Tag Archives: confession

Soul Pilgrimage: Meet Phileena Heuertz

As we wrap up this month’s focus on “being” and transition to a focus on “doing” for next month, I’m excited to invite you to take part in a conversation with author and ministry leader Phileena Heuertz. Through her own faith journey, Phileena’s been carving out a compelling marriage between being & doing — between the contemplative & active parts of Christian spirituality.

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phileena2Phileena, welcome! Tell my readers a bit about yourself.  

It’s a pleasure to be a part of your blog today. I’ve spent my life in social justice work among the world’s poor. I’m a member of the New Friar movement, and for nearly 20 years my husband Chris and I co-directed Word Made Flesh (WMF). During that time we served in more than 70 countries building community among victims of human trafficking, survivors of HIV and AIDS, abandoned children and child soldiers and war brides.

Chris and I founded Gravity in 2012. Gravity is for people who care about their spirituality and want to make the world a better place. My primary work is public speaking, teaching and writing on contemplative spirituality, facilitation of contemplative retreats, and spiritual direction.

I’m a member of the Red Letter Christians, featured on The Work of the People and Q Ideas and known for my theological narrative, Pilgrimage of a Soul (IVP 2010).

Pilgrimage of a Soul - phileenaYour book Pilgrimage of a Soul describes a bit of your own journey from working as a missionary among the world’s poor to a much-needed sabbatical that eventually revolutionized your faith. Can you tell my readers a bit of your story? 

Sure. I had spent many years serving among people in poverty—children and families affected by HIV and AIDS in India; women and girls enslaved in the commercial sex industry all over Southeast Asia and South America; children living on the streets in urban centers across the globe. And I thought I’d seen it all—the worse of poverty and injustice. But then my work took me to Freetown, Sierra Leone at the peak of the war over blood diamonds.

The human brutality I witnessed in Freetown was like nothing I’d ever seen. Young girls forced to watch the horrific amputation and murder of their parents, taken as “war brides” and subjected to every form of abuse—often gang-raped.

Boys as young as 5 and 6, forced to amputate the arm of their parents or be brutalized themselves, conscripted into the military or rebel army, given drugs and involuntarily compelled to carry weapons that were at times too heavy for them and forced to commit unspeakable crimes of massacre, murder and rape.

I returned from Freetown empty of answers for the world’s problems and questioning God’s goodness. This crisis of faith plunged me into a classic wrestling with God scenario in which I became very aware of my limitations and deep need for God. Continue reading


Meet My Friend . . . Marlena Graves

I’m excited to introduce you to my friend Marlena Graves. Marlena is a writer and mom of two. She is a regular contributor to Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog and is involved in Renovare. Listen in on our candid conversation about what it takes to “flourish” — and how to make it through wilderness times.

Marlena, welcome! Tell my readers a bit about yourself.

I contemplate, write, and speak about the eternal implications of our life in God. I am a lover of beauty (especially the beauty of my family and creation) and a justice seeker — trying to overcome evil with good. In addition, I seek answers to these types of questions: What does abundant life look like (John 10:10)? If God is good and we are his deeply beloved children and safe in his kingdom, how then should we live?

This month on my blog we’re exploring what we can do to spiritually flourish. For you, what practices or experiences are most helpful in keeping your faith vibrant and growing?

This is a great question. I think much of it has to do with our unique make up and bents. Here are some of the key practices and experiences that have become an integral part of who I am, allowing me to follow hard after Christ, staying right at his heels:

1. Solitude and Silence: In order to detoxify (be purified) from all that is in me that is not of Christ, I need solitude and silence. Busyness and over-stimulation keep me from seeing reality: from seeing God for who he is and myself for who I am and the world for what it is. However, solitude and silence allows me to drink deeply of the things of God. These disciplines allow me to pay attention to God. Then again, I might not like what I discover about myself in silence and solitude, but didn’t Jesus say that the truth sets us free? All throughout Scripture I notice that those closest to God spent a lot of time in solitude and silence. Of course, times of solitude and silence aren’t always a choice (Moses in the desert, David being chased by Saul). Sometimes searingly painful circumstances drive us into solitude and silence. Yet, I believe God still uses these times to form us.

2. Practicing the Presence of God: From the age of ten onward, I spent much of my time immersed in Scripture. For at least four years, from the age of ten to fourteen, I read the Bible two to three hours a day. Much of that had to do with the situation I grew up in. I was driven to God, to searching for his love and care. At the time, I didn’t realize how formational Scripture reading was; I did it because I wanted to. I did it because I needed to. As I read I thought, “Well Lord, if you did these things for those in Scripture, I see no reason why you can’t do similar things for me.” Continue reading

Grace, the wind in my sail

Going through the motions doesn’t please you, 
      a flawless performance is nothing to you. 
   I learned God-worship 
      when my pride was shattered. 
   Heart-shattered lives ready for love 
      don’t for a moment escape God’s notice. (Psalm 51:16-17, The Message paraphrase)

The process of changing and growing includes the gift of the Spirit’s conviction in our lives. It doesn’t feel like a gift when we experience it. Guilt, a realization of failure, a shattering of pride — it feels awful.

And if we don’t understand something crucial, then we can distort conviction and misunderstand it as condemnation. We must understand — in head, heart, and soul — that we live within and are sustained by the grace of God. The Grace that suffered alongside a thief on the cross, that forgave his executioners in the moment of death, that triumphed over sin and left it empty as the tomb. Continue reading

Mirror-gazing, part 2

A spiritual practice that’s been particularly meaningful to me in recent years is examen or examination of conscience. It’s a Christian way of praying that is a sort of confession — an honest look, with God, at one’s life or at one’s day. It’s nestled in grace, not guilt, and it’s a way of identifying areas of needed growth. It’s also a great way to pause and recognize in gratitude the many ways God has been and currently is at work in one’s life! Click here to read a post in which I explain how to practice examen. Consider what role this prayer practice might play in your life.

A matter of lighting?

There are moments in my life when I realize our bathroom mirror has inadequate lighting. It’s visually warm and cozy. I can apply make-up in a jiffy and feel great.

But then I walk into a bathroom with a different type of lighting–like at the movie theater or an airport. (You know the lighting, don’t you? The brutally honest lighting?) Suddenly I see things I didn’t see at home. Maybe I didn’t blend in my cover-up and there’s a big opaque splotch on my face. Or maybe there are big bags under my eyes or a plethora of pimples and assorted blemishes I somehow missed. Or perhaps there are other horrors too ugh!-ifying to type on this blog.

This different lighting is not the warm and inviting light that I choose to live in, and for good reason. But the brutally-honest lighting has it’s place. It’s critical not just for our appearance, but similarly for our souls. There are times when we benefit from a cold, hard, horrifying look at ourselves. When rather than a mere glance, we stare into that spiritual mirror and really see who we are, blemishes and all. Continue reading

The Bad News . . . the Good News

“Mom,” my four year-old daughter asked me the other day, “Why don’t any of the people in the Bible obey God?”

In my answer, I patiently brought up examples of men and women who obeyed God in Scripture: Joseph forgave his brothers, Queen Esther saved her people, and so on.

But my daughter wouldn’t have it. She shot down my examples with counter-examples of disobedience. She said, “Even those people you said still disobeyed God.”

Her simple observation led to a rather profound theological discussion to have with a preschooler: we are all sinners—and that sinfulness is a profound theme running through Scripture. It’s a truth that has become blatantly obvious to my 4 year-old simply from learning Sunday school stories and listening to Genesis on a CD.

And this “bad news” part of the Good News is central to this discipline of life-change.

Lest I make this month’s discipline sound morose, discouraging, and one to be avoided at all costs, we must recognize a core truth: recognition of our sin, confession, and repentance (turning away from those sins) leads to freedom.

One of my favorite theological writers, Frederica Matthewes-Green, says this: “[R]epentance, is joy. Initially we fear looking squarely at our sins, lest we get overwhelmed. But the reverse turns out to be true. The more we see the depth of our sin, the more we realize the height of God’s love. The constant companion of repentance is gratitude; seeing our sin becomes, paradoxically, an opportunity for joy.”

My daughter’s observation about the Bible is true of my life too—mine is a story that includes disobedience, selfishness, sin. Yours does too.

As we look honestly at our lives—with God’s loving presence and gentle grace—we can find this paradoxical joy and freedom that comes from facing the reality of our brokenness.

This week—Holy Week—may be the very best time of the year for a period of personal self-examination. This week we remember Christ’s determined march to the Cross, the pinnacle of the Bible’s swell of human brokenness. It is the week we face our own sins that he carried with him on that road to Calvary. Yours. Mine.

Let it be a week in which we courageously look at those sins, confess them, and receive God’s beautiful gift of not only forgiveness but of transformation through the power of his Holy Spirit.

Faith-Filled Moment: God’s Laundry

Turn a household chore into a salvation insight with this idea. You can find 80+ more ideas like this one in my book Faith-Filled Moments!

God’s Laundry

Recruit your child to help do the laundry…and learn about God’s forgiveness in the process.

Supplies: dirty laundry, stain removal stick or spray, laundry soap, washer and dyer.


Next time your child dribbles food on a good shirt, skids the knees of her new pants in the grass, or “accidentally” draws on her PJs, capture the moment as a spiritual learning opportunity and hussle down to the laundry room together. Review with your child the instructions on your stain removal spray or stick, then invite her to assist you in treating the stain. Launder the garment according to the instructions. Then, when the garment is done drying, look at it together to assess if the stain has been removed.


The Message’s rendering of God’s forgiveness in Psalm 51 paints a perfect word picture for young kids: “Scrub away my guilt, soak out my sins in your laundry. I know how bad I’ve been; my sins are staring me down.…Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean, scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life” (51:2-3, 7). This is what we long for when we’re guilty. We want to be cleaned up, but we feel permanently stained, like our sin is unforgivable. Yet God’s grace is sufficient to cover our sin and purify us from our unrighteousness.

As your child applies the stain remover to the garment, read Psalm 51:1-3, 7 from The Message aloud. Say something like, “Let’s imagine the stain on this shirt is just like the sin in our hearts. Let’s see if we can clean it off.” When you check the garment after cleaning it, the stain should be completely removed. Talk again about the Bible verse and say, “Jesus died on the cross to forgive us of all our sins. When we ask Jesus to forgive us, he completely forgives us. It’s like those sins are totally gone. They’re cleaned right up!”

But if the stain hasn’t been successfully removed, turn the point around this way: Continue reading

Bright As New: Forgiveness and Pennies

Want an easy and fun idea to help your kids ponder the importance of confessing our sins? All you need is some tarnished pennies, hot sauce, and paper towels.

Together with your children, look at some tarnished pennies. Point out how the pennies look dirtied or discolored. Then cover one side of each of the tarnished pennies with hot sauce and let it sit on the coins for about 3 minutes. When time’s up, use paper towels with your kids to wipe the pennies clean and “polish” them a bit. They’ll look shiny and new!

Invite your kids to flip over the pennies and compare the clean sides with the dirty sides. Ask your children what they think about the difference.

As you look at the tarnished sides of the pennies, talk with your kids about how we are like the pennies-we sin every day, and that sin dirties our heart. Then explain that our hearts can be cleaned by Jesus! Tell kids that an important part of having a friendship with God is confessing our sins and asking for forgiveness when we do things wrong. If your children don’t know what confession means, explain that it’s simply talking with God and telling him what they did wrong. Consider sharing with your children a recent time you confessed a sin to God and asked for his forgiveness. Be sure to let your kids know that they can confess their sins to God at any time, day or night.

Then have your kids look at the shiny sides of the pennies. Say something like, Continue reading