Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Confession Confusion

So. As you may have noticed, Lent has started. And the first few days of Lent are focused on confession and forgiveness and such.

Which of course leads me to ask: What is confession?

If Google image search is any indication, praying is something that happens outside, on a hill, under a beautiful sky. Image source.

I imagine confession to be about naming a specific sin- maybe something that I did just once or maybe something that's become a habit. And by telling God that I'm "confessing", there's also the implicit assumption that I won't do it again. A "confession" is me being honest about my sin and my intention to not do it again.

Not do it again? But what if I don't even know how?

See I was left a bit befuddled while pondering the question, "What do you need to confess to God?" There aren't any terribly huge obvious sins I'm aware of, but there are so many ways I wish I was a better person.

I wish I did more to help my parents, since I'm currently living with them. Like making dinner, cleaning the litter box, vacuuming, that kind of stuff.

And I wish I prayed more. And I wish I understood God more- there are so many things I feel uncertain about. Questions about prayer, God, God's will, etc...

So... on one hand, I know I have a lot of room for improvement. But on the other hand, this isn't the kind of stuff that works in a "confession." I thought "confession" meant "God, I'm sorry for ________. I won't do it again."

In other words, confession is about me recognizing my sins and weakness, and fixing them on my own. But what if I don't even know how? And what if I've been a Christian long enough to know that vows to "never do it again" aren't the same thing as ACTUALLY not doing it again?

What if I know myself well enough to know I often lack the motivation to clean the house more and plan dinner, and praying some "confession" isn't going to change that? What if I'm confessing that I'm confused about how to follow God, and I don't know how to become un-confused?

I thought "confession" was about naming a sin and putting it behind me, but that can only happen if I believe I have the ability, on my own, to put it behind me.

Yeah so... that's not gonna work.

And I'm not going to make empty promises to God.

I can't confess a "sin." (And I wouldn't exactly say this stuff is "sin" anyway- more like things I know I should be doing better.) But maybe instead I can confess a need for God. Because I don't know how to become a better person on my own, but that's what Christianity is all about, right? We need God. God doesn't leave us to deal with problems by ourselves- no, he is with us and helps us.

But the most important thing...

The most important thing is this: God's presence with me and God's work in my life are not dependent on me being able to stick to good habits and have a correct understanding of God. No. He is always with me. Nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Or maybe I can say it this way: "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." And it's not about what I do. And it's not about me having the right answers. God is my God, even when I don't know what that means.

So, readers: How do you define "confession"?


  1. So, what is confession?

    Lent is relatively new thing for most Protestants, especially evangelicals. Traditionally, celebration of Lent was primarily limited to Catholic, Orthodox, Anglicans, and Lutherans.

    "Confession" has a VERY specific meaning in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions. This is the Sacrament of Penance, which is a very specific rite that is about confessing sins to a priest and receiving forgiveness in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

    More information below:


    Without this specific understanding, the meaning of "confession" can be rather confusing.

  2. Episcopalian here.

    Each prayer of the Daily Office has a prayer of confession at the start; in theory you could say five a single day (plus litanies.) None of these are sacramental in the sense that James was talking about; and while we *do* have a rubric for Reconciliation, the refrain about it is that "Any can, some should, none must."

    When their time comes, I'm sure that I'm not a murderer or a heresiarch. I'm sure that my sins are small stuff. I say the prayer of confession anyways. To confess is to humble ourselves, to own that we can be wrong. To confess is to word our weakness, to learn words to confront it as we must.

    To confess is to create a time and space when we can learn to sorrow, to regret, to come before a God of mercy needing mercy. And that's ultimately why we do it: confession is the hard work of learning to appreciate grace. Pardon the cliché, but as long as I can confess my sins I can celebrate that Jesus died for them; that He is mine, and I am His.