by Joanie Butman
The Fourth of July is more than parties, parades and fireworks. Choosing to declare independence from Great Britain marked the birth of a great nation. Choosing personal freedom, on the other hand, won’t give rise to a new nation per se, but will most definitely be the first step towards a new cre-ation. This event may not call for a national holiday, but it’s a decision that will be life-changing and one that will allow you to embrace life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness the way God (and our forefathers) intended.
We may not be subjects of Britain any longer, but we’re all held captive by something. Perhaps it’s a habit or self-loathing, guilt, unforgiveness, bitterness, anger, regret or just our past in general. The list is probably longer than the grievances against the King of England enumerated in the Declaration of Independence.
Confession used to be the cure to release these bonds of sin. I’m not sure whether the sacrament of confession is practiced by other religions, but it was an integral part of my Catholic experience growing up. When I attended Catholic grammar school, confession was mandatory every Friday, and the entire class would be led into the church for absolution. To pass the time while waiting our turn we’d rehearse the prescribed prayer and discuss the sins we needed to confess – including talking in church. I got some good material, and definitely some questionable ideas, from the transgressions of my fellow students. I probably corrupted a few along the way as well with my own confessions (to my peers) that I would never admit to the priests because they all knew my parents! When you entered the dark confessional, you’d begin:
Bless me father for I have sinned, it’s been a week since my last confession (unless, of course, you missed last week which was a sin unto itself). Since then I have…
Based on the conversations, even at our young age, a lot can happen in a week! Not only did you have to list your sins, you needed to itemize how many times you committed them and whether they were venial or mortal in nature. That’s a lot to remember. And don’t think people weren’t watching in judgment to see how long you spent in there. Jokingly, my dad once told me that’s how he’d choose his dates. He’d wait in the back of the church to see which girl stayed in the confessional the longest, then go ask her out!!
All kidding aside, confession may have been a panacea for others, but I didn’t take it seriously back then. Only now can I appreciate the freedom and healing an honest examination of conscience and confession can offer whether you choose to do it in a confessional, at a healing service, or in the privacy of your own home. Jesus was the cure then and will always remain the only remedy for our sinfulness. Even so, the antidote doesn’t come without pain because facing your own capacity for sin isn’t pretty. As the song goes, recognizing your own wretchedness allows you to experience the amazing power of grace. Choosing to confess may be an excellent place to start, but it’s just the first step. Without total surrender inner healing will never be complete. Much like the sins I withheld from the confessional, there were those I stubbornly refused to release until recently, and I paid dearly for that choice.
I struggled most of my life from the residual effects of the steady diet of shame and condemnation the nuns of my youth force-fed me. I’ve seen firsthand the corrosive power of unresolved shame, which is different than guilt. Guilt is not meant to be a chronic state of being but a divine diagnostic tool – a moral compass indicating the need for a course correction. Conversely, shame is a deep-seated sense of unworthiness. Guilt points you towards God. Shame turns you away from Him leaving you adrift in a sea of disgrace. Guilt condemns the action. Shame condemns the person. My devotional this morning said it beautifully, “God detests wrongdoing, but He delights in you.” Guilt left untreated is toxic and permeates your entire life robbing your capacity for joy.
Through years of Bible study I understood that I had God’s forgiveness. The problem was forgiving myself and a number of other people in my life I didn’t even realize I was harboring ill will towards (like my misguided elementary school nuns). Why it took me so long to realize that unforgiveness was the very thing keeping me “stuck” remains a mystery to me. Jesus had been trying to tell me so for years, but apparently unforgiveness was blocking my hearing as well. If there is any comfort or encouragement I can offer others in the same boat, it’s that Jesus will never give up on you. It’s why He’s called the Hound of Heaven. As long as you’re in a relationship with Him, you are on the road to healing.
It’s been noted that John Adams wrote to his wife in regard to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, “It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”* It’s ironic that my own day of deliverance fell very close to July 4th, adding a new dimension to my celebrations from then on. Though I am grateful for the liberties the founding fathers of this country fought to provide, I am even more grateful to my Heavenly Father for sending His Son to take up the ultimate battle against sin, freeing us from condemnation once and for all. It is for that reason that I choose to say proudly, “In God I Trust.”
The minority may eventually succeed in eliminating In God We Trust from our currency and maybe even as our national motto, which would be a dishonor as that edict is the foundation on which this country was formed. As a personal motto, it is also the foundation on which I stand. Life can rob you of almost everything, but no one can ever take away your ability to choose to trust in God. That truth is something to celebrate!!!