Unconfessed sin stays with us. We may suppress it, forget about it or pretend it never happened, but eventually our unconfessed sin revisits us or spills over into the lives of others, hurting them and us.
One of my lawn customers was Mrs. Tura Andrews. She lived directly across the street from the Baptist church. One day after I had mowed her lawn, she asked me if I’d put out some rat poison in the attic. She said she’d pay me extra money. I was glad to help her and would have done it for free, but the chance of earning extra money always excited me.
I don’t think I’d ever been in an attic before. As I put out the rat poison, I moved from rafter to rafter. I climbed over a brace, stepped on another rafter—and then I made one step too many. My foot went straight through the ceiling, way up past my knee, knocking a gaping hole in the Sheetrock ceiling in her bedroom. From the attic, I could see a bed in the room below, covered with dusty debris.
When I came down, Mrs. Tura checked me over, told me not to worry about the mess, paid me for mowing her lawn and even gave me the extra money for putting out the rat poison. I suppose that incident was our secret. I never told my parents, and had she told anybody in Louisville, word would have certainly gotten back to them.
Fifteen years later, my wife and I bought our first home in Hartwell, Ga., where the hot summer days led me to the conclusion that we needed a fan in the living room. I had a special fan that my grandfather had given to Prospect Baptist Church. When the church went through a remodeling, they took it down and my father gave it to me. It was just like the old two-blade ceiling fan in my grandparents’ home.
I decided it would be a great addition to our living room, so I went to work—even though changing light bulbs and air conditioning filters constituted my knowledge of home maintenance. As the hours passed I began to feel rather good about myself. I had the heavy fan in place and it actually worked. I was close to completing my work and preparing to accept accolades from my wife when a demon grabbed my foot and pushed it through the ceiling.
Not only did I have to pay for my repairs, but I lost any points I had built up with my wife. I soon discovered I didn’t have nearly enough clout to convince her that these kinds of issues ought to be family secrets.
A few months later I was in the attic again, retrieving Christmas ornaments. I was in a jolly mood, whistling a Christmas tune, looking forward to erecting the Christmas tree. As I began to come down, the Grinch grabbed my foot and plunged it through the ceiling again, making a hole in the same place as before.
I was sure if my wife found some joy in telling about the first incident, this one was going to bring double delight—after she got through being angry, of course.
There are times in all of our lives when our mistakes are obvious to everyone. The hole we’ve created in relationships or our reputation cannot be covered up, explained away or kept secret. Even if by some slim chance somebody did keep our sins a secret, without real repentance on our part, the hole is never repaired.
We may cover it up, but that only means that we or someone else will fall through it eventually and get hurt. Unconfessed sin stays with us. We may suppress it, forget about it or pretend it never happened, but eventually our unconfessed sin revisits us or spills over into the lives of others, hurting them and us.
Strength is found neither in one’s ability to cover mistakes nor in the ability to boast about them. Strength is found neither in keeping our wounds a secret nor in parading them before others, hoping someone will pin a purple heart on us. Strength is found neither in blaming others for our mistakes nor in beating ourselves up for our own errors of judgment.
Strength is found in our willingness to be human, to accept our imperfections, to grieve about them when necessary and to laugh at them when appropriate. Strength is found when we allow others to grieve with us and to laugh with and at us at times. Strength is found when we allow God to close the gaping holes in our lives with love and forgiveness. Strength is found when we can forgive ourselves and accept forgiveness from God and others.
Strength is found in a mighty God who can take the holes we’ve created and turn them into holy moments.
Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie, Ga. A version of this column first appeared in The Moultrie Observer.
Michael Helms is pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson, Georgia.