If confession is good for the soul, then why do so few of us do it? Why do we not take this to heart? Unless we come from a religious tradition that makes confession a liturgical necessity, this discipline too often gets pushed to the side and forgotten. It is seen to be nothing but a dry and lifeless liturgical hoop of old-time religion. This can be particularly true in our own Anglican context, given that we do not place a strong emphasis on a private rite of confession. Yet even our corporate confession can suffer the same fate. That moment when the congregation stands together and says ‘We confess that we have sinned against God…‘ can easily become nothing more than a prayer we rattle off giving no thought to matters such as repentance or an amendment of life. We make our confession without any real desire for spiritual or moral change.
I have heard many state that the act of confession is outdated and inconsistent with a loving and forgiving God.
From where did we get the curious notion that the call to confession was somehow contrary to the love and grace of God? Why is it that we see confession as an exercise akin to guilt-mongering instead of one that ushers in spiritual freedom and closeness with Christ?
When we refuse to confess our sins to God, we choose to keep parts of ourselves hidden. We mask the state of our heart and souls, and we thus we live in a self-deceiving lie. It is not that we are hiding these things from God – God is pretty well informed after all – but we fail to embrace true and humble honesty. We put up a front. We bare a façade. Instead of engaging those deep places of our souls – the longings, the hurts, the wounds, and the sins – we plaster over them with a shtick of ‘I’m Ok, You’re Ok.’ Yet even as we do this, internally we cry out for a depth of spiritual freedom that somehow, amid our best efforts, remains forever elusive.
Jesus says seek and you shall find, yet how can we find that spiritual freedom and livelihood we so desperately crave if our seeking is not grounded in the truth of who we are?
We may feel that the denial of confession keeps us grounded in God’s love, but the reality is just the opposite; Lack of confession erodes our spiritual life. Just listen to David: “For when I kept silent my bones wasted away through my groaning all the day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” (Psalm 32:3-4) Living self-deception exhausts us. It drains our spiritual livelihood. Slowly, the reality of our Lord’s love and mercy becomes replaced by things such as fear, guilt, and shame. Inwardly, our spirits are left feeling wasted and dried up.
David’s words here are challenging yes, but they are not condemning. God leads us into confession so that we can be free from the things that shackle our spiritual lives. This is why God’s hand is sometimes ‘heavy upon us’, not because God delights in seeing us writhe in guilt-ridden agony, but because God desperately wants us to the experience the full force of liberating love. After uncovering the destructive nature of his own confessional silence, David continues: ‘Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and did not cover my iniquity; I said “I will confess my transgressions to The Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin’ (vs. 5).
Confession is important because it causes us to look at our spiritual life as it truly is. After all, how can we live authentic Christian faith if we are not honest about our struggles or our needs? We cannot have a single-hearted faith and hold onto spiritual duplicity. If we deny the struggles of our faith, or the frailty of our lived-out relationship with God, we only deceive ourselves and the truth – the truth of God’s full redemption, the truth of constant unwavering forgiveness, and the truth of who we are before our Lord – is not in us.
There are several ways that we can incorporate confession into our spiritual lives. All it takes is a humble honesty about ourselves. You may choose to obtain a ‘confessor,’ someone whom you will be honest with, and whom you will accept their words of absolution as divine truth. This person doesn’t have to be a pastor or priest, but it is helpful if they are as they will already be accustomed to things such as accountability, confidentiality, and prayerfulness. Confessing to someone can be difficult and scary, and you will want to pray about the person you choose as a confessor. Ultimately, such a relationship must be mutually established and agreed upon, and one rooted in joy and liberation, not demand or guilt.
Of course, you don’t have to confess to another human individual. We can confess directly to our Lord. In many ways this is seen as a ‘safer option’, but therein lies the challenge. We must work hard at full disclosure, lest it drift off into neglect. A good suggestion would be to write your confession down on paper. There is something deeply moving about writing down ‘I judged x’ or ‘I yelled at y’. Somehow, seeing it written down, helps us understand the truth of these things in our lives. Once you have written down all that you choose to confess, sit with that reality. Don’t rush past this too quickly. Experience the discomfort, the sorrow, the desire to be forgiven. Pray a simple, uncomplicated prayer asking God to forgive you of these matters. After a certain amount of time you may experience these sins slowly melt away. In manners which are unique to you, you will feel the truth of forgiveness. When this happens, it is good to write ‘Forgiven’over everything you wrote. Again, there is something about seeing the word ‘Forgiven’ stamped over our particular sins that helps root us in the reality of God’s steadfast love and infinite mercy.
Confession is good for the soul because, ultimately, it is not about our sins. It is about the love of God and God’s desire to forgive us. This is the truth we are left with and the experience that surrounds this discipline. Confession does not make God love us; rather it produces an inner vulnerability that opens us to divine love unhindered by all that we try to hide.