Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Paula Deen and Confessing the Sins of our Past

Last week Paula Deen, the southern celebrity chef, confessed that in her past she used racial slurs. I don’t know the whole story (none of us likely does), but I was left with the feeling she was being overly criticized for something she did in her past, but which she had changed. As terrible as racial slurs definitely are (and I agree she should have been let go)...

...I want to note what might be her courage to not live with secrets.

I mean, really, don’t we all have some skeletons in our closets, done things for which we are not proud and hope no one finds out.

Many - if not most of us - are highly invested in looking good, aren’t we? We often protect our good-looking image by keeping secrets and as a result we live as tortured souls.

Torture: the practice of deliberately inflicting severe pain and often injury. We may immediately think of terrorist activities. Or interrogation techniques in some dark Gitmo cell. Or maybe just the things siblings do to each other growing up. Torture.

But who would torture themselves?

Yet, we often do without ever realizing it. We carry baggage from experiences and trauma, wounds, scars, secrets that tear us up inside, habitual failures adhere to us like stubborn irritating burrs. Often without realizing it, they lead us to do things that don’t make any sense, that cause us to react disproportionately to a comment, for instance, or a situation we’re in, or pushing us into situations we wake up to like a bad dream.

We’re more familiar with the phrase, "Laughter is good medicine; less familiar perhaps is the one that says, "Confession is good for the soul."

However, we enjoy confession as much as having our eyelids detached. We reason that the price of coming clean is too costly – as Paula Deen would likely attest. We prize too much the false image others have of us.  We fear that someone we care deeply for may not like the "real me." So we live a lie and torture ourselves.

I think of the Apostle Paul at this point: Paul, who rather candidly said to himself first, and then subsequently put in a letter publicly in Romans: "I know the power of sin in my life. The very thing I know to do, I don’t do. And the very thing I know I must not do, I continue doing again and again, over and over." (I mean what kind of person admits this publicly? Right!)

Most of us, if not all of us, are like Paula - I mean Paul - we established patterns long ago that we've been unable to change. Pornography (a billion dollar industry, drawing in almost as many women now as men), gossip, spending, deceit, yelling, anger, anxiety, eating, worry, and the list could go on.

These things often become well-honed practices we are drawn to naturally, but practices we hate ourselves for afterwards. Then we beat ourselves up over this gap between who we are and who we want to be. We hide ourselves behind a mask we slip on in public for others to see, while behind the mask we tell ourselves it’s hopeless and we'll never change.

So what happens? We carry our burden alone while our secrets eat away at our souls – we become tortured souls who picture ourselves destined for the ever-living lake of fire.

A friend reminds me that a secret is something that only one person knows. When it comes to some piece of information about someone else, a secret should indeed be something only one person knows. When I have a secret that I hold, about some wound or failure about myself, which is never brought into the light by me, into the light of God’s grace, then it begins to grow, bloating larger in its power to move me to do things that don’t make any sense, that I – like the Apostle Paul – know I don’t want to do.

Paula Deen - if not Paul the Apostle - teaches us about not keeping secrets and confessing the sins of our past: Sin is empowered by our silence. Wounds remain open and compromised by our persistent habit of protecting our good-looking image.

Way more important, though, is this: The habit of practiced sins meets its match in the habit of practiced confession.  

I have a bias: We can confess to God in the privacy of our proverbial prayer closet, and still live with the secrets that torture our souls. Confession to God may be the first step, and for some a huge one. Yet, the secret can still work its pain, tormenting us, pricking us toward the dark places we don’t want to go. Confession to God is a bold act, necessary because it is a way to confess to ourselves, to stop fooling ourselves. God hears it; and so do we.

Let me suggest something: Sometimes we also need to confess to a trusted person. Does that mean that the whole world needs to know everything? No, of course not. However, it may be your salvation and mine, it may be our key to unlock the full and abundant life promised by Jesus, that at least one other person in the world knows.

I’m convinced that tortured souls are souls that nurture secret wounds and secret sins – two very different things, wounds and sins – but un-confessed they both work the same results; confessed they start to lose there power.

Whether it comes from Paul, the Apostle, or Paula, the celebrity southern chef, we all have something to learn about confessing the sins and wounds of our past.