If we claim to have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong.
-1 John 1:9
I don’t know why, but I’ve been thinking a lot about confession lately. Maybe it’s because when the ugliness of our world rears its head, the ugliness inside of me swells up too. Can you relate? In our exhaustion and frustration, we are tempted in many ways. We face what the New Testament writers described as struggles of “the flesh.” They're talking about moments when our selfishness takes over. Moments when pride, shame, self-righteousness, sexual temptation, greed, laziness, a critical spirit, and other stuff like that rises up and does some damage in us and others.
This battle is a part of life. In John’s first letter, he says that if anyone says they don’t mess up, they are liars. I’m inclined to believe John from firsthand experience.
The early church regarded confession as the means by which God brings us back onto the path of life. Following the scriptures, they entrusted their mistakes to God, and trusted God’s lavish grace to restore and renew them daily.
Unfortunately, confession today often carries a lot of baggage because 1) we live in a culture where admitting we’re wrong is a sign of weakness and 2) confession has been forced upon people in guilt-tripping, damaging ways.
But it doesn’t need to be like that.
When we confess the areas that we miss the mark, we open ourselves up to the regular reminder of the grace of God available to us. The grace that tastes like honey. The grace that turned the world upside down when Jesus died unjustly but refused to take revenge on humanity. The grace that sets Christian faith apart from any other religious movement. This grace is a pleasure to experience, because grace can only be received as a gift. It cannot be grabbed or stolen out of pride or selfishness. It is only when we acknowledge that pride and selfishness often dominate our thoughts that we actually move beyond guilt and into grace.
To simplify: When we say we’re guilty, we get the pleasure of grace.
Well there’s a paradox to think about when you lie awake at night. Is grace a guilty pleasure?
A few weeks ago during our few minutes of zoom prayer we have every weekday, a brother prayed a prayer of confession, humbly acknowledging how he misses the point regularly. As I prayed along, I had this incredible experience of joy…. odd, right? But his openness to confess brought out this desire in me to say,
Yes, me too, God! I’m in need too!
Why is admitting our weakness so countercultural? Why aren’t we doing this more often as a practice in spiritual, mental, and emotional health? Maybe confession is not a guilty pleasure at all. Guilty pleasures are things that we don’t like to admit to others, like how I binge watched two full seasons of Scream Queens with Bethany during quarantine. The joy of God’s grace intersecting our imperfect lives is not embarrassing, but exhilarating. Maybe we should be shouting it from the mountain tops.
True confession is not the addition of, but the release of the soul-ravaging power of guilt and shame crushing our spirits. We are not made to live in guilt or be guilt-tripped. We are not made for worm theology, of calling ourselves such miserable worthless peons that we can’t possibly imagine God loving us. If we can’t imagine God loving anyone as miserable as us, we have yet to fully understand the character of God.
No, simply by God loving us, we have proof that God has determined that we are indeed worthy of his love. Therefore, living in guilt doesn’t do a thing. For more information, read the New Testament.
But admitting that we are wrong sometimes…. admitting that we need Jesus in our lives? Somehow that is what we’re made for. That changes our outlook. It’s a rejoining of the union we were created for.
I think we need to reclaim the power of confession, and perhaps reframe it. I’m aware that many of my friends, both Catholic and otherwise, have shared that even using the word confession triggers feelings of a faith built on feeling bad about themselves. I get that. But it’s time to allow confessional sorrow to give way to grace-filled pleasure. I can think of nothing more freeing than admitting that I want the God of grace in my life each moment that I mess up. I want the pleasure of walking forward realizing that my past mistakes do not determine my future path. I want the pleasure of remembering that the burdens I carry may be laid down as frequently as I am willing to bring them to Christ, and I want the joy of heading out on a new journey each day to love the world with reckless abandon because I literally have nothing to lose. I’ve already had my soul laid bare with all my shortcomings and been told that I’m still worth dying for. It’s just that I forget that all the time.
Go ahead. Confess your sin. And go ahead, receive grace. You might be amazed at how good it feels.
Jesus, I want to delight in your grace touching my imperfect life today. I receive it.