TMI. Too Much Information. It is everywhere. There is just the general information overload that we get from internet, television, cell phones, billboards, podcasts, radio, etc. Then there is the serious TMI we get from reality TV, late-night talk shows, and a huge chunk of cable television programming. Almost everywhere you turn there is something extremely enticing or badly repulsive jumping out to grab your attention.
Then there are your friends that "over share" and tell you personal things you would rather not know. This can run the range from minutely-detailed birthing stories to boys' locker room tales told in mixed company. If you are a social worker like I am, your clients might describe for you every facet of their recent surgery or their sex lives all while you are trying to find an agency to help pay the client's water bill. (Yes, some friends give this information too.) Sometimes there is no way to get your hands up over your ears and start singing "la la la la la" fast enough to save you from a gory account of an exploding diaper or a giggling narrative of a married girlfriend's not-so-innocent flirtation with an unmarried co-worker.
It is all just too much.
It wasn’t like this when I was younger, though. Much of what is now so commonplace on “Maury” or “Jerry Springer” that is seems like one show is being rerun over and over would have definitely qualified as scandalous in my young years. There were some things that weren’t talked about when I was younger that needed to be talked about, but it seems like the pendulum has swung way too far in the other direction. There are just some things I don’t feel I need to know – even when it is coming from a friend, much less from total strangers.
So yesterday when I came across a Bible verse about confessing, I had to pause and think about it for a moment. James 5:16 says,
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (NIV)
In contrast to today’s common practice of self-disclosure, the church I grew up in did not encourage divulging personal details. We had an “invitation” (what some might term an “altar call”) at the end of each service, where you could request prayers if you were struggling with something, but it was severely frowned upon if you went up too often (and by that I mean more than once every few years). And even if you “went forward”, you did not give the details of your struggle. It wasn’t just a matter of the good church folk not wanting to know the facts of your transgressions. No, it was more than that. It was a commonly accepted theory in our church that if you had been “made new in Christ” that you did not sin anymore. So if you were constantly struggling with sin, you might not actually be saved or even be a Christian. (Note: I do not want to tear any of these people down. There are some of them that I still know and dearly love. I’m just telling my story.)
At home it wasn’t much different. Except for one very emotional little girl (gee – who could that be?), my family members were somewhat stoic and self-contained. There are a lot of things that our parents never discussed with us because their parents had never discussed it with them. We prayed before every meal, went to church a lot, and Mom even read us Bible stories when we were little. What we learned about sin was what not to do. We never discussed what to do when you wanted to do what you were not supposed to do and we didn’t discuss what to do when you had already done what you were not supposed to do. (see if you can say that sentence out loud three times real fast) I think I knew that verse about confessing your sins was in the Bible, but like I said, we were taught that you shouldn’t even be struggling with sin, so therefore there should be nothing to confess.
So many of us in that church could have won Oscars, Emmys, or Tonys for how we managed to act like there was nothing wrong in our lives. My performance would have come closer to earning a Razzie, but I sure was trying. And while an award would have been nice, I still had no knowledge of how to confess my sins or the when/where/what/why of the matter.
So how do you confess your sins without giving TMI? I do think there is a way to over-share even when confessing sins. I think that you can cross the line from confessing for the right reason to wallowing in drama just for the sake of it. The point of confession is not so that we can gossip or get shock value. The old saying goes, “confession is good for the soul.” And that it is. James says it is so we “may be healed.” It also keeps us accountable and it keeps us from building up secrets that cut us off from fellowship. God already knows our sins, but the shame of sin can make us want to hide from Him just as Adam and Eve did in the garden. Being cut off from God is a lonely and dangerous place to be. I know this from hard personal experience. And so I am learning to confess so that I might be healed and so that I can never get too far away from God. I am learning to confess so that I can accept His mercy.
I have been blessed in my adult life to meet and be spiritually mentored by men and women who understand why confession is important. I have found people that I can trust not to use my confession for their own purposes. I practice, practice, practice. Too much, according to my loving husband. He doesn’t always understand why I confess what he considers to be piddly details. But I have to practice. If I continue to tell him little things, then I won’t let anything get too big that I feel like I can’t tell anybody. Those of you who have had secrets that got so huge that you thought they were too big to tell know what I am talking about.
An added benefit to learning to confess is that we find situations where our admission can help others. How many times have I heard or said, “I’m so glad you admitted that. I thought I was the only one who struggled with that.” Showing your authentic self by telling of your sins as well as your victories makes you approachable to others who might feel all alone in their struggles. “Keeping it real” is what I think they call it these days. There have been times when I’ve told someone of my sins and I have told them, “I don’t want you to use this information as dinner table conversation, but if you find someone who might actually benefit from knowing my story, you may certainly tell them.” I have had that said to me as well. I have finally found some balance in my sharing.
It is highly unlikely that you will ever see me on some gaudy TV tabloid show sharing TMI. But you might just see me “down front” at an altar call. You might also read some of my personal details on this blog that my third grade Bible class teacher would have told me were never to see the light of day. If the Spirit pushes me to divulge, I will, with the fervent prayer that God will use that disclosure to help someone, even if I never know that I helped. And I will continue to practice confession with my husband, who will keep giving me that look that says, “why are you telling me this?”
And so the journey continues…