Confession and Me

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originally published at Deeper Story

There wasn’t a specific person or sermon or cited scripture that I can remember as the turning point for me, but at some moment in my childhood, God stopped being all bubbles and glow. He became a man in constant need of an apology.

There wasn’t a specific person or sermon or cited scripture that I can remember as the turning point for me, but at some moment in my childhood, God stopped being all bubbles and glow. He became a man in constant need of an apology.

In light of his omni-everything, I couldn’t figure out why he needed me to keep falling at his feet begging for mercy for my sins, especially when half the things I did were on accident or of the gray area variety. It felt egotistical to me. It felt like he was hounding my seven-year-old heart, breathing down my neck every second of my days, just because he was God, just because he could.

I lived in fear of this God. During my nightly prayers I was highly aware of the consequences in store for sins not confessed, and I was terrified of forgetting any. Out of this terror, I began a habit of instant confession, seizing on the sins when they happened like soaking up spilled wine, never letting a single bad moment stain my soul. Then I realized just how often I sinned, revealing how awful I truly was. Then I understood why God kept his distance.

 

At it’s best, my budding relationship with God was contractual: I did the penitence dance and God kept me on the guest list for Heaven. I’d say sorry, he’d say Saved!

But once I hit nineteen, I stopped praying altogether. I stopped apologizing for being human.

I thought I was seeing it all for the first time in an ugly revelation. God and the Church were in kahoots, were working together against me. God instructed the church to bring forth all guilty humans to confess and so the church went ahead and hollered against those they disliked the most. Shoving us to our knees. Demanding confession like the Bad Cop.

God was a man thirsty for my guilt. And I was tired of feeling like a failure. I was tired of trying to be good enough.

But then, when the hardest storm crushed in, I had no pole to hang on to. I had no place to run. I felt torn between falling to my knees and flipping the finger to the clouds. I felt sorry for nothing. But also a longing for something.

Disillusioned as I was with church and with God, I refused to lay down my dignity. I wanted God like I once knew him, bubbles and glow. I longed for the the hand-held, I am with you, I am for you, we-can-talk-about-that-later-but-rest-in-me-now kind of loving God. But I still worried about what he wanted from me. What it was I had to do satisfy his sensitive temperament.

One evening that fall, I went to the lake with a book on Prayer by Philip Yancey, a writer who says he is a “fellow pilgrim” in trying to understand this spiritual interaction. I got the book because I wanted to find a new way to reach God. I wanted to believe that He was different, that I had Him all wrong all along. Deliberately, I flipped through the book until I came across a chapter subheading that seemed to speak to my issue. It was called: “Guilty”.

Yancey writes:

“I begin with confession not in order to feel miserable, rather to call to mind a reality I often ignore. When I acknowledge I stand before a perfect God, it restores the true state of the universe. Confession simply establishes the proper ground rules of creatures relating to their creator.” -Philip Yancey, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?

I sat with this. I chewed on it. The sun was turning in twilight through the tree line then falling across the water. I couldn’t help but pray.

The sun did not stand still in the sky and no singing birds perched upon my shoulder, there was no big blaring sign. There was no God Thing. But I did discover a powerful new perspective. An insight that opened things up.

Confession is not for God.

Confession is for me.

Confession isn’t “to feel miserable”, as Yancey says, it’s to know that I am in need and that He is in love.

It’s meant to remind myself of my own struggles, my inner bent towards destruction, because left alone, I will gloss over my weaknesses. I will find ways to rationalize them, laugh them off, call them quirks and bad habits and my crosses to carry, until the day I trip right over them and crush everyone in my path.

God doesn’t have so fragile an ego, but I do. We all do, really. And when it comes to Confession, it’s more about direction than apologies. I think it’s about knowing where He is and where we are, so when it all goes to shit, we know where to run. That’s what confession is: A strong sanctuary for fragile egos. A place where we are reminded of who we are. Flawed and fabulous and a little bit ordinary. Accepted always.

By confession, we rediscover the road that has been hidden beneath our pride and our fear and our apathy. On that road, he sits on his knees. Arms outspread. Holding in one hand the wet cloth, and in the other, the bowl, waiting to wash the filth from our feet.

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