I used to hate the word “confession.” I didn’t grow up Catholic, and the whole idea of “confessional” felt demoralizing, sterile, and legalistic to me. I’m ashamed to admit that it’s taken me a long time, but I get it now. The other day during my morning prayers, a light bulb went on and I suddenly realized all the reasons confession is such a gift, and so vital to spiritual life.
“The Jesus Prayer” is interspersed in my morning prayers, and for those of you unfamiliar with it, there is a long version, and a short one. The short version is this: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” The long version only adds two seemingly insignificant little words, but they matter a great deal. The other morning as I was praying, it went a little something like this:
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”
No, that didn’t feel right.
There we go.
Jesus said, “I have not come for the healthy, but for those who know they are sick.” It dawned on me, that adding “a sinner” willingly puts me in the category of one who needs Jesus, the very ones he came to save. It puts me in the “poor in spirit” crowd. And Jesus says that makes me blessed. When I acknowledge my need of him, I am joining with the throngs of people who sought out Jesus when he walked the earth: those who were desperate, those who needed healing, needed salvation, and needed a Savior. I want to be in that crowd, not the ones who think we don’t need him.
It is often said that death is the great equalizer, but I propose that the same could be said of confession, because as Romans 3:23 says, we “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” We were all made in the image of God, all designed to display his glory. Though our original design is God’s image, sin mars that and distorts it. No one has ever walked the earth and escaped this fractured image, except Jesus himself.
It is precisely because we are all cracked and distorted that we don’t see very clearly, and we have this tendency where we like to classify everyone at different levels. We like to excuse our own sin by comparing it to someone we deem to be on a lower level. Confession is a sure and certain antidote to all that. Everyone is implicated, no one is exempt. Confession brings us to a level playing field. No one is better or worse, above or below. In God’s family, we are all equals—screwed up, every last one of us, and yet fully loved and fully belonging all the same.
The thought of acknowledging and admitting our sin makes us uncomfortable, understandably. Sin is ugly, and it’s not pleasant to talk about, but confession is like the lancing of infected wound. If we don’t get the poison out, we will get worse and worse. Carrying our sin will cripple, sicken, and finally kill us. The only cure is the unburdening that confession brings. Every one of us is walking around under the pressure of an insurmountable burden, and confession is the only relief.
A lot of us are also dealing with the pressure of keeping up appearances, whatever that may look like. So many of us have carefully built projected identities and are spending massive amounts of energy trying to maintain them. Confession allows us to drop all the masks and be totally, fully known. It’s a relief to come into God’s presence in such a vulnerable and true state. God is love, and when we come to him with all our darkness and ugliness, we are forgiven, totally accepted, and embraced by love. Being fully known and fully loved is what all of us are longing for in our deepest self, and it is through confession that we experience this intimacy.
Sin is a sickness, and it has infected all of us. And it’s not just the regular old individual kind. It’s not just the “oops I told a white lie” or “oops I gossiped about so-and-so”. Sin has infected the fabric of our society and world systems, so that lies have infiltrated our every sphere. Accusatory and derogatory sentiments are everywhere, and they are being systematically perpetrated. Think about our culture’s lie that a girl’s worth is in her appearance, and the shame that accompanies that. Think about our culture’s lie that we will be happier with just a little more, and the nagging inadequacy that follows. Or what about the systematic oppression of the poor and helpless? No, I didn’t personally kidnap anyone and enslave them today. But did I purchase a product (probably—because that’s what we middle class people do, we buy things) that was made by someone in forced labor? Are my seemingly innocuous decisions propping up systems of injustice?
That whole discussion could take pages and pages, but the point is that we are complicit in sins we may not be personally, intentionally committing. But we are guilty, none the less, and it does our souls a disservice to bury our head in the sand and deny it. We are all suffering the disease of sin, and confession is the only thing that will bring our healing. We are a mess, but confession lays us bare before our loving Father and allows his all-consuming love to envelope and heal us.
My own heart is a mess. It is jacked up and mangled and torn apart by sin, most of it my own. The daily practice of confession, for me, has brought about so much freedom. I find myself no longer focusing so much on what others are doing wrong, because I see my many weaknesses and shortfalls, and the fact that I’m completely dependent on the mercy of God. Yes, people hurt me sometimes, and yes, I have to also practice forgiveness (stay tuned for my upcoming blog on forgiveness). But that all becomes so much smaller in the light of owning my own failures. When I confess my sin and receive God’s unconditional love and forgiveness, I am equipped to forgive others. When I look my own sin square in the face and call it out, I find I’m mostly too busy to judge others. When I deal with my own “plank”, others’ “specks” mysteriously become much more insignificant, and loving past them becomes so much easier.
Most 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; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent, for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.