Our family joined a residential composting program this year. The program’s mission is to help the city and the surrounding area “reach a more sustainable future by diverting food residuals and enriching soil.” Every day we empty our food waste into a small bucket that sits by the sink. Each week, we empty our bucket into one of the kiosks around the city that the company picks up and transports to their facility where the waste is turned into nutrient rich soil.
As Christians, we have an opportunity for our sins to be “composted” when we confess them to Christ. Just as I dump our scraps into the bucket by the sink, I can bring my sin to Christ throughout the day. And like the company kiosks around the city, church is the place where I join my confessions to those of other confessing Christians each week. In the way that this program turns our waste into nutrient rich soil, Christ’s redemptive work on the cross and the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work in our hearts turn our sin into rich repentance and righteousness (1 John 1:8-9).
Our small family compost will likely not make a significant difference in the global fight against hunger and for the environment, but I do know the One who can make a difference. I have found myself praying more frequently about creation care issues when I empty food scraps into the bucket or drive to the kiosk. In the same way, confession has become a signpost of God’s love for me, especially when I have lost my temper with my children over trivial things like leaving socks and wet towels on the floor.
Composting works by combining materials that contain carbon (i.e. dried leaves, coffee grounds, and egg shells) and nitrogen (i.e. grass clippings, green leaves, and food scraps). The carbon and nitrogen components are layered and kept moist by watering or with rain. Mixing, or turning, adds oxygen to the compost pile in a process called aeration and is key to completing the process as quickly as possible.
Many Sundays, our church’s corporate confession of sin reads, “Merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart and mind and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.” Then there is a time for silent confession of sin.
Corporate confessions like this layer the sinful materials of our Christian community like a compost pile. Then we water it with the reading and preaching of God’s Word. Thinking about confession within the various categories – our thoughts, words, and deeds, things we have done and not done, and areas where my love towards God and my neighbor has failed – aerates my sins. The Holy Spirit mixes and turns in places that may not have been revealed had the grace of confession and a moment of silence not been provided.
Assurance of Pardon
After we have composted for a year, we are given the gift of 10 gallons of finished compost in spring and fall. Likewise, after we have corporately confessed our sins at church each week, we are given a gift – an assurance of pardon.
During the assurance of pardon one of the pastors reminds us that the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and that he has removed our transgressions as far from us as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:8-12). Other weeks we are reminded that by his wounds we are healed (Is. 53:5). And still other weeks, that if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
Beyond the 10 gallons of compost our family is offered in spring and fall, Jesus offers forgiveness that is immeasurable and available in every season of life.
From Sin to Soil
God does not waste my sin; he allows me to see it, confess it, and give it to him so that he can turn it into nutrient-rich, life-giving, sanctifying soil to grow more like him. Confession provides opportunities for parents, youth ministers, and adolescents to engage in prayer and conversations about our failures and contributions to conflict in our homes, schools, and churches.
According to the compost program’s website, uneaten food produces methane, a harmful greenhouse gas, and takes up valuable space in landfills. A head of lettuce in a landfill can last up to 25 years. My sins – envy, discontentment, and impatience – can feel like a head of lettuce in a landfill, monopolizing my thought life and never decomposing. Without confession my sins take up valuable space in my heart and home and create a harmful environment. With confession, I have an opportunity to give my sins to the Lord and, like all our suffering and sin, He redeems it for my family’s good and His glory.
And while it’s probably unwise for me to confess all of my sin to my children, I do find that the practice of confession and the gift of assurance of pardon at church each week makes me more equipped and willing to talk with my children and others about sin, confession, and, most importantly, the grace and forgiveness that is ours in Christ.
Confession is the time where I remember the impatience and fearfulness that has crept into my parenting. At times it can be discouraging that I must confess the same sins again and again. More often, though, I am encouraged by the reminder of Jesus’ grace, mercy, and steadfast love that covers those repeated sins each time.
Composting reduces disease and pests and encourages the growth of good bacteria in the soil. Christ’s life, death, and resurrection doesn’t just reduce the disease and pests of sinfulness, it conquered and cleansed us of all our sin. Confession has become like compost’s good bacteria, changing my heart and home into more fertile soil, where God’s Word can take root and flourish.