I had coffee this morning with a lifelong friend and her two youngest children while my own and her older two were in school. In middle and high school, we were the two in our friend group who were the “goody goody” Christian girls who attended the large Evangelical churches with our families. We have grown up together, both of us finding footing in our faith as life has happened to us and around us. She is still probably my most traditional friend when it comes to her view of Christian faith, and her common sense and practicality make her one of the most dependable and stalwart people in my life. She knows my deepest self and I know hers, and we check and balance one another so well.
We talked about a lot of things in between drawing trucks and talking about squirrels with her boys, namely how we can support our friend whose husband was told yesterday that he can no longer teach at the Police Academy unvaccinated. We talked about loving our friends into a place of safety even if we disagree with their choices, and how challenging but vital it is to give people the space and the freedom to be their authentic selves without judgment in the way that Jesus modeled. Often that can be wordless, not because we don’t have words to say, but because we don’t have helpful ones. And sometimes with our most private friends who don’t tend to say what they think or feel, that can mean respecting their privacy…I struggle with this.
All that to say, it is where our conversation landed that got my wheels turning. Now I don’t know about you, but I finally acknowledged about two winters ago that the dark and the gloom of Oregon’s late fall through early spring can send my normally sunny disposition into a more perfect match of the weather outside. The sky gets gloomy, and I get gloomy. In particular, I have taken to embracing a spiritual practice of Wintering. This is different that Hygge, which is a Danish term from embracing the coziness that comes of the dark months. Wintering for me is embracing the darkness and all that it evokes and brings up. The past two winters have been seasons of pure desolation, and I wouldn’t change anything about that. There is such a seasonality to our spiritual lives and to our experience with faith, and that means winters as well as summers. The mistake I made was trying to navigate the Winter seasons alone.
What I want to explore, and what I believe the answer to weathering our dark seasons with health, is the spiritual practice of confession. So often in the gloom and the cold of our physical and mental winters we find our way to our places of shame or of trauma. We get stuck there and pull the darkest bits of our soul up around us like blankets. We kindle our pain like a fire in order to feel anything at all, but we do it indoors where the smoke threatens to choke us. When we cut ourselves off in our hibernating spaces, we can fool ourselves into believing that we’re just staying cozy inside where it’s safe and warm. In fact, we’re inviting our pain and our shame into our homes like guests, building an echo-chamber of our own lies that we can do it all, solve it all, keep it all going, and absolve our own pain by ourselves. We need what confession brings into our lives. Humans were created to be able to look across the table to someone we trust, say the words we are most ashamed to say, and experience acceptance. Not agreement, not absolution, but the kind of unflappable, radical love that Jesus offered to everyone around him. Confession gets us unstuck.
I turned 38 a few weeks ago, and over the weekend my best friends took me away to Sunriver. I’d been harboring something personal that I hadn’t shared with them for fear of judgment. But somehow over a charceuterie board and a game of cards I blurted it out. And I watched all five of their faces look back at me with love and complete acceptance, regardless of whether or not they understood my position or agreed with my choices. About twenty minutes later, one of my other friends did the same, untying herself to a secret she had been carrying for five years. And I was given the opportunity to bless her right back with love and support and the space for her heart to experience something other than shame. We are a modern-day confessional to one another, and it treads like holy ground.
Here’s the thing. The secret I had been carrying wasn’t something that I am consciously ashamed of. Given the choice I would make it again. But something in its texture makes it counter-cultural and against the grain. So, I kept it hidden. And in the covering-up of things is where shame can grow. If we listen to the opinions around us and the constant polarization of decisions, then shame can build up around anything! What if we called a spade a spade, like Jesus did for the woman at the well, in a such a way that brings our full selves in the light and away from the festering of our own self-judgment? Not to the world, but to those that we trust. What if we had the chance to see the faces of our friends turn their loving gazes towards the things we fear about ourselves? I think that’s the kind of practice and the kind of living that allows us to move through winter unbound. I think that’s what Paul meant about a life modeled after Jesus setting us free.