Confession makes me uncomfortable. It’s not that I’m afraid to tell God what I’ve done wrong, and failed to do right (I’m pretty sure God has a handle on my failures), but that the word just makes me squirm. Confession. It sends waves of panic and paranoia down my body and my overactive conscience starts to feel guilty. Sometimes I think guilt is a helpful feeling, that leads me to face into something I’ve done or draws me into God’s mercy. And other times, I wonder if part of my panicky guilt is residual from spiritual ick and brokenness from legalistic Christianity and black and white thinking.
I grew up thinking that sin was a list of things I couldn’t do. The list was very long and quite specific. I worried that if I missed something on the list while confessing, that I would be tainted – and believed maybe somewhere in the back of my heart – that God would love me a little less. I took it upon myself to confess my various faults and every stray thought. It became an obsession. I would feel so guilty that even though I had confessed my thought 10 times over in prayer, I would run to my parents room and tell them of my shortcomings.
I believed that sin was black and white, and it was very clear what I should and shouldn’t do. And that if I didn’t confess, I might be damned in some unspeakable way.
This is not a happy way to approach confession. Sure, it’s not the brightest topic in the world, but the heart of confession is a desire for Shalom, for all to be well. We confess our brokenness, the ways that we move away from God or block God, our failures, and our struggles because we know that they come in the way of experiencing abundant life. They can clog and block the flow of direct connection with God. And deep within us, I believe every person longs for wholeness. To live in a world where everything is right, well, good. Where there isn’t any violence, and we love each other as beautiful human beings, created in the image of God.
This Lenten season, I’m trying to change my response to confession. To teach my body that I don’t need to panic and come up with a comprehensive list of wrongs, but to see my failings and brokenness as an opportunity to call for God’s Shalom. To recognize my guilt as a longing for wholeness. And as I feel the blocks I’ve put between me and God, to release them into God’s merciful stream of grace.