Psalm 51: Contrition





“My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.”

– Psalm 51:17 NIV



(The psalmist here is praying a prayer of contrition to God. Contrition is a place of remorse for wrong behavior, thoughts and beliefs. It is a state of being.)

(The words contrite and confession and others like them have always driven me a bit mad. And I think it’s because we’ve always looked at them wrong. I couldn’t stop seeing this word in Psalm 51)



No, for a long time I was not interested in prayer.


It wasn’t because I lacked belief and it wasn’t because I was apathetic. Well, both played a little into it. But central to my dismissal, central to what kept my hands in my pockets through praise and worship and meditation and reflection was that I could not and cannot deal with a guilt trip God.


Yes, there were times when some big things happened and I knew I had messed it all up. I have felt the crushing weight of remorse pressing into my conscience. But, a lot of times? Maybe most times? I wasn’t sure why I should feel sorry at all. And the only honest guilt I would ever feel was just guilt for not feeling guilty.


Sometimes I would stand before God, wholly uninspired and, in a way, insulted. I didn’t understand why He demanded some half-hearted apology from me in the first place. Hadn’t I already done this? Isn’t this redundant?


How was I to ever know how much sin I had thoughtlessly spilled into this world since my last confession? Could I actually traverse through my days and recover every single one? Bring each one, with good intention, to His feet? What If I overlooked one? What would that mean?


With this line of thought, I did a clever little maneuver of heart and mind that always left me feeling… fine but not good.


I’d ask “Forgive me for all sins, remembered and forgotten” and I’d imagine a Holy touch on the heart, a new sparkling surface scrubbing out all the stains.


Doing that helped me sleep at night, but never really felt like anything special.


And it’s kind of like when you’re little and you go to your parents’ room, head down, lip stiffened, feet pigeon-toed, stammering out a sour, sorry. They knew, and you knew, that you wouldn’t even be saying it if it there hadn’t been a time-out. That if you didn’t get anything out of it, you wouldn’t be standing there.


So they’d ask you again, more pointedly, what are you sorry for?, and the tears would fall because you don’t want to say that you shouldn’t’ve mouthed off to them. You don’t want to say sorry at all because you still believe you are right.


In the end, all you got back was an acceptance of apology and a lecture on backtalk. They said, softly, you can’t talk to me like that. And with each lecture, you grew a little more out of childishness.


Looking back now, it seems so silly, doesn’t it? All our tantrums? How our parents must’ve screamed inside, when will they learn?!?


And even though my analogy may be weak, I am not saying God is as simple as parent disciplining her child. He is not wagging His finger in our face demanding a little respect. Confession is stepping back, seeing the immensity of who God is. Because I cannot enter into communion with Him until I understand that He knows better than I. That he is greater than I. Even when I believe I am right and I don’t understand. I cannot appreciate Him if I go in eyes shut.


Confession is not about guilt, it is about comprehending how things are. It isn’t about fear, it is about better understanding. It is about communication.


Confession, as I see it, is about knowing where you stand. Your sins are forgiven, the debt has been paid, that’s all over and done.


So why do I confess?


Because it’s preparation in my mind and heart for what I’m about to do. It is a preparation for Who I am about to talk to. It is about seeing myself standing before God. Sometimes I’ll imagine a small little me before the endless blue ocean. It stretches and roars and washes up on my feet. It is immaculate and full of mystery.


So when I think of surrender, contrition, right relationship, knowing where I stand, I look it as less of an abasement of self, and more of an opening of the eyes. Knowing it to be as true and fixed as gravity.


There’s no guilt in the understanding that you are imperfect.

There’s no humiliation in admitting that God is perfect.


This is simply what it is. You decide whether or not you’re aware of it.


Once I was able to grasp that God didn’t need my remorse and my guilt, but just wanted my presence, it hit me that this big and exquisite and beautiful being had once blown breath into my lungs. Pumped my heart to life. Made me into all that I am. Met me at my imperfect level. Forgave me of all that I am not. Redeemed me so he could only see me as perfect.


And suddenly I am looking at a perfect God that loved me so much that he actively chooses to see past how I hurt Him. A Father, a friend, with that kind of loyalty. The God that sees the best in me. Only my good, Because I am His and He is mine.


And I reach a place of gratitude. Feeling as natural and guiltless as gravity.





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