I’ve always found the fungi kingdom fascinating. During the days of my teenaged, knobby-kneed forest wanderings, I received one of my all-time favorite books: All That the Rain Promises and More by David Arora. It’s a slim, yellow-spined volume with a startling cover, designed to fit snugly inside cargo short pockets. Hundreds of glossy, vibrant pages divulge the secrets and signs of an array of west coast mushrooms, from those that are delicious in stir-fry to those that would send you on an expensive trip to the hospital.
Unfortunately, I didn’t own this field manual as a toddler.
As I dug up earthworms in my Easter dress sometime in the latter years of the 90’s, I discovered and devoured some delicious looking toadstools, then enthusiastically sought my mother to share my snack with her. Instead of partaking, she darted for the kitchen cupboard and pulled out an amber-glassed bottle full of brown, sticky syrup and administered enough ipecac to rid me of my potentially fatal meal.
That memory returns to me whenever I revisit James 5:15-16.
“And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
Confession is unpleasant, so I hate it. But when I ingest spiritual toadstools, the lusts of my flesh and the lies of the Enemy, the healthiest action I can take is to purge them. Confessing my sin is too much like vomiting in the presence of others; it’s embarrassing, messy, ugly. But when I do it, the poison inside of me comes out, where it can’t hurt me anymore.
I find it too easy to make excuses in order to hold toxins inside of me instead of emptying my guts while leaned against the shoulder of the Body of Christ. My mother, a godly woman, is always a safe place, but I often hold back because even nurses need to take shifts so they’re not covered in rankness all the time.
I do need to keep in mind this passage’s context: James is instructing congregations to ask elders to tend to their spiritual needs. Therefore, I ought to be mindful and vomit forward onto mature Christians who can faithfully receive the uncomfortable blessing of cleaning up my mess. God has equipped them for this job, and they will have wise, scriptural advice to dispense. But if I vomit on a spiritual baby, one who’s fragile in faith and has yet to grow into the role of tending to the hurting, they’ll just be covered in my mess without the ability to process it properly; while still being authentic, I need to consider their needs above mine. (Phil. 2:4)
But I too often use this legitimate caution as an excuse to hide.
A couple weeks ago, I was bogged down by my own bitterness that troubled my sleep and caused my head to ache, all the while making excuses to avoid confession. My to-do list told me to make a business call to a lovely, Christian mentor in my life. Now, I’ve grown smarter but not wiser: I didn’t want to tell her about the poison I’d been digesting, because I knew what was going to happen if I did. It would be humiliating, I reasoned. I wouldn’t want to ruin her day.
But she’s more discerning than I am. She carefully pried into my heart, introducing a spoonful of ipecac into my system. It all started to come up – my week’s bitterness and failures – and she metaphorically held my hair and patted my back over the phone. Then we prayed, and I knew I should have called her earlier in the week and been more forthright. Despair was disarmed. When my sinful darkness is exposed to the light, it withers and loses its grip on me. The door now opened wide to repentance, an irresistible invitation to chase after God instead of my inclinations. God is faithful to forgive and heal me through confession and the prayers of the righteous.
I always need to confess, and then go to the Word to complete my recovery. Have you ever been told to drink milk when you’re sick to your stomach? It’s supposed to neutralize the poison in your system and therefore reduce organ damage. This friend, my nursemaid and mother in Christ, after I had vomited all over her, started to spoonfeed me a little scripture – the sincere milk of the Word, the very thing I ought to be digesting. (1 Pet. 2:2) It’s the precious remedy that nourishes me with the strength to obey, guides me away from what is evil, and makes me capable to learn from Him and my yokemate nurses, so I can grow to bless and minister to others, too.
When I fail to cling to scripture as my guide and the lies of the Enemy and wants of my flesh build up inside of me, I need to openly confess, because that is the cure my Father has prescribed.