Indignation intensified with each step forward. Anxiously, I skimmed into the nearest pew, released the kneeler with my foot, and plopped down onto my knees. I surrendered my head into my prayer-folded hands. Why? Why did I have to confess my sins to a priest anyway? Why couldn’t I just talk to God myself? It was getting harder for me to move past the arching resistance rising within my lil 12-year-old heart. Fortunately, the desire to know God personally had been rising too.
Father Forgive Me
My first experience with confessing my sins was as a little catholic girl walking through the Sacrament of Confession. I remember fretfully standing single file in a line with all the other 12-year-old sinners. We were waiting our turn to walk into the closet. The closet? The closet was one of three dimly lit chambers housing one sinner on each side of the attending priest. The closet was where, behind a closed-door, you knelt down to confess your weekly sins through the grill. Oh, the grill? Well, the grill was a gradient window-like screen that separated you from the priest. The priest, which appeared to be only a shadow, would lean in toward the grill where the confession of your sins would sift from your lips to his ears. Hanging on the wall, just over your head is where the crucifix was displayed. What’s the crucifix? The crucifix is a cross with Jesus’ dead body still nailed to it. For a child it was a haunting and ever-present reminder of what our sins had done to the innocence of Jesus.
It became a tradition of mine to have the list of my sins for that week memorized. As I waited my turn I would repeat them over and over again in my head so as not to forget a one of them. I would sweat, my stomach would cramp, and fear would dry my mouth. I could faintly hear the sounds of confession coming from the sinner on other side of the confessional. The closed slider before me muffled the voices on the other side. Hearing the priest deal out the sinner’s penance sounded much like Charlie Brown’s teacher disciplining her classroom. Each pause heightened the alarm pounding in my own chest. Were they finished? Am I next? Have I remembered all my sins?
Here’s a confession for you: there would be times when I couldn’t think of any sins that week and I would just make stuff up. After all, I figured having no sins to confess would probably be an even greater sin yet. In addition to keeping track of my many adolescent sins I was also required to confess how long it had been since my last confession. Well, you can only imagine the terror that would strike my heart each time the span between my confessions would grow farther and farther apart. Eventually the shame of my neglect kept me from returning to the confessional ever again.
For I Have Sinned …
In recent days a hidden sin of friend of mine had been publicly exposed. His position and history of Christian influence in our area had been significant. Moving past the initial shock has been minimal in comparison to the anguish many of our hearts have felt over his refusal to return. He refuses to return to his family and he refuses to return to his God. I searched my heart that first week for words. I wanted just the right words to encourage him to do the right thing. However, by the end of that first week the only words that came to me were words of confession. I sent my friend a text and confessed, “I want you to know two things: one, I am sorry I did not take more seriously my prayers for you. Two, love remains … Your Sis.”
To date there has been no reply and no returning.
I’ve pondered the paralyzing despair as well as what seems to be the endless consequences to his sin. It broke my heart in a whole new way: I am sorry that we, the church, have not prized the art of confession. I have never been more grieved that we, the church, have yet to cultivate a culture where the confession of a sin is as beloved as the sinner.
Unfortunately the confessing of sin is not exactly trending in our Christian societies. Unfortunately the only altar calls I am ever invited to on Sundays are the ones that want my distresses, my wounds, and my sicknesses. No one ever asks for my sins. It makes me wonder: would the devastation level of sin be less if we had a beloved culture of confession? Would my friend have been empowered to make other choices if he had been participating in a culture of confession?
It’s Been 33 Years Since …
In the past couple of years I’ve learned, no, better yet, I’ve experienced a power that breaks the yoke of my own habitual sins – it’s the power that is released when we confess our own sins to one another. Jesus said, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them, if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23.) Jesus is telling His disciples that they have been given the authority to forgive sins. We, the church, are His disciples. Therefore, we too have the authority to forgive the sins of others. Though their application falls short the Catholic Church does have this principle correct.
Fortunately, I’ve been blessed with two friends to whom I’ve confessed sin. I don’t mean the “oops” category of sins. I mean the kind of deep-seated personal sin that has a hook in me and keeps me sinning the same sins. The kind of sin I’ve confessed to God over and over but can’t seem to get free from. The exploiting kind of sin you wished you had never remembered committing.
My friends are unique in that they understand and delight in the truth that they have been given the authority to forgive the sins of others. When I confessed my sins to them I got the privilege of experiencing true love. Their eyes didn’t wince at my ugly confession; I got to see with my real eyes love not becoming offended. By speaking my sins out loud I got to bring into the light that which had been hiding in the dark. With my own ears I got to hear out loud a real voice announcing that I was forgiven.
I experienced more than the idea of forgiveness. I experienced the power of forgiveness. I know that I know this power has something to do with what was done in Heaven through prayer now being done on Earth in practice. All three of us have encountered this power from our confessions to one another. Now my friends and I sympathetically joke on occasion we need a “priest”. Everyone needs a friend who is their “priest”.
My Last Confession
I’ve learned a lot about confessing my sins since I was a 12-year-old sinner. I’ve learned that God loves to hear my voice speaking directly to Him. I’ve learned I live in this really cool place now called justification. It’s a place where I live fully exposed before a holy God and He looks at me with eyes of fire that never wince at the confession of my sins. I’ve learned that the blood of Jesus has made it possible for God to always see me just-as-if I never sinned. I no longer need to be ashamed to come and confess my sin to Him.
I’ve learned that I used to love to sin because I was a sinner. Now I hate to sin because it’s no longer who I am. I’ve learned one of God’s favorite expressions of love is to forgive me of those sins I hate. In fact He can’t wait for me to confess. He is the kind of Father who paces the front porch waiting for His wayward daughter to return to His undeserving love and forgiveness. His forgiveness is so scandalous that each time He gets a chance to express it the enemy becomes a spectacle all over again. It’s like watching the resurrection shame him all over again!
Consider this: have you ever experienced the exhilaration that comes from buying the perfect gift? You know, that gift that was exactly what they wanted as though you had read the secret desire of their heart? Can you remember the anticipation of giving it nearly killing you? That’s how we should give forgiveness don’t you think? We should give forgiveness like the anticipation was killing us. If it is true that God has prepared our good works ahead of time then shouldn’t we live out our days looking for the confessional opportunities to announce forgiveness? Jesus is not impressed with our sins, so let’s not be impressed either. Rather, let’s freak people out and prove, through announcing forgiveness, that true love is never easily offended
Father forgive us for we have sinned, it has been much too long since our last confession …