time at age 12 at a friend’s house. I knew something was horribly wrong with it and it weighed heavily on my conscience. But there was something about this fantasy world that drew me in. I understood correct church morals: no cussing, no drinking, and always be polite and respectful. The best part for an image-conscious person like me was that secret porn allowed me to protect a public image. While some of my friends had no shame about porn, I acted like I was above it. Sin was more a sin to me when done or said around others.

By high school I really began enjoying the attention of girls. A smile, a flirtatious comment, a hug or a touch spoke volumes to me. Female attention made me feel awesome, manly and courageous. So along with sports I added “girls” to the affirmation list. In the fall of 2002 Bryana Malone and I developed a friendship that we knew was something more. She wore my football jersey every Friday night. I loved her free spirit, her love for Jesus and her strong convictions. I genuinely thought I could respect her boundaries (and wanted to at first) but I was still addicted to porn. Not only that, I had already experimented sexually with other girls. It was difficult enough being a 16-year-old boy with a beautiful girlfriend, but because I never let anyone in on my struggles my chances of success were basically zero.

I lived with constant anticipation of my next sexual experience with Bryana. Our sexual sin always delivered on its promise of pleasure, even if only for a brief second. Eventually our desire overtook our will power and we were crossing boundaries we never thought we would. Bryana always suggested we talk to someone, get help or be held accountable. But my pride wouldn’t let me. We would do better next time, I always reasoned. I thought I could push through this (just like I had in sports). I became more and more deceived by how helpless I truly was. I would talk to God about this but I was certain He was just fed up with me. Though my athletic accomplishments made me appear successful on the outside, on the inside I was crumbling because I kept failing to please God by the standards I presupposed Him to judge me by. This pattern continued on into college and then marriage.

Living 2,500 miles away from Bryana during my first year in college, I took advantage of this independence and took up a life of sleeping around and partying. People must have been perplexed by the extreme hypocrisy in my life. I hid it all from Bryana. We got married the summer of 2007. I thought the struggles I had (I use the word struggle loosely. I felt guilty but struggle would mean there was two opposing forces. I just gave in to my sin constantly) would go away because of marriage. Seriously, I really thought that. I was sure the freedom of being able to have sex whenever and not feel convicted would cure my problems. And it did for a while. Then reality set in and my old life slowly crept back. I began to find ways to hide parts of my life. It worked­–until I got caught. All my flaws and weaknesses were exposed. On one hand I felt relief, but on the other hand vulnerabilities pain just about overtook me.

I always thought a weakness meant being a failure and failing was not an option. I knew I could “out grit” anyone or anything and accomplish the task in front of me. I saw toughness as godly and flaws as weakness. So I bolstered my strengths and hid my weaknesses. I thought God was looking down on me, ready to call me a wimp or be angry if I backed down from a fight or didn’t push through a challenge. So I never did.

Now I shout my weaknesses to the world. There’s a story in Luke 8 about a woman with a hemorrhage. For 12 years this uncontrollable flow of blood plagued her. One day, in what seems to be a last-ditch effort, she reaches out to Jesus. In the Message Version, Luke tells it like this: “When the woman realized that she couldn’t remain hidden, she knelt trembling before Him. In front of all the people, she blurted out her story–why she touched Him and how at that same moment she was healed (8:47-48).” It’s crazy how much I relate to this story. When I used to read the Bible I wanted to relate to David slaying Goliath or Peter walking on water. But the lady with the hemorrhage? Really? Oh well…brandon20bradley20-20broken_dreams[1]In May of 2012, when I realized I couldn’t remain hidden anymore, I knelt trembling before my Lord. For the last four years, I choose to blurt out my story. Not because it feels good. Oh, absolutely not. It sucks really. It’s painful. But the magnification of my ugliness leaves an immense amount of room for the magnification of God’s glory. I get to share the healing power of our Lord. It’s not that He made me perfect. No, I am far from that. It’s that He has shown me I am perfectly complete in Him. And the best part about the end of Luke 8, Jesus replies with “you took a risk in trusting Me, and now you’re healed and WHOLE.” I always thought that I had to come to God “put together” for Him to be proud of me. Now I know it’s the broken Michael He desires. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).

Psalm 69:33 says “For The Lord hears the needy and does not despise His own people who are prisoners.” While I literally did spend time in prison because of my sins, I believe this is talking about those incarcerated to their sins. When I finally cried out to God, when I told Him that He could do whatever it took and I didn’t care what it would cost me, He was faithful to rescue, to bail me out. When I finally valued the presence of Christ in the darkest room of my heart over what people would think of me, over future pursuits, over appearing like a godly man, the chains of sin lost their power.

I always thought it was best to keep my struggles to myself, ya know, between me and God. Now I think that the prayers of a righteous person have incredible power and my struggles need to be confessed to those individuals. Only when I am courageous enough to allow others to dive into the depths of my darkness, am I able to experience the freedom of the light. The ironic thing about our life is that generally we think for our light to shine bright we need to make sure everything in our life looks good and spiritual and healthy. If it’s all in place people will be like, “wow, look at him!” And I’m like “yeah, look at me.” But if people were to see the broken things in me and see God work gloriously in and through them, people will be like “wow, look at God!” And I will be like “yeah, look at Him.” But too often I want people to look at me. But I can’t make much of God and me at the same time. “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

Through the pain and near-intolerable consequences Bryana suffered for my sin she showed me grace. This grace and patience she extended to me could have only come through her intimate knowing of Jesus. She spent many days having to play the role of a single mother. She should have left. She had every right. But I am so thankful for her decision to seek the Lord’s guidance in calling her to stay with this broken man.IMG_0517

Now, four years removed, I am thankful my life fell apart. I’m not proud that I hurt so many people in the process, but the work God does in the broken places has proven Him faithful. It was His gentle discipline in my life that gave me the assurance I was one of His own. I still have to be on guard for my blindness. It is still a struggle to live a lifestyle of vulnerability. This vulnerability requires total dependency on Christ and the distractions of daily life often pull my focus away from that dependency. I rely on Jesus more and more for my purity, but I also remind myself constantly to be connected and frighteningly open with a small band of brothers.

I still care too much about what I look like, sound like and perform like. But I am free now to allow others into my weaknesses. My marriage is healthier than it has ever been, yet we still have much to work through. I still crave affirmation, significance and worth, but I am learning to find that first in my Father God. All my life I’ve seen God through a veil of shame, standing on the other side of my big pile of sin. Now I know He is forever by my side loving me even in my failure. He wants all of me, not just the parts I deem worthy.