The horror! There is nothing I resist more than going to confession. As soon as the idea pops into my head, eleven different excuses push their way forward, shouting and complaining. There’s no way! I have raw chicken in the car, and it’ll spoil! It would be inconsiderate to everyone else, because I left the baby at home! Probably Fr. Dan’s back hurts, and the last thing he wants is more people in line! I’m not even sure what time confession is! I’ve only been a member of this parish for nine years; how am I supposed to know when confession is? And anyway, I haven’t had time to prepare properly! It would be an insult to God to show up and blurt out a few things and skip all the really important stuff. It would be better to wait until I can do a really thorough job of it. Confession is really important, so let’s do it right. Let’s do it some other time.
This panic is so familiar to me, I don’t even listen to it anymore. I just let it play out, and then think, “Are we done now? All right, then let’s go to confession.” And so I went, still pathetically clinging to the idea that maybe, just maybe, it’s at 2:00 after all, and if we show up at 2:30, and we’ll be too late. The church won’t even be there anymore, that’s how late we’ll be. Maybe?
Well, the church was still there, and we were not late. The horror!
I had been struggling with some confusion over a spiritual matter, which had been causing much misery. As I knelt down, my heart bleated out,
Listen, Lord. I’m not trying to tell you how to do your job. I guess you love me. Personally, I think you should make things really clear right now, because, come on. But here is my heart, and I’m trying to open it. If you tell me something I need to hear, I will try to hear it eventually, and I don’t know what else to say. Give me strength or whatever. Okay, thanks. See ya there.
And what do you know? The pastor (JESUS) told me something really clear, and obvious, and helpful, and enlightening, and liberating. It was way more illuminating than I even dared to hope for, and I floated out of the confessional grinning like an idiot. And crying. And grinning, while my nose ran and my heart sang.
That was a good one. I love it when that happens.
But! Even when it’s just regular old confession, where I trot out my stupid old worn out raggy old sins one more time, and the regular old priest just regular old absolves me, no special insight, no grand turning points . . . I still feel the same way. I still feel like Ebeneezer Scrooge, after he’s repented and is going around making amends: Oh, I don’t deserve to be so happy. But I can’t help it. I just can’t help it!
It hasn’t always been this way. I’ve always had the resistance to going to confession, but it used to be that it didn’t let up, either during or after the actual sacrament. As I was in the confessional, I’d be sick and nervous, feeling like a phony and a liar. I’d step out and think, “Oh, but wait, I forgot the main point! I don’t think I really explained what was really happening. And what about that thing eleven years ago? Have I ever really confessed that? Should I just get back into line? What is even the point of this, if I’m going to do such a bad job?”
And when I heard about other people floating out in an ecstasy of joy and relief, that further cemented the idea that I was doing it all wrong.
So what has changed?
I finally realized I was putting too much emphasis on myself doing it right. I finally realized that there was no way I could do it right enough to earn absolution. It was never about that. The fact that I’m uncertain and imperfect and sloppy and forgetful and let myself off the hook is kind of the point. It’s why we need confession in the first place. I put myself in that little box, and Jesus squints at me in the dim light and says, “Ohh, boy. Look, I’ll just take care of . . . all of this, okay? I’ll take care of you.”
That’s the point. That’s the whole point. That’s why He died: because there was never any question of us doing anything right. All we have to do is get in there, and He will take care of us.
That’s what it means, that Jesus died for us. We still suffer and we still struggle, we still feel pain and sorrow, guilt and grief. But we don’t have to worry about making sure we do it right. We’re not efficacious. We’re just not. What Jesus wants is for us to open ourselves up to Him and see very clearly that we’re helpless. That’s what He’s waiting for. That’s what He wants, more than He wants an impeccably thorough list of sins. He wants us to think less about ourselves and our failings — even our failings to confess properly! — and more about Him and His unimaginable mercy.
Obviously, we have to make our best effort to fulfill our obligations as well and thoroughly as we can. That’s why the Church tells us what to say and what to do; and yes, we do have to say and do those things. But even as we try our best, we remember that even our very, very best isn’t going to be good enough.
So I just kind of . . . relax into that.
In the confessional, our job is to admit defeat and turn things over to Him. That’s what He wants. And when I do that, I float out of that confessional with the dopey grin on my face, and my nose runs, and my heart sings. Thanks be to God! Oh, thanks be to God.
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