Arthur Dimmesdale, a minister in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic The Scarlet Letter, hides a secret: he has engaged in a secret love affair and fathered an illegitimate child.
While he continues to present a spotless appearance to the town, he allows the mother of his child to bear the shame for the incident and wear a scarlet “A” on her breast. The weight of his past sin causes him to suffer from a mysterious illness so much so that a mark forms on his own chest — the mark an outward sign of his inward turmoil.
Eventually, when the weight of his deed becomes too heavy for him to bear, Dimmesdale comes clean in front of the village. Yet, when he does, he collapses and dies — as the difficulty of telling the truth takes a toll on his weak heart.
Although his actions contribute to a thrilling tale, I have to submit the idea that most likely Dimmesdale would not die from telling the truth in real life. He most likely would live from it. Truth-telling is an essential part of the healing process, and while we may feel like we’re dying from the excruciating act of professing an unsavory action — the toll it takes will be momentary and afterwards will be a wonderful freedom for us.
We need only look at John 5:1-13 to see how Jesus directs us to confess and share our stories. In the passage, He heals a lame man and then instructs him to walk into town:
Then Jesus said to him, ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.’ At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, ‘It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.’ … So they asked him, ‘Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?’ The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.”
Several things stand out to me about this passage.
1. Sharing our story helps to break the power of the sin in our life.
Essentially, what Jesus was doing in asking the lame man to “carry his mat” was share his story. As I stated in a previous discussion, the lame man was most likely in the condition he was in because of sin. Everyone would see the mat that he had lain on for thirty-eight years and remember his previous life. We may feel that carrying our mat makes a “public momento” of our sin, as one commentator put it. However, I believe one reason Jesus asked the lame man to carry his mat was not to humiliate him but to show that he was no longer bound to his past.
For me, carrying my mat has been both the making of the cure public and the cure itself. Jesus revealed to me in the healing process I have been walking in that I had an addiction to approval and had made many wrong choices to gain acceptance. I had experimented with some same-sex relationships as a teenager — and looked for that acceptance in other ways as an adult, particularly from the males around me. Even as a former high school teacher, I had cultivated the worship of my classes and had a male fan club in every class. Although this never ended up in a relationship of any kind, I certainly encouraged attention because of my own low self-worth.
He wanted me to go back to people in my past and apologize for my part in wrong relationships and tell them how I was changing. This also included going back to some women where I had been flirtatious around their husbands, my teaching community and the families of my students — and some pastors at my church to talk about what God was doing in me.
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. (James 5:16)
While I have always sought out prayer for healing, the verse makes it clear that confession is equally as important. Not just individual confession, but at times a more public confession, whether this be to a close friend or people in your realm. Let me stress that a public confession doesn’t always have to happen, and we need to be wise about the words we use. A private confession to God is what He asks for, and if the sin involved others in a public way, then He may nudge us to go and make a more corporate admission. Other times, we may find a burden lift when we share our struggle with a friend or small group. (See more on guidelines for this in my note after the post.)
Henry W. Wright, author of A More Excellent Way: Be in Health, asserts that not being forthright can actually hinder healing. A woman at one of his seminars felt convicted during the course of his teaching and stood up and confessed her sin. Wright notes that she was healed of five incurable diseases on the spot. He felt God saying to him, “Because she has humbled herself before Me and before you and this congregation, I am going to deliver her and heal her.” She came back to the next year’s seminar and gave her testimony.
Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy. (Proverbs 28:13)
Even though my own process has been very embarrassing for me in many ways, I have experienced this same freedom in making public what I felt was so shameful about my past. Many of us are afraid to do this because of what it will cost us, but the Bible gives a clear link between confession and healing.
2. Sharing our story will sometimes go against societal norms.
One thing that we cannot overlook in this passage is that Jesus purposely healed the lame man on the Sabbath knowing that the Jewish leaders would view both the healing and the man’s mat-carrying (burden-bearing) as Sabbath-rest violations. The reaction by the community was certainly not favorable. As soon as the man stepped away from Jesus, he was immediately pounced on by Jewish leaders and questioned.
