And my confession is this: confession is sometimes hard for me.
It’s not because I don’t sin—I do, every day, in both action and inaction. I know this. Nevertheless, confession is hard for me.
At some churches there’s an opportunity during the regular Sunday service for everybody, in unison, to make a nonspecific confession. The one I’m most familiar with goes something like this:
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.*
I love that confession. Every word of it expresses the true condition and need of my heart—but in a general way that doesn’t require me to delve into particular sin involving particular actions (or inactions), people, or situations.
Confessing my sin in that general way works for me. Confessing my specific sin, however, is harder. So I’ve been talking with God about this. I started by simply confessing that it’s hard to confess. Then—and I think this is key—I asked God to reveal whatever hinders me from regularly talking to Him about specific sin.
Right away He brought to mind several things. Among them were: an inadequate understanding of His mercy, some bad past experiences, and a tendency toward self-recrimination. Just recognizing some of the problems was helpful because I realized that God is ready to help—now that I know what I need help with.
So I’ve been trying to follow through and be more intentional about confessing specific sin. One day as I was telling Him something I was feeling guilty about, He surprised me. I seemed to ask, rather pointedly, Do you want Me to help you with that?
The thought hadn’t occurred to me. This probably sounds pretty dumb to those of you who are really good at confession, but I am afraid that I had sort of thought that my job was to admit I was wrong and then try harder next time. So this was a novel idea: God didn’t expect me to fix the problem all by myself! Obviously, I replied that I would be very glad to have His help.
And He did help! He responded exactly like good parents do when they see their kids doing something wrong. He didn’t scold, shame, punish, or give me a stern warning. He just stepped in to help. I realized that He doesn’t want me to be alone in my struggle—He wants to walk alongside me, encouraging, coaching, and helping.
I guess I’d thought that confession was mostly about my need for forgiveness. And it’s definitely that—but it’s also much more. Like the best of parents, God wants me to do well. He wants to help me avoid the enemy’s traps. He wants me to experience the abundant life that comes by living His way. Because He knows better than I do what trips me up—He also knows how I can move forward. And He wants to share all this with me—He doesn’t want me to have to figure it all out on my own!
I was wrong about confession. I had thought of it as a rather lonely duty—but God is showing me that it’s just another way He wants to enjoy deeper relationship with me. I’m not planning to sin more just so I can experience that—but I do have to say that I’m considerably less reluctant to admit my sin to Him now that I’m starting to understand this.
*The Book of Common Prayer, 1979