Thursday, 10 April 2014

A short account

I'm so familiar with the phrase, 'keeping a short account' that I realised the other day that I've stopped considering what it means. It came to me in a sudden revelatory kind of way that I am not very good at confession. Not very good at all. 

Now, I've been reading lately about revelation (small R) and about how God communicates with us and I read about the term, 'apokalupsis' which is a Greek word used in the Bible as one of the several kinds of 'revelation'.  It means uncovering; when something hidden becomes visible. One of those moments when something that you've known and thought you understood suddenly becomes Real. When head knowledge becomes heart knowledge, maybe. When the words jump off the page, or when you stop in your tracks and your eyes widen slightly because abruptly you get the message. 

The penny drops. 

Well, it's right out there, obvious for anyone to see, but I didn't see it. 

I am not very good at confession. I don't tend to keep a short account; in fact my account has run to many hundreds of pages. 

I know without any doubt that it has already been settled in full by Jesus but I do know that I need to keep a track of it. Make sure that things are dealt with in a timely way so that I don't get dragged under by the sheer weight of rubbish that I carry round with me, or damage other people with the unwieldy things that I haven't sorted out.  I need to keep an eye on what is accumulating around me and keep it from piling too high, because that in itself has consequences.

I mean, there are times when I think to myself, 'Oops, shouldn't have said that, sorry, God,' or send a quick arrow apology up when I'm calming down after shouting at the children, but that's only the tip of the iceberg, isn't it?

There are a few opportunities to stop the accumulation that are handed to me on a plate; for example the general confession that we do corporately early on in church on a Sunday. That's all very well, but if one of the children chooses that moment to ask me a question (anything from the deeply theological, 'Mummy, how come God can be three people at the same time?' to the scarily mundane, 'Are there parsnips for dinner? I don't like parsnips,' to the ominous, 'She won't let me touch her model walrus,') and my attention is far, far away from my sin. 

So I go straight onto soaking up the absolution and blessing (if I get a chance) without the effort or inconvenience of examining myself. 

Alternatively, but with an equally negative effect, is when I am asked to bring to mind my own wrongdoing over the past week and all I can think of is what someone else of my acquaintance should perhaps be confessing. I could be quite helpful in compiling a list of transgressions on someone else's behalf; my own - not so much. 

Bypass the confession bit. Let's sing something.

And then came my Apokalupsis moment:  

I had a picture of myself, walking in a valley. A beautiful, wide, lush valley with majestic, snow-capped mountains either side - several of my significant scenes take place here. God is here, in my valley. It's very beautiful. I am enjoying being there, strolling around and looking at the view. I can feel God as the sun on my face, on my skin. I am warm, relaxed and happy.

I turn away from God to examine something beautiful and I still feel His warmth on my shoulders. I bend and pick something up, and then my hand closes on it too tightly, and it breaks. I hold the broken remains of this beautiful thing for a moment, and then I decide that there is nothing I can do about it, and I throw it over my shoulder. I move on.

A moment later I reach in my pocket and I take out a piece of paper. It has writing on it, but I don't know what it says. It annoys me. I screw up the paper with both hands and throw it behind me, over my shoulder. I walk a few more steps and pull something else out of my jacket; it's been tucked inside, in an inside pocket. I don't know what it is, but I laugh unpleasantly and I discard it behind me. I walk on.

I keep going, and I keep throwing away bad things over my shoulder. I go through a range of emotions; disgust, aggression, fear, anger, slyness, bitterness, self-pity, pride, spite, resentment, malice. I discard each one because I want rid of it but there's always more. Sometimes the sin is represented by an object - a half-eaten apple with a grub in the middle of it, a book with the cover ripped off, a bracelet with the precious stones missing... and sometimes it's a word on a piece of paper, or even a bad smell. They all go behind me as I wander on, my back turned to God.

At last, I sense that something has changed. I am cold. I can't feel the sun any more.

God has gone. He's left me. 

I whirl round and immediately see what's happened. There is a huge pile of rubbish towering above me. God hasn't gone; He is still where He has always been, but I am some distance away. All the mess that I've discarded is blocking out the light and warmth of the sun. I am standing in a shadow. 

No wonder I'm cold. 

I hesitate, not knowing what to do. I am amazed that I had not been aware of all these things that I had been carrying around - where did they come from, to make such a huge mountain of rubbish? But I know, in my heart - that's where. They came from inside me.

And now they're blocking me from experiencing God. I can't feel Him any more. I can't see the light, and my beautiful valley is in a terrible state. It isn't beautiful any more, with the offensive landfill of my life strewn across it. 

What can I do? 


And that was it. That's what I realised about confession. I was still in my valley; God hadn't cast me out, because I have a right to be there. Jesus paid the price for my huge pile of rubbish, and yet its presence there was ruining everything for me. The sense of space was gone, the fragrant air now smelled of refuse, and most importantly, I couldn't feel the warmth of God on my skin. I couldn't gaze into His brightness, for the way was blocked.

I need that light and warmth. I can't grow without it; I can't manage without it. It might be a while before it seeps into my consciousness to notice that it's faded, but I am lost without it. 

So I got out my journal and I asked God to send the Holy Spirit to show me what I needed to confess. I wrote a list. I numbered them, and I wrote without stopping as specific things popped into my head one after another with no repetition. I stopped when I got to one hundred and one things. 

One hundred and one.  

I think I only stopped then because He took pity on me. 

I realised how bad I am at confessing things. And also how thorough the Holy Spirit is. 

How small I felt, and yet how grateful. How God is endlessly patient, endlessly forgiving. How nothing had changed, but something was different. 

How after I finished with my journal that evening how calm I felt and how well I slept. 

I am trying to do better. I'm trying to examine the state of myself each night instead of letting things get so out of hand. I know that I'm fighting a constant battle against the things that lurked in that huge towering pile of rubbish but I know that now and again, something that I threw away stays thrown away, and that's a triumph.

And by the grace of God, I am facing Him again, now. 

I can feel His warmth on my face.  


  1. Beautiful, Helen. I am so glad you got your valley back. Funny how valleys are places of depth and safety, but also in the Bible, places we must travel through. But I am reminded here of how the Valley of Baca (tears) becomes a place of springs in Psalm 84, the Lord transforming our sorrow into refreshing. Wonderful, thank you for sharing your insights with us.

    1. Thanks, Keren. Funnily enough the valley definitely felt like a place I was going through, not a resting place.

  2. Hi Helen, thanks for being so honest - this is very challenging (and encouraging). F. xx

    1. Thanks, Fiona. I'm glad it encouraged as well as challenged. I think for me this will take a lot of concentration; I can imagine things piling up again if I'm not careful.

  3. I love how your mind works Helen but worry that it thinks too much sometimes! The fact you're concerned means all is well, it's those who aren't that need to worry. Know the peace like a river that comes from knowing it is well with your soul xx

    1. I'm quite sure that you're right, Helen! Heavy weather of everything...
      I love that song: It is well, it is well with my soul. Amen to that.


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