When Confession Is Unsafe

Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
- Luke 15:25-32

There are certain circumstances where confession is unsafe. Jesus’s most famous story, the Prodigal Son, climaxes with the younger son’s ‘confession’ opening a door of reconnection with the father. The verses above are what follow that grand reconciliation.

Note that if the younger son had run into his brother first, his confession would not have gone well. That’s because the older brother weaponized shame, distancing himself from his brother by calling him “this son of yours” and interpreting his brother’s actions in the least charitable way. But what makes the older brother most dangerous is his shaming of himself. He viewed himself as a slave, as a victim, as a martyr. No wonder he’s got no grace for his brother!

Like the older brother, there are some people who are simply not safe to confess to. Sharing vulnerably with them about your weaknesses, sins and failures will only result in more damage to your heart and soul. This is one of the practicalities of confession: namely, you need to start with safe people. Over time you may develop the skills and depth to be able to own your weaknesses with lots of different people, but that may not include everyone. For situations where you worry for your emotional and physical safety, consult a wise counselor/mentor first.

Today, think about the ugly parts of your life story and ponder who in your life is particularly safe and who is particularly unsafe when it comes to sharing your heart with them. Pray to God for wisdom about how to proceed forward wisely and well.