Excerpt from Spiritual Disciplines Handbook

Con­fes­sion may be good for the soul, but it can be very hard to do. We are invest­ed in look­ing like good moral peo­ple. After all, appear­ing good is one way of deal­ing with the notion that some­thing is wrong with us. We haven’t mur­dered any­one or robbed a bank. Fur­ther­more, when we do wrong we try to fix it and make it bet­ter. We can put a great deal of ener­gy’ into main­tain­ing the image that we are good moral peo­ple. But this very appear­ance of good­ness can be a way we defend our­selves against our sin. For when we can’t see our sin we have noth­ing to confess. 

The truth is that we all sin. Sin is any­thing that breaks rela­tion­ships. Jesus is total­ly real­is­tic about bro­ken rela­tion­ships. He expe­ri­enced them. He was put to death by them. Yet Jesus taught that the dam­age done through sin was not the last word on life. Sin could be con­fessed. Sin could be for­giv­en. And sin­ful peo­ple could be set free. 

Much of Jesus’ teach­ings and at least a third of his para­bles are about for­give­ness. Over and over again he mod­eled what it looked like to bless when you are cursed and to for­give when peo­ple don’t deserve to be for­giv­en. Fur­ther­more, one of the cen­tral pleas of the Lord’s Prayer focus­es on con­fes­sion and for­give­ness: For­give us our sins as we for­give those who sin against us.” 

True repen­tance means we open the bad in our lives to God. We invite him to come right in and look at our sin with us. We don’t hide by being good, moral peo­ple or in neu­rot­ic self-recrim­i­na­tions. We don’t pre­tend to be oth­er than we are. We don’t dis­guise the truth by cart­ing out all the dis­ci­plines we prac­tice. We tell it like it is — with­out ratio­nal­iza­tion, denial or blame — to the only per­son in the uni­verse who will uncon­di­tion­al­ly love us when we are bad. We hand over the pre­tense, image man­age­ment, manip­u­la­tion, con­trol and self-obses­sion. In the pres­ence of the Holy One we give up on appear­ing good and fix­ing our sin. We lay down our abil­i­ty to change by the pow­er of the self. We turn to Jesus and seek forgiveness. 

Jesus, the only Son of God, died a vio­lent, unspeak­able death so we could know what free­dom from sin tastes like. Jesus laid his pow­er down, suf­fered and became sin so that we would not be con­demned. Every time we con­fess how we have missed the mark of God’s love and truth, we open our­selves up to the mend­ing work of the cross. Jesus’ wounds hold true life-chang­ing pow­er. This is the shock­ing real­i­ty that con­fes­sion can open up to us. Through con­fes­sion and for­give­ness we live into the truth of being God’s new cre­ation! The old is gone. The new has come.

Reflec­tion Questions

  1. Does your con­fes­sion tend to be along the lines of For­give my sins, dear Lord” rather than specif­i­cal­ly nam­ing your sins one by one before the face of God? What does the lack of spe­cif­ic con­fes­sion do to self-awareness?
  2. What expe­ri­ences have affect­ed your abil­i­ty to give and receive for­give­ness? Talk to God about what this means.
  3. When have you tast­ed the joy of for­give­ness? What was that like for you?
  4. What is it like for you to con­fess your sins before a friend or confessor?
  5. Which of your sins hurts those clos­est to you?

Spir­i­tu­al Exercises

  1. Imag­ine you are in a safe place, sur­round­ed by the love of God.
    1. Ask God to help you see your­self as he sees you. Remem­ber he sees you absolute­ly and with love.
    2. Using the Ten Com­mand­ments as a guide, jour­nal your sins. When you have fin­ished, go through each com­mand­ment one at a time, ask­ing God to for­give you and help you to change.
    3. Then burn your list in a sym­bol­ic act of what it means to have God remove your sins from you
  2. Set aside some time for con­fes­sion and self-exam­i­na­tion. In the pres­ence of God ask for light to pierce your defenses.
    1. Then ask your­self, Who have I injured recent­ly through thought­less­ness, neglect, anger and so on?
    2. As the Holy Spir­it brings peo­ple to mind, con­fess your feel­ings about these peo­ple to God. Ask God to for­give you and if need be to give you grace to for­give them.
    3. Write an apol­o­gy; make a phone call or con­fess out loud in an attempt to put the rela­tion­ship back on track.
  3. Make a life con­fes­sion — alone or to a trust­ed friend or confessor.
    1. Divid­ing your life into sev­en-year seg­ments, reflect on the sins par­tic­u­lar to each segment.
    2. Con­fess your sins aloud. Receive the free­dom that comes in know­ing you stand com­plete­ly in the clear before a holy God. 
  4. Ask some of your fam­i­ly and close friends to help you see your blind spots. Ask ques­tions like, What do I do that hurts you? How could I bet­ter love you? What is it like to be with me? Do I show inter­est in oth­ers or talk most­ly about myself? Let their answers guide you in a time of confession
  5. Enter into a covenant group or an account­abil­i­ty rela­tion­ship where you can­not hide. Tell the truth about who you are and ask your part­ners to pray for you and help you change
  6. Imag­ine the kind of per­son you would like to become in your old age. Then look at your life and assess whether or not the way you live now is prepar­ing you to become this person.
    1. Con­fess where you need to change. Ask God and the com­mu­ni­ty of faith for help
  7. Turn to Psalm 32 or Psalm 51. Use the psalm as a way of bring­ing your own sins before God.
    1. How does God meet you in these con­fes­sions of David?
  8. How in touch do you feel with your own sin?
    1. If you feel out of touch with your sin, hon­est­ly con­sid­er where some of the fol­low­ing sins show up in your life: envy, lust, greed, glut­tony, deceit, lying, exag­ger­at­ing, envy, anger, pre­tense, avoid­ance of responsibility.
    2. What do you see about your­self? How do you want to talk to God about these things
    3. Con­fess where you have fall­en short of God’s expec­ta­tions, and receive his forgiveness
  9. Begin to notice your strong emo­tions. When do you feel your­self get­ting hot, defen­sive, angry, with­drawn? What is moti­vat­ing your emo­tion? What behav­ior stems from your emotion?
    1. As you attend to this inter­nal world, ask God to make you alert to what trig­gers strong emo­tion­al reac­tions. Con­fess any sin relat­ing to these reactions.
    2. Prac­tice notic­ing your inter­nal world, and begin to devel­op a habit of imme­di­ate confession
  10. If you are inter­est­ed in iden­ti­fy­ing your beset­ting sin or com­pul­sion, read a book on the Ennea­gram such as The Ennea­gram: A Chris­t­ian Per­spec­tive by Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert.

Tak­en from Spir­i­tu­al Dis­ci­plines Hand­book by Adele Ahlberg Cal­houn. ©2015 by Adele Ahlberg Cal­houn. Used by per­mis­sion of Inter­Var­si­ty Press, P.O. Box 1400, Down­ers Grove IL 60515 – 1426. www​.ivpress​.com

Pho­to by Ben White on Unsplash

Text First Published October 2005

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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