In reaching out to people from my past as well as my former students and their families, I have been walking a path that has very much defied tradition. However, Jesus has been teaching me through this process that it is more important to follow Him and obey Him even if His ways are unconventional.
Far too often, we judge the rightness of a thing based on whether or not we are comfortable with it or we’ve seen other people do it. But this passage shows us that Jesus’ commands should always have dominion over our man-made rules and preferences.
Despite the discomfort the lame man must have felt in being questioned, Jesus used the man’s healing and mat-bearing as an instructional point for the Jews. In a later passage, Jesus explained with perfect articulation why He cured the man and asked him to bear a load on the Sabbath (5:17). The hard-to-wrap ourselves around truth is that there are painful and uncomfortable moments to our healing — but Jesus always has a purpose for those uncomfortable places. Jesus often has us walk through momentary discomfort because He knows there is healing for us on the other side.
3. We have authority to share our story because of our personal encounters with Jesus.
The lame man had very little understanding of who Jesus was when He was healed, but he had authority to speak because of his experience with Jesus and Jesus’ directive to him. Many of us shrink back and don’t speak because we don’t have a title or feel that we are adequate enough in God’s eyes.
However, despite the lame man’s speckled history, Jesus chose the man as a public display of His miraculous power.
‘You are my witnesses,’ declares the LORD, ‘and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he.’ (Isaiah 43:10)
Not only have I had to complete some really hard assignments in repenting of past sins, Jesus has wanted me to further carry my mat by sharing my experiences with others in my blog. I’ve had many a night sweating over the posts I will have to release the next day. I know that telling the truth is going to get other people healed. But I have had this conversation with God before publishing my posts: Maybe someone else should do this. Someone with more knowledge. Someone more spiritual.
In reaching back into my past, I’ve had a lot of questions from the people I’ve contacted, and my answers haven’t always been eloquent. I have been piecing together the truth as I’ve been going along. But we see from John 5 that we are God’s witnesses not because we know everything but because of our personal encounters with Him.
The lame man had “no idea who it was” who healed him (5:13), but even that witness of him carrying his mat was enough to pave the way for Jesus to come in and explain some important truths about the Sabbath at a later time (5:17). Jesus can accomplish much from what author and blogger Bonnie Gray refers to as our “unfinished” places.
Picking up your mat when Jesus requests you to share your story may feel hard and wrong, but that may be a key part of your healing or the healing of others. For when you share your story, rather than have it buried inside, crippling you, the mat you once used to lie on becomes the one you can carry openly as you walk upright through the streets.
Stay tuned next week as I dive into Part Three of the healing series.
Last week I noted the importance of repentance and seeking prayer for healing, and this week I stressed the importance of confession. Commentator Matthew Henry makes the observation that confession does not mean we run around sharing our every wrong thought or misdeed. Sometimes we have thoughts that pop in our mind that aren’t even sin because we haven’t acted on those thoughts. And sometimes individual confession in our own prayer time is enough.
However, when does God want us to share with a small group or a larger audience about a struggle? Henry suggests some great guidelines in his analysis of James 5:16:
Where persons have injured one another, acts of injustice must be confessed to those against whom they have been committed. Where persons have tempted one another to sin or have consented to the same evil actions, there they ought mutually to blame themselves and excite each other to repentance. Where crimes are of a public nature, and have done any public mischief, there they ought to be more publicly confessed, so as they may best reach all who are concerned. And sometimes it may be well to confess our faults to some prudent minister or praying friend … But then we are not to think that James puts us upon telling every thing that we are conscious is amiss in ourselves or in one another; but so far as confession is necessary to our reconciliation with such as are at variance with us, or for gaining information in any point of conscience and making our own spirits quiet and easy, so far as we should be ready to confess our faults.
Quite honestly, God has told me in what instances I should share in a more public setting. I have just felt a knowing inside. His Holy Spirit has counseled me about the choices I’ve made. He will do that for you to if you are seeking the best way to approach a particular situation. I encourage you to go to Him and pray before rushing off to make public a misdeed.
Are you interested in the spiritual roots of many diseases? Henry W. Wright’s A More Excellent Way: Be in Health talks about spiritual causes for many illnesses such as depression and his advice about how to look at disease from a spiritual standpoint.