My Dearest Hemlock: On Confessing to Her Husband

My dearest Hemlock,

I’ll answer your first question first. You asked which is better: to encourage your woman to start a fight with the husband about what he did, or to encourage her to ignore what he did and punish him with silence. The answer is—yes.

Honestly, it’s little matter to me which she does, so long as her heart is cooled and hardened towards her husband and her God. So choose the one that comes most naturally to her, and let her flesh do the work. If she’s a natural fighter, send her into the ring with gloves on, tongue unloosed; if she’s a stuffer, make sure she has plenty to stew on and then leave her alone to line up his faults and count them.

Either option is golden. Choose your pleasure.

But this is related to another question you had, about what SHE did (which if you do your job well, she won’t have been thinking about at all).

You’re right that our standard policy is to discourage all confession of sin, in every case where it seems possible to do so. This is basic, manual level stuff.

But I can’t shed any light on why confession of sin is so dangerous. I can’t tell you, because we don’t really know. We don’t know why confession of sin works. In most cases, everyone involved already knows about the sin. The Enemy certainly does—so he doesn’t need the human vermin to tell him. They themselves know (at least vaguely)—else how could they confess it? And those closest to them, the ones usually harmed by the sin—they know.

So the ritual is not, apparently, about the passing of information. It’s not a memo. It’s another kind of transaction entirely. Some kind of useless, hateful ritual the Enemy has dreamed up. He commands them to confess sin to Himself, and commands them to confess their sin one to another. But Research is still working on the exact method through which he moves in the confession to unlock the cages around human hearts.

That is what confession does, that we know. It is a key, a horrible, spiteful trick on His part, by which the human pests break out of the most well-defended personal cages we construct! I have had patients delivered out of a five-year steel trap of depression and despair, many feet thick, by the simple discovery that they could confess specific sin, right when it happened, to God and then to the people they lived with.

It’s deceptively simple, and wildly frustrating.

So here’s what I know. There are three main categories of sin you should be aware of, with much dancing between the three:

1) Big secret sin. These are the sins of shadow, the sins of life-domination, the ones with great big hooks in the flesh that she is deeply ashamed of, that perhaps exist from her pre-Christian days, or her days as an anxious Christian teenager. Rage episodes, drunkenness, pornography, drugs, this sort of lineup. You know as well as I do that this is a favorite category for us, although it shouldn’t lead us to overlook potential in the other categories:

2) Everyday sins against her fellow man. This is the gossip over the water cooler, the rude comment to her husband, the angry word to her child, the disrespectful comment to (or about) her mother. She will be doing these things every day, to some degree, and so they are easy for her to overlook. Much potential for us!

3) Sins of the heart. These, of course, are the root from which every other sin springs. The idolatry, pride, envy, malice, lust, and gluttony that exist in her mind and heart are easy for her to overlook, particularly if she’s in an intense battle with anything in #1 or #2 categories. So this is the category we take the greatest pains to conceal from her awareness.

Now you have the categories at hand, we’ll describe confession with each one, and you’ll see immediately why it’s so harmful.

Big Secret Sins

In the Secret Sin category, delayed confession can be achieved because the sin is in shadow. Often, you’ll find her very willing to confess these sorts of sins to God. Since she’s a Christian, her conscience will make it necessary to do something about the guilt. Repeated confession to God of the Big Bad Sin is usually what she will resort to.

But she will be very unwilling to confess it to another person. Her husband or her mentor will rise obviously to her mind as the person she MIGHT confess to. But is it necessary? She can sit in the question of necessity for a long time, and that’s fine, for it’s the delay we want. Get her to wait as long as possible, hoping time will take care of the problem by lessening the guilt (it will, but not in the way she would desire if she values her soul’s health).

If she does begin to consider confession to the husband or mentor, she’ll often think of it almost in terms of penance. Confession is hard, indeed it is most unpleasant, but it’s the price God wants me to pay for my sin. Once I do it, I’ll have paid for the sin and I can go on.

This is also a way we have of pulling her eyes off of God’s clear view of her. Let her forget—He sees her now; He knows already. He’s already paid the price for her drunken stupor, her night of lustful escape. Confession isn’t penance, in his view; it’s a way of “walking out into light.” It’s not that her fellow man needs to know in order for her to be forgiven; it’s that He knows her frame, and He knows what it takes for something to be “real” in her heart. The creatures, in their creatureliness, must walk apelike through the steps of freedom in order to understand their freedom, in order to take hold of it. Confession is not the paying of a price; it is the taking hold of a price already paid. It’s calling their freedom like it is.

But they can still, amazingly enough, be taught to ignore this process, hoping it will work without the steps commanded by the Enemy. It’s like old Naaman, refusing to do the simple thing of washing seven times, just because it feels too small, what could going through such silly motions possibly do for your soul or body?

So yes, delay her as long as possible, and often she will be able to have a “bad season,” caused by her conscience in distress, followed by a season when she pulls herself back into the road of grace, by doing her best to forget her “fall” and do better. Get her to delay again and again, and you’ve really got her; but even getting her to delay and confess after a few episodes is good. She loses time that way, you see. Lots of time.

Everyday Sins

In the case of the everyday sins against her husband or her coworkers (#2 category), there’s another dynamic at work. Here, our tactic is still delay (what else?). But the delay feels very different for her; she knows they know what she did. They’re the ones she did it to.  That tone of voice, used to let her husband know what she thinks of him—if it didn’t communicate clearly, she wouldn’t use it! That pettish, punishing silence she used on him for an entire afternoon! Obviously she meant it for a purpose, but if she’s gotten over it and they’ve both “moved on,” why say anything about it?

This is the kind of delay we generally rely on for #2 sins: delay from “it was only.” If #1 sins go unconfessed because they feel too great, #2 sins go unconfessed because they feel too little. You can get her to think, “I do this every day. And he’s rude himself. You can’t go through a big conversation every time, can you?”

You see? This way, you can get her to pile up months of crusted over “small” sins. She and her husband will go picking their way around the piles, stepping on old trash left from a silent supper three months ago, and they’ll stop noticing it’s even there. And as long as they never pick up the habit of confession, one to another, they’ll build this delightful tartar of the soul for years.

This is how hatred begins, Hemlock. Don’t underestimate it.

Because one clear confession does more than enough heavy lifting for the 60 or so seconds required: it acknowledges that the behavior in question is sin, for one thing. It means nobody can hide behind “it was just,” at least in that moment, and it means next time, both of them are aware that the behavior was recently named “sin” and can be regarded as such. Calling sin “sin” is deplorably freeing to both the sinner and the sinned against.

(It’s something about truth, Hemlock; the humans were made for truth, so shading and obscuring truth sucks some part of their joy, even on the smallest level. This effect is one we love to take advantage of. But it also works in the opposite, horrific direction: name and clarify the truth, and these vermin’s eyes actually SEE BETTER. The truth renders their vision more clear; when they confess sin, another layer of murky glass falls from their faces and the effect spreads to all of life, not just the area of sin. They actually become SMARTER, Hemlock. So does the human to whom they are confessing.)

Distract, delay, discourage—whatever you must do, don’t allow your girl to set up a habit of confessing small sin to her own family members. Keep the idea that she has done wrong just at the peripheral. Give her just enough awareness to try to “do better,” to climb out of the situation by getting herself into a better mood, changing the scene, or getting on her phone for distraction. A little distance between herself and the moment, and you can guide her smoothly into the next temptation, unarmed and burdened.

This is how a conscience is truly damaged, Hemlock. It takes years, but the flesh is on your side.

A conscience is, of course, a dangerous tool. From birth, the humans have a terrible advantage in feeling that some things are WRONG in any time and place. But the nice thing about a conscience is that it’s not calibrated from birth, and it can be damaged as life progresses.

She can dull this tool by ignoring sin; she can sharpen it by repenting and confessing her sin, responding to the conviction of that dreadful Spirit. Naturally we want the former. But even better is to help them achieve a greater level of uselessness for their conscience.

You’ve heard these famous cases of pastors who worked in the church for years, only to be discovered later as scoundrels, sexual predators, and the like. The world hails this moment as the great moment of our victory—when these men “fell into sin” and were soon afterwards unmasked. But you and I know that by the time these men are found out, the best part of the feast is over.

The purest delicacy on the fat soul of a false spiritual leader is that crusty layer of conscience, seared. A conscience like that takes years of watching, nudging, as he sears it himself to the perfect shade of black. What flavor! And the despair we nibble on, for year after year after year, as the man sinks further and further into his secrets and his dominating habits! There’s no hypocrite like a religious hypocrite, I’ve always said.

Your girl has all the same potential for flavor, Hemlock. If you can get her to overlook sin, to hide it, laugh at it, and isolate herself in the struggle against it, then you have already lowered her onto the coals. Her conscience will be damaged every time she deliberately silences it. She will suffer—how she will suffer! And all the more deliciously, because so unnecessarily.

And if she ever gets to realize she could live, truly live, day in and day out, with a clear conscience—woe betide you. The shame we enjoy in most human begins would dry up in her. And then what? Intimacy, hardly interrupted intimacy with her Father, as she unloads her sin as soon as it erupts from her heart and attaches to her limbs. Is that what you want??

You’ll notice I haven’t gotten to the sins of the heart yet. Well, that’s because we’ve never witnessed one episode of confession for these sins—at least not the main confession—which is to the Enemy. When she confesses these, generally it’s to Him, and she only does so under the protective sphere of intimate prayer. So we don’t fully know the ramifications. We only know they’re bad, Hemlock. Real bad.

Let’s keep the battle out of that #3 ground, however, by tying the girl up in #1 and #2. Plenty there to bind her up!



Madame Hemlock


Catch up on Hemlock letters:

Letter 1: On Women

Letter 2: On Marrying Up

Letter 3: On Stopping Prayer

Letter 4: On Confessing Her Sin

